How to Turn One-Time Givers into Faithful Donors

Fundraising is all about your donors – reaching out to them, communicating with them, and building relationships with them.

These relationships are vital because they create donor retention, and donor retention makes a huge difference in your revenue streams. One person may give a very large, one-time gift, but their generosity won’t touch that of a supporter who consistently donates moderate amounts over the course of several years.

So, let’s take a look at how your organization can foster relationships that turn one-time givers into consistent donors.

Step 1: Acquisition

Many organizations tend to put a lot of energy into acquisition because growing a donor file is crucial. Growth strategies vary from ministry to ministry, depending on an organization’s type and size, but all nonprofits have to focus on finding the right donors who will support their causes. Here’s how you can do that:

1. Profile current donors. Your ministry needs to examine the people who currently support you, especially those who have supported you for multiple years, and then target others like them.

2. Identify the most effective way to connect with your ideal audience. For some organizations, that’s direct mail. For others, it’s a website, an event, or social media platforms. It all depends on the ministry.

3. Approach potential donors with your best proposition. Find the initiative, program, or testimony that has inspired the greatest response from your current donor file and incorporate it into your acquisition strategy. Whatever has connected with your current audience will most likely connect with your target, as well.

4. Test before you invest. Don’t just go hog wild and spend a bunch of money on acquisition. Test your audience and your channel first before devoting a lot of money to a particular strategy.

Step 2: Conversion

Someone who gives a single, one-time gift is a prospect – not a donor. They’ve only just tested the waters, so your job is to convert them into a faithful giver.

Your goal in this step is to connect your potential donor with your organization’s mission and heart.

But hurry – you only have six months!

We’ve tested this timeframe a lot over the years, and the results are consistent. You only have about six months to convert a first-time donor into an ongoing supporter, so you can’t drag your feet. You need to start the following process as soon as you can.

1. Thank the donor for their gift immediately. You can to it with a handwritten note, an online message, or even a phone call. In fact, thank-you phone calls have shown to increase subsequent gifts by 39%.

2. Build a relationship with the donor over the next six to eight days. During that period of time, you should send them five to six emails, maybe including a thank-you email, a testimonial email, or a newsletter full of stories about how your organization is changing lives through support from friends like them. And, of course, you need to provide the donor with more opportunities to give.

3. Mirror your online activity in your offline communication – but over the course of two to three months. In addition to the donation receipt, send your donor a personalized thank-you note, a newsletter, and an opportunity to give another gift.

The basic principle of conversion is this: You do not have a bona fide donor until the third gift, so take the steps necessary to engage that one-time giver and build a long-lasting relationship.

Step 3: Cultivation

Foster the relationship with your donor by sending them stories about how their generosity is making an impact – because those stories are the reason your supporter started giving in the first place. Tell them about the life that’s changed, the child who’s fed, and the family that is drinking clean water.

Also, make sure to send those stories through integrated channels. There’s nothing more frustrating for a donor than receiving one communication through a certain channel and then getting a different communication through a different channel. Make sure everything stays consistent.

Finally, communicate often. If you’re trying to develop a relationship with someone, you don’t pull back on communication. You increase it.

Do everything you can to build and maintain your connection to donors because that connection will eventually translate to more income and more lives changed.

For more fundraising basics, check out my Dunham Institute course, Fundamentals of Effective Fundraising.


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Ready to take the next step? Dunham+Company is here to help your organization have more impact and establish deeper relationships with your donors and supporters.

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