One of my pet peeves as a donor is making a contribution (via a peer-to-peer request or tribute gift in honor or memory) in support of a friend; then receiving nothing but a form receipt.
Some of you may be thinking, “That’s exactly how I like it; now I have no reason to get sucked in as an ongoing donor to this organization.”
Your job as a fundraiser and nonprofit marketer is this: Suck. People. In.
… with the good stuff.
Draw folks to you like bees to honey.
Give them something sweet and irresistible.
A one-time formulaic, “thank you on behalf of the board and staff of XYZ charity for your $50 gift,” won’t seduce or tempt me in any way. It won’t make my heart sing.
If you don’t reach your first-time donor’s heart immediately with something that makes them feel warm and fuzzy, guess what happens? When you come back to them a year from now with an annual giving appeal, they’re highly unlikely to make another donation. They don’t care about you. They car(ed) about their friend.
What Causes Tribute and Peer-to-Peer Donors to Feel Good?
When I give in honor of someone else, to a charity to which they’ve directed me, I tend to feel a little bit good because I did something meaningful to them. But… I don’t feel good because it was meaningful to me.
Unless the charity does something proactive to make their cause resonate with me more directly, I’m not likely to be a repeat donor to this organization.
So don’t kid yourself.
If you think you’ve acquired a new donor through your tribute or peer-to-peer giving program, think again. What you’ve acquired is likely nothing more than a one-time transactional gift.
Tribute and peer-to-peer programs bring in today’s dollars, but don’t do a great job of setting the stage for tomorrow.
What If You Built a Tribute and/or Peer-to-Peer Donor Retention Plan?
I like to think of donors who give in support of a friend as folks who are a bit more likely to give again than your average bear because they have a linkage through their friend.
Let’s review a basic “Fundraising 101” tenet: People are likely to become your loyal donors if, and only if, they have these three characteristics:
- Linkage to you (connection)
- Interest in what you do (concern)
- Ability to give (capacity)
Donors who are peers—friends, family, neighbors, colleagues—have two of these characteristics: linkage (through their peer) and ability (demonstrated by their gift). Of course, you don’t know at this point how much giving capacity they may have, but you do know they’re philanthropic. It’s a good start.
What you need to build is their interest in what you do.
This requires creating a written plan focused on donor love and loyalty. Goals, objectives and strategies in such a plan will be similar for all donors
But… you want to include some special tweaks for peer-to-peer and tribute donors.
Because their motivation to give to you generally is different from other donors.
Focus on What Motivates Peer-to-Peer and Tribute Donors to Act
You’ve no doubt heard the old adage: People give to people.
It couldn’t be truer than it is with gifts folks make in support of their friends.
They don’t do it because of their own values so much as because they care about their friends.
And there’s something more.
They give because their friends vetted your charity on their behalf.
There’s a name for this, and it’s called “social proof.” It’s one of Robert Cialdini’s principles of influence. People are inclined to take their cues from others. It’s a decision-making shortcut.
This gets your foot in the door.
It’s up to you to open the door wide and truly welcome this donor inside; then get them to take a seat and stick around for a while.
How Do You Get One-Time Peer-to-Peer and Tribute Donors to Repeat?
The best donor retention strategy of all is to show donors you know them.
Right now, you don’t know much personal stuff about these folks. Your “Donor Love & Loyalty Plan” should be designed to fix this over time. But, for now, start with what you do know.
- They made a gift in support of a friend, colleague or loved one.
- They probably don’t know much about your charity and/or the program for which the gift may have been earmarked.
- They’re caring and philanthropic by virtue of doing something to show support for another person and making a charitable gift.
That’s actually a lot of information to work with!
Make sure you work with what you have:
- Explicitly thank donors for making a gift in support of their friend or loved one. (e.g. “Thanks for making a gift in honor of Claire’s birthday!” “Thanks for memorializing Bob in this loving way, by supporting a cause that meant so much to him.”)
- Remind them you know how much this meant to the person on whose behalf this gift was made (g. “You are an awesome friend!” “You did a really kind, loving thing with your recent gift.”)
- Tell them what their gift accomplishes (e.g. “Here’s what Bob would want you to know about how your gift helps…”)
- Tell them what happens next. (e.g. “We’d love to host you for [tour, online town hall, conference call].” “You’ll receive our monthly e-news where we’ll tell you heartwarming stories about how your gift helps.”)
- Be genuine, understanding and donor-centered. (e.g. “We know your primary impetus for this gift was your friend’s request, and we want to honor that. We hope you’ll want to learn more about how much your support means to us, too! Of course, if you’d like to unsubscribe from further communications, just let us know [give contact info/unsubscribe link]”).
- When you ask for a second gift, remind them how and why they made their first gift. Ask if they’d like to make another gift in honor of the friend who drew them here, or if they’d like to make one in honor/memory of someone else. This ties into another of Robert Cialdini’s principles of influence known as “commitment and consistency.” We’re wired to do what we’ve done before. Again, it’s a decision-making shortcut. And, for this donor, it kills two birds with one stone: (1) making a kind overture to a friend, and (2) making a charitable gift that enacts a personal value.
Humans Are Tribal
People want to be part of a community of like-minded people.
Tribute and peer-to-peer donors already know at least one person who thinks highly of your charity. Your job is to introduce them to your broader community.
Not just to your cause, but to more people with whom they can hang.
- Invite them to attend free events (e.g. tours; open houses, “office hours” with the executive director, panel discussions, “brown bag” lunches, town halls, fireside chats, recognition events).
- See if they want to volunteer (either direct service, on a task force or committee or as an advocate).
- Get them on group supporter meetings (e.g. Zoom summits, conference calls or social media community hangouts).
- Ask them to join your social media networks (but make sure you have an active presence, and that you engage your supporters on a regular basis).
Keep doing this until the point where they self-identify as a member of your family.
- Where they check a box on a remit piece that says, “Yes, I’m against animal torture.”
- Where they click on a button to sign a pledge that says, “Yes, I’m a Greenpeace supporter.”
- Where they share your email, tweet or Facebook post with their own social media networks.
- Where they create their own peer-to-peer campaign or ask their funds to make tribute gifts on their behalf.
Convert first-time peer-to-peer and tribute donors to ongoing, loyal supporters with a concerted action plan that drives their retention. This is what will make the effort you put into building these donor acquisition programs worthwhile. Not just in the short-term—where such programs can cost more than they yield—but over time.
Every single fundraising strategy you employ should work towards maximizing the lifetime value of the donors you acquire. Otherwise, your fundraising is penny wise and pound foolish. Not a good financial strategy. Not for you personally, and not for your nonprofit.
Invest wisely. Then nurture your investment wisely.
That’s the recipe for long-term sustainability.
Want More Donor Retention Ideas?
Grab the Donor Retention and Gratitude Playbook. It’s six companion volumes (you can purchase separately, but why not buy the “bargain bundle”) which taken together serve as a complete Donor Retention ‘Bible’ — everything you need to raise more money by keeping your current donors and increasing their average gift!
- You’ll find plenty of practical tips, worksheets, exercises, templates, samples and checklists to reinforce your learning and serve as handy tools this year and in the future.
I’ve combed through all the research to help you make a persuasive case to your leaders as to why you should spend more time/resources on retention vs. acquisition, and also put together all the strategies that have worked like gang busters for me over my three decades of working in the trenches of nonprofits just like yours. This stuff has been put to the test — and it really works!
Not happy? I offer a 30-day, no-questions-asked, 100% refund.
Image courtesy of Michael Aleo on Unsplash.
A version of this article first appeared on Nonprofit Pro in 2018.
Thanks so much! This is great information! Quick question: I work for a local affiliate of an international organization. We often get memorial and peer-to-peer gifts from folks in other areas of the country that have their own local affiliate. How would you recommend handling that? Should I continue to build a relationship and send appeals, or direct them to the affiliate in their area?
There’s no one right answer to this question. It really depends on what motivated the gift, and what might motivte future gifts. If people make $100+ gifts it may be worth reaching out with a thank you phone call. You may be able to find out a bit more about them and their interests this way. It’s possible they would consider making an annual gift to you in honor or memory of the person who brought them to you. Or they may welcome a referral to an affiliate. In the latter case, make sure you let the affiliate know directly so they’re prepared to add this person to their mailing list and reach out to them. And ask the affiliate to return the favor if they’re ever in a similar situation. Hope that helps at least a little.