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7 Steps to Transform First-Time Donors Into Loyal Supporters

You get one chance to convert a first-time donor into a lifetime supporter.

Think of it like a first date, you want to put your best foot forward with every first-time donor so that they will come back—year after year. How will you make your organization stand out? How will you let your new donor know you need them and their support truly matters?

With a staggering first-time donor retention rate of 19.2% (AFP 2020), now is the time to woo and wow first-time donors so they will continue to choose your organization for philanthropic giving in the future.

It all starts with the first impression — here are seven steps you should take to retain your first-time donors:

  • Timely Gift Receipt — provided digitally, if possible, within 72 hours of the gift. A gift receipt should include the following components:

    • Donor's name

    • Date of gift

    • Amount of gift (for cash gifts, include the amount and for non-cash gifts) — such as tickets, items, clothing — include a description of the items donated.

    • Tax exempt statement — consider adding colorful language to the statement to show the impact of the gift.

    • Impact statement or thank you

  • Acknowledgement — provided within one week of the first gift. Think outside the #10 envelope and send a handwritten note, a phone call, postcard, video, or text message to thank your first-time donor. This is an impact and thank you piece and does not include the gift amount.

  • Email or postcard within one month for a first-time donor, with communications specific to first-time donor gifts. This shows you recognized your donor’s behavior. Check out our free resource library for creative first-time donor communications.

  • Invitation to an event, noting they are being invited because they are a first-time donor.

  • Holiday card or email (think non-traditional — Valentine’s Day, Thanksgiving, New Year) with language specific to first-time donors. For example: “We are thankful for our first-time donors.” Donors want to be noticed and feel valued. Use language that shows you “see” them and know they made their first gift to your organization.

  • Phone call six months after the first gift from someone who benefitted from their support or someone in the organization. If you do not have the resources, set a threshold for calls such as first-time gifts $100+.

  • Send an email video the month of the one-year anniversary of their first gift celebrating their first anniversary. This can be as simple as a cell phone video from someone who benefitted from the donor’s generosity.

After a year of impact reporting, thanking, and showing donors their value to your organization, then it’s time for the commitment—ask your first-time donor to give again. And that is how you transform a first-time donor into a loyal, lifetime supporter.

What other strategies are you using to improve first-time donor retention rates at your organization? We'd love to hear about them in the comments below.


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