Your donor welcome series might be unwelcoming

With the retention of first-time donors hovering around 20%, we clearly have a problem keeping donors: 80% of those we manage to motivate to give once — never give again.

If you can improve your first-time donor retention rate, you can transform your long term viability. You can go from running in a hamster wheel to zooming along an open highway.

One of the ways many people think of to improve first-time donor retention is to welcome new donors in a special way, often in the form a “Welcome Pack” that gives them a wealth of information about your organization, with the goal that it tightens the relationship and improves the chances of subsequent giving. They typically contain things like:

  • A booklet the extols the organization’s many exciting programs: “You donated to support A — you’ll be thrilled to know about B through Z.
  • A map showing where things are happening.
  • Lots and lots of great photos.
  • Branded swag.
  • Information on how to follow on social media and otherwise get involved.

The budget’s the limit.

I’ve been involved in creating several of these.

They don’t work.

“Work” defined as “measurably improve first-time donor retention.”

The things that do increase that important number:

  • A thank-you phone call.
  • Prompt and relevant postal thank-you message.
  • Report-back vehicles (like newsletters) that share stories of the donation put to work.

And something that might surprise you:
  • A fundraising piece with the same offer and similar messaging to the one that brought them on board in the first place.

That’s right: Send them another appeal just like the first one. That really does the job. It may not feel satisfying, but it works.

Here’s a test done by NextAfter that shows the numbers of this idea: How an offer-focused welcome series impacts donor conversion rate.

It’s a different situation than connecting with first-time donors, but similar: They had collected emails by offering a downloadable PDF, and wanted to convert those prospects into donors. They tested a welcome series that “told the story” of the organization, against one that was focused content offers like the one they had downloaded.

The test found that an offer-focused welcome series improved the donor conversion rate by +920%.

A principle that’s at work here is this: While repeated giving may lead people to more “engagement” — the reverse has not been shown to be true. You cannot “educate” people into giving (or giving again) — even when you do a great job of educating.

Donors donate. Our job is to let them do so.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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About the blogger

Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.

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