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Campaigns for Small Gift Donors

“We are raising more money annually from fewer donors, with a drop off of those giving $100 or less. How would you design a campaign to retain these donors?”

This was the questions posted to an online fundraising community recently and I was immediately compelled to craft a (rather long) response.

I have written about the shocking loss of millions of donors over the past two decades (and subsequently, ideas to help reverse this trend) along with an article about why our donors are likely to stop giving and tips to improve the online giving experience. But crafting intentional campaigns to reach these lower-dollar donors is essential for improving retention, reducing churn, and moving these supporters to higher levels of giving.

The overall strategy is very similar to the approaches we take with major donors. Engagement, cultivation, and stewardship are at the core of the efforts. Fortunately, there are many creative and effective tactics that can be implemented.

Cultivation Campaign

Donors who make one-time or smaller gifts may have been motivated by something in the news, encouraged by a friend, or interested momentarily by an event or ad. Additionally, donors who really care about the mission may have stopped giving because they were never properly acknowledged for their gift or did not receive information about the impact of their support.

In any of the above cases, a cultivation campaign can make a positive impact that results in repeat contributions. Create a series of touchpoints leading up to a large giving campaign such as year-end. These touchpoints can span a few weeks or a couple of months. Consider these strategies:

  • Send an additional thank you note, email, or postcard (repeatedly). Emphasize the impact of their last gift and how it is making a difference. Give an update on a new development, program or a recent goal that was reached (155 puppy adoptions, 1,400 books for children, 30,000 meals served, etc.)
  • Send an “exclusive” invitation to an event, a panel discussion, or a tour. This can be virtual or live. Again, emphasize the value of their partnership.
  • Create an engagement activity and ask for their participation. This can be a few trivia questions about your organization, a poll about a topic related to your mission, or a survey asking for their opinion.
  • Offer a downloadable item: a recipe guide, a book of inspirational poems, a map of interesting places to visit, an adult coloring book, or crafts for kids. (In one of my former campaigns, we had a partnership with the symphony and offered a download of a musical score.)
  • Provide a special message from the CEO recapping the year or a thank you message from staff. Highlight the mission impact and importance of donor support.
  • Following these cultivation pieces, lead into your year-end giving series. Segment your one-time and lower dollar donors for customized communications that align with your giving levels.

Need additional ideas? See this example: A Regency-Era Crowd Pleaser: the Ardently Austen campaign

Evergreen Initiatives

An evergreen initiative is similar to a cultivation campaign but the touchpoints extend throughout the year. Evergreen campaigns include:

  • A welcome series for new donors. Using email or text automations, set up a series after a new gift is received.
    • The first: focus on the impact and importance of the donation with an abundance of gratitude.
    • The second: outline the organizational goals for the year and any exciting or compelling projects coming up while offering appreciation to the donor for their partnership.
    • The third might highlight corporate match gifts, volunteering, or events.
  • Celebration emails (or postcards). Send a note on your donor’s birthday, the day they made their first donation or became a volunteer or a member.
  • Themed-day emails (or postcards). Select a few celebratory days throughout the year related to your mission (National Adoption Day, World Book Day, National Parents Day, World Oceans Day) and send notes to donors reminding them of how important their partnership is to ensure your mission is fulfilled on a day such as this.
  • A quarterly impact update for donors from the CEO or monthly e-newsletter. Use customized or conditional language for one-time donors to “thank them for their last gift on XX date.” This subtle reminder of their past support has a good chance of influencing future giving.

A Giving Day or Giving Tuesday

A giving day (such as Giving Tuesday) can generate a lot of community excitement and is an optimal time to contact one-time and smaller donors. Ensure that your giving day has motivational elements and incentives. These can include:

  • Set a goal. Post updates on social media and feature the progress in email to generate urgency.
  • Utilize a corporate or local partner to create a matching gift challenge. “Your gift will double on this day!”
  • Launch a strong ad campaign: paid search, social media ads, website ads and popups, radio or TV ads. Explore a partnership with local news outlet for additional promotion.
  • Enlist board members, staff and volunteers to help with promotion.
  • Launch pre-promotional ads and emails to announce the campaign and emphasize the importance of support. This can start a few days before the giving day.
  • Incorporate interactive elements such as social media stories, testimonials, a live-streamed event or behind-the-scenes video, host a virtual or live event.
  • Send multiple emails on the day. Segment audiences who have already donated and ask them to help promote through their social networks or with friends.
  • Include benefits for giving. This can be as simple as a downloadable book or thank you video from the CEO. Other ideas include tangible items (t-shirt, sticker, keychain, totebag), discounts from local retailers, or special event offers throughout the year.
  • Gratitude is key! Make sure to send thank-you emails and post the results.

Monthly Donation Campaign

In response to the question at the beginning of this post, a community member recommended a monthly donor campaign. This is an excellent idea. Follow these tips:

  • Create a strong value proposition that emphasizes the impact of continued support throughout the year.
  • Outline the benefits of monthly giving including the budget-friendly convenience and reward of knowing they are making an impact all year long.
  • Some organizations remove monthly donors from their mail program and promote the benefits of reduced mail and environmental impact.
  • Offer incentives such as an exclusive monthly e-newsletter, annual report, special thank you note or video from the CEO, a tangible thank-you item or invitations to special donors events.
  • Use an online donation form that has dynamic ask strings to more closely align with the donors historical giving amounts. For example, a $25 donor might see a monthly giving ladder of $10/$20/$50 whereas an $80 donor might see a monthly giving ladder of $50/$75/$100. Alternatively, analyze the levels of the donors in this pool and develop segmented or conditionalized communications that align with their giving.

Segment and Engage

There are several tactics for one-off engagement efforts with this (or any other) group based on sources or interest. Evaluate the group and align your outreach efforts. As mentioned above, consider these touchpoints a step toward a second donation ask. Consider these segments:

  • Event-acquired. Target communications and ads related to future events of similar themes.
  • Volunteers. Offer similar volunteer opportunities and think of incentives for future involvement.
  • Online donors. If they’ve made online donations during certain time frames (like year-end), craft specific messaging and ads targeted to the group during this time.
  • Direct mail donors. Consider the more traditional methods of outreach for this group – thank you notes and postcards to encourage repeat gifts. Try using a QR code for a survey to gather email addresses.
  • Recent donors. Repeat some of the tactics mentioned above, particularly participation. Keep your organization top of mind leading into a giving season
  • Lapsed donors. This group will require enhanced education on current initiatives. Explain why support is needed now.