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Four Tips For Engaging And Developing New Donors

Four Tips For Engaging And Developing New Donors

March 14, 2018
Kathy Gaston

While recently having dinner with a friend, she told me about her experience with a well-known nonprofit where she volunteers. After completing her volunteer responsibility, she returned her supplies to the organization along with a financial contribution. Knowing my friend, I am sure her check was not insignificant. She received her obligatory computer-generated thank you note and that was that. At the end of the year, she waited to receive an appeal from the organization and was prepared to make an additional contribution. But nothing came—no form letter, no year in review, not even an email.

According to the Fundraising Effectiveness Project, donor retention is under 50% and has been declining since 2008.

My friend’s experience is a prime example of how many nonprofits miss opportunities to develop new donors and retain the ones they already have. She believes in the mission of this organization. So much so that she is willing to donate not only her time but also her financial resources to it. And they are letting her slip away due to neglect.

While shoring up and maintaining relationships with core supporters (which should always be priority one – what is your retention rate of current donors?), nonprofits should also continue to look for new donors who can ensure the sustainability of the organization.  

Here are four ways to engage new donors:

Don’t miss low-hanging fruit. Your volunteers are individuals who are already engaged with your organization, care about the work you’re doing and can spread the message and mission of your organization even further. Former volunteers are often still passionate about your organization, they just may not be in a season to give their time.
Make it appropriate for your organization and the gift – from a welcome package of information to a call of thanks and to ask what motivated the gift. Be sure that you connect as fast and as perso nally as possible with each new donor.

Don’t let donors of any size slip through the cracks. Have a plan to ask for that second or continued gift.

During the fourth quarter of the year, be sure you have plans to utilize Thanksgiving to thank your donors and a year-end appeal appropriate to each donor that provides motivation and ease in making a year-end gift.

Donor attrition is real, especially when a nonprofit fails to follow-up with a past volunteer and donor. A sign of potential “donor fatigue” is when an organization says please more often than thank you.

Every gift is important. Smaller donors can be some of the most meaningful stewards of an organization. Nurture those relationships and the dividends could be huge.


Kathy Gaston

Kathy joined Lighthouse Counsel after 20 years as director of development at The Oak Hill School in Nashville, where she led two successful capital campaigns. She also directed all volunteer activities and shepherded an annual fund campaign that achieved 100 percent parent participation. Kathy is founder of the Nashville Area Development Directors Association, has served on a number of nonprofit boards. She served as board chair for the Eating Disorders Coalition of Tennessee and Lung Association of Tennessee. She has also served as president of Nashville Bar Auxiliary and chair of Lamar Alexander’s Inaugural Ball. She is a popular presenter and received the Circle of Excellence Award from the Council for Advancement and Support of Education for overall improvement in educational fundraising. Kathy holds a bachelor of science degree in education from the University of North Georgia. Kathy’s favorite quote: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” (Maya Angelou)