Areas we’ll cover today:
1. Why people give
2. What makes a story effective
3. The case for donor retention
a. Why the big deal about first-time donors?
b. What are your numbers?
c. Thanking first-time donors w Exercise
4. Thank all donors five times
5. Enough with the “IRS” letter: Use stories to turn thank you
communications into genuine stewardship vehicles w Exercise
6. Take advantage of the Internet when you say “thank you” online
Why people give
We give based on emotion. Feelings, not analytical
thinking, drive giving. The facts and figures are
necessary—but to support the emotional
It has been empirically shown that people’s beliefs
can be swayed more effectively through storytelling
than through logical arguments.
Persuasion is most effective when people are
"transported" to another place using a story.
The role of transportation in the persuasiveness of public narratives.
By Green, Melanie C.; Brock, Timothy C.
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 79(5), Nov 2000, 701-721.
The extent of emotion
Save the Children experiment:
No surprise: Donors who were given statistics about a
famine in Ethiopia gave 25% more when they were also
provided a photo of Rokia, a 7-year-old who faces a threat
of severe hunger.
Surprise: Donors gave 66% more when they received the
photo and story line without the famine data.
ChildFund International experiment:
No surprise: Donors gave more when they were told the
fund had an excellent rather than a poor efficiency ratio.
Surprise: Highest response came from donors who were
given no efficiency information at all!
Statistics reduce empathy and interest in giving.
People give less when they are thinking
Oppenheimer, Daniel M. and Olivola, Christopher Y, Eds., The Science of
Giving: Experimental Approaches to the Study of Charity, Psychology Press,
Before and After
Please consider supporting the 124 children (aged
4-17) in our hospital. A third of them are receiving
advanced chemotherapy. Many of the rest are
taking part in Phase I or Phase II clinical trials of
new and promising therapies that could save lives
of future patients.
Six year-old Chelsea hugged her teddy bear tight.
“Teddy’s hair didn’t fall out,” she said, patting her
own bald head. “So he’s my good-luck bear. He’s
going to help me get better from cancer.” Teddy
may be Chelsea’s good-luck bear, but you can
have a part in her fight against cancer by sending
a gift today. 5
Jeff Brooks Fundraiser’s Guide to Irresistible Communications, p. 116-117
What makes the “After”
An effective fundraising story
It’s an account of one person (or very few people)
It has conflict—something isn’t right: A child goes to
It has sensory details: The reader can picture the
situation, see the faces, hear the sounds. Sensory details
make the story more memorable and help it reach deep
into our emotions.
It’s well written, with strong verbs and concrete nouns—
and it flows when read aloud.
It has a fundraising ending, meaning that it is not quite
finished (a fully resolved problem makes the donor feel
unneeded), e.g., bed nets would solve the mosquito
problem, but the nets have not yet been distributed.
6Jeff Brooks Fundraiser’s Guide to Irresistible Communications, p. 40
The donor is the hero of the story!
Very short “stories”
One line story aka sparkling first sentence
(adapted from onsentence.org).
It was six months before six year-old Sam would
call his adoptive parent "Mom”. Thank you for
giving Sam a home.
One surgery, four days of tube feeding and five
nights on my bed later: my cat is safe—thanks to
A six second video using Twitter’s Vine.
We knock ourselves out
acquiring new donors
“…it's becoming increasingly common for nonprofit organizations to pay
a net initial cost of between $5 and $50 to acquire an average new
donor.” Mal Warwick, Mal Warwick Associates, www.malwarwick.com.
We tolerate 50% 57% of our
donors disappearing each year
2005: Half of the donors who had made a gift
in 2004 made one in 2005.
2012: Only 43% of the donors who made a gift
in 2011 made a gift in 2012 (median)
Drill down one level (data 2005-2010):
Repeat donor retention was 70%
New donor retention was 27%
These findings are based on data provided by 2,840
participating nonprofits about the 2011-2012 behavior of 1.556
million donors to their organizations.
Association of Fundraising Professionals & The Center on
Nonprofits & Philanthropy at the Urban Institute, 2013
Fundraising Effectiveness Survey Report (FEP), 2013.
2nd gift during Year 1 doubles the
odds of a gift in Year 2
“Most importantly, we recommend that you do
everything in your power to shorten the time
between when a donor makes their first gift
and when they hear from you again. The longer
you wait to continue the conversation, the less
likely the renewal. Even waiting 6 months can
drastically affect not only the amount of gifts,
but also the size of the gift.”
Christ, Rick, VP Amergent, Donor Stewardship: Making virtual
friends for life, a white paper, 2010
“Typically a 10% improvement in the level
of loyalty now increases the lifetime value
of the fundraising database by around
50%. This happens because the effect
compounds over time.”
Study Fundraising website www.studyfundraising.info
Compiled by by Professor Adrian Sargeant and Professor Jen Shang
What is your Second Gift Ratio™?
Do your donors stick with you? What percentage
of first-time donors make a second gift? A third
Having benchmarks puts you in a position to
quantify your improvements!
Second Gift Ratio (SGR) =
# of donors who made a first-time
gift in year 1 who also made a gift in
#of donors who made a first-time
gift in year 1
If 100 donors made a first-time gift last year and then 45 of
them made a gift this year, SGR= 45/100 = .45 or 45%
What donors want:
To be thanked promptly, to be
thanked in a personal way and to
know their gift had impact
“93% of individual donors would
definitely or probably give again the
next time they were asked by a not
for profit that thanked them promptly
and in a personal way for their gift,
and followed up later with a
meaningful report on the program
they had funded. Under these
circumstances, 64% would give a
larger gift and 74% would continue to
Forget about gift size
The focus on gift size kills
retention rates. This is true
of all donors, but especially
first-time donors, whose long-
term behavior toward your
organization is deeply
influenced by your first steps.
Exercise: How are you going to
thank first-time donors?
1. I will spend ___ minutes/week calling donors. If I don’t have telephone
numbers I will send hand-written thank you notes. If I only have email, I
will email. By the end of the year, I will have reached over 1,000 donors.
Yes, I will pick up the phone!
2. I will invite board members to make thank you calls to first time donors,
with the goal of recruiting two or three willing volunteers (the board will
thank you – it’s a no-risk, high reward activity)
To make this happen, I need to talk to: ___________________
3. I will engage the following people in making thank you calls:
How will you promptly get the gift information to the callers (remember, you just
need name, gift date, and telephone number, not the amount)?
New donor “welcome” package
Opportunity to communicate with a new donor
ten to fourteen days after you send your thank
Test “Welcome to <nonprofit name>” tease on
the envelope (or say nothing)
Goals: Familiarize donors with you work and
Technique: Feature donor stories and talk
about difference donors are making
A cover letter signed by ED or VP
A recent newsletter or annual report—use a
sticky to highlight an article of interest
Recent accomplishment highlights
Information about how to become involved, e.g.
volunteer, and/or upcoming programs/events
Donor interest survey with return envelope
No solicitation in
Thank your donors 5 times
Within a week (48 hours is the gold standard)
A call or hand-written note for first-time donors
A donor-centered thank you letter
What impact is my gift having?
Photos of the gift in action
A front-line story from a staff member
A testimonial from a client
Program update in a newsletter
Call from a board member or staff member
New donor annual fund* timeline
Thank you Welcome
“IRS” if separate
Go for 2nd gift;
your are asking
for a 2nd gift
* The first 60 days are identical
for a new major gift, except
the “welcome” is into whatever
special group the donor has
joined along with an explanation
of benefits, if applicable. The
2nd gift ask is preceded by a
conversation that clarifies
donor’s interest. Prospect
research informs how much.
Solicitation is in person—when
the time is right based on
interest and involvement.
Impact is conveyed quarterly—
sometimes by phone or visit,
and other times via snail mail or
Recurring gift option.
Anatomy of a Thank You Letter
Be personal: Dear Susan, not Dear Friend
and no ID #
An opening sentence that “sparkles,” e.g., They
flit from flower to flower. Glisten in the grass. Each butterfly and
beetle protected because of you. [Lisa Sargent]
Explains how the money is being put to use
(impact) in a concise but compelling way (be
Lets the donor know when he/she will receive
a program update
Includes the name and phone number of
someone the donor can contact
Is personally signed by a high-ranking
Tip: Count the
“you’s” in your
thank you letter.
They should out-
number the “we’s.”
Sample thank you
Be as personal as appropriate
with the salutation. Even if you
use Mr./Ms., use a comma.
“Sparkling” first sentence; tell a story;
Separate IRS receipt
if possible. If not,
preferably, or at the
P.S. is the
Thank you “do not’s”
Do not begin the letter with “On behalf of” or
“Thank you for.” These phrases are
predictable and uninspiring (71% use one or
the other) Page 37 Donor-Centered Fundraising
Do not ask for more money or continue to
sell (53% of donors say this is rude; 8% stop
giving) Page 41 Donor-Centered Fundraising
Do not ask the donor to do anything, e.g., a
Do not use pre-printed cards (51% of study
respondents said a superior thank you letter
is personalized in some way) Page 38 Donor-Centered
IRS-required language turns even
a “sparkling” communication into
the “IRS letter”
Send it as a separate enclosure or
separate letter, if possible. If not,
consider placing it below the P.S.
The “you” test
Take your newsletter, appeal letter, website home
page, annual report—any donor communication—
and circle the “you’s.”
To pass the test:
Newsletter: Red circles in headlines, subheads, the lead
paragraphs, every offer, many caption and throughout the
Appeal letter: Red circles in 1st or 2nd sentence, last
sentence, P.S. and sprinkled throughout the text
Home page: Red circles in the headlines, in the banners,
in the clickable teasers (“You can learn more…. Click
Page 200, Keep Your Donors
Take advantage of the internet
The donor has just about finished reading your personal,
donor-centered, impact-oriented thank-you email.
You have his/her attention.
Send the donor to a video or resource on your website...
to your blog... to Twitter or Facebook...”
How to write thank-you emails that inspire, Network for Good Webinar 3/21/12: Lisa Sargent Communications
How to write thank-you emails that inspire, Network for Good Webinar 3/21/12: Lisa Sargent
Real-life sample from Lisa Sargent: charity:water.
Tax receipt arrived
as promised, as did
a beautiful follow-up
“OK, so this isn’t the
email. It’s the
redirect. But if you
want to see how to
tell a story in a
you can’t get much
better than this.
Thank you for attending!
If you have additional questions or if we can be of
assistance, please do get in touch:
617 596-6086 direct
Giving is good for your health—and I can prove it!