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The Best First-Time Donor Strategies We've Seen Lately

By Sarah Sims


As Donor Relations shifts into focusing on donor behaviors instead of giving amounts, the opportunities for recognition are endless. One of my favorite behaviors to develop strategy around is first-time donors. Why? Because they are testing us, dipping a toe in the water with our organization, and are critically important to retention figures and pipeline management. And to boot, you can get very creative and fun in this space! This audience doesn’t need over produced communication pieces that says their $25 gift saved the world. They just want to know that you recognize and honor them as new donors and that their $25 was important to you. If we let this group slide into the endless cycle of solicit, receipt, repeat, we will lose them.


As Penelope Burke shares, the sweet spot of acknowledgement is saying thank you seven times for a gift. Which sounds like a lot. But remember, that doesn’t mean seven thank you letters. That means seven points of communication or engagement with gratitude (not solicitation) messaging. This could take any number of forms – a video, newsletter, postcard, phone call, hand-written note, or an impact email! When developing your first-time donor recognition program, it’s key to incorporate different types of touches that engage the senses and provide variety in this “new” relationship.


So what does this all mean? It means craft a first-time donor program that incorporates multiple touches, in a variety of mediums, with content that is light, compelling, and full of gratitude. Spend one full year from the time of the donor’s first gift in stewardship and gratitude mode. Only after that year with targeted communications do you put them back in solicitation mode (to renew their gift!). Take time to cultivate the relationship and you will see your retention rates and upgrade gifts soar.


Here are a few of our favorite strategies and communication pieces aimed at FTD programs!


University of Florida FTD 12-Month Touchpoints:


UF Postcard


UF ThankView Video

UC Davis FTD Postcard

Oklahoma State FTD Letter



Iowa Tech Tags Mailing


LSU Mailer with Tech Tags

Charity Water Impact Email


Have you seen any great examples of first-time donor communications? We'd love to hear about them in the comments or you can tweet @DonorGuru.



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