How Do You Make a Onetime Donor a Longtime Donor?

In my June 20th post, Should You Rely on Design to Boost Your Direct Mail Response Rates?, I wrote about the factors contributing to the success of a direct marketing piece and how getting the ratio right––or wrong––can dramatically affect the outcome of your mailing. Related to this, Christine Birkner’s article “Give—and Give Again” in Marketing News magazine outlines essential strategies for cultivating repeat donors. It’s great advice that I’m certain to add to my toolbox of marketing techniques for clients.

Birkner details five key components to getting that donor you love to keep sending you the money you need. Her first point is to stop thinking of donations as onetime transactions and, instead, to think of donating as something that occurs in cycles. Through my own experience, I suggest talking to donors as “partners” in whatever goal you’re trying to accomplish. If you’re a recipient of President Obama’s constant stream of fundraising emails, you’ll know that he and his team are very anxious to make you see that nothing’s over until it’s over. This is the same principle.

Next, Birkner writes that your organization should sell its story. In advertising, we often talk about keeping the message consistent in the various channels you use to communicate (as challenging as that may be). This idea is important to remember when you solicit potential donors. Be sure to talk about who you are, what you do, and why it’s beneficial. If your story departs from the original message, you dilute your objectives and confuse the reader.

Birkner’s next point is that you should break with the status quo. I agree and suggest that you don’t do what’s been done before just because it’s been done. If Steve Jobs and Apple hadn’t chosen to break with conformity and innovate, who knows where they’d be today? Take a chance. Push the envelope and track your risks. Test, and then test again. You’ll never know how effective a change was if you don’t record the results.

I believe strongly in the importance Birkner’s fourth point: Express your gratitude. Your donors need to feel appreciated. They should be recognized and praised, and it should happen quickly. Use other channels, too, if you can. Consider using social media or a telephone call just to thank them. Then, follow up with a second thank-you and encourage a second gift. According to a source in the article, “If you can get somebody to give a second gift within the first three months, their retention rate skyrockets.” It’s important to get the feeling of a conversation going as soon as possible.

Finally, tell donors what’s working. I know I’m often guilty of spending too much time thinking about what goals our clients have and making sure prospective donors know what they’re donating for. I sometimes fail to tell these same clients, however, that they should be giving progress updates to donors who may be wondering, So your theater is raising money to get better makeup and costume design tools, and I just donated $50––what have you done with my money?

A situation like this is the perfect opportunity to bring donors into the story. Tell them how you were able to buy some great stage makeup for Audrey in this year’s performance of Little Shop of Horrors. Or how the bellhop’s costume in Grand Hotel had the audience roaring in laughter. These little peeks at the specific improvements made possible by their donation dollars are the perfect way to demonstrate return on investment.

When 40% of your direct marketing campaign is supposed to be a great offer and you’re working with nonprofits, it can be a tricky sell when the benefit to the donor is simply a feel-good high. Applying these principles may be the thing you need to keep that onetime donor donating.

Author: Eric Swenson

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