As the incredible success of the Ice Bucket Challenge winds down, many are wondering, “What’s next?” This viral fundraising phenomenon created an influx of funds and new donors for several organizations. Now it’s up to those organizations to engage these new donors to create a new base of long-term supporters.
Cultivating new donors is like starting a new relationship. You have a short period of time to make a good first impression. The honeymoon period is exciting, but it’s also when someone will be forming their opinion of you and deciding if they want to keep you around for the long haul.
Let’s use a hypothetical donor named Dave as an example. Dave’s friend Sarah posted a video on Facebook where she was seen dumping ice water over her head. Sarah tagged Dave in the post and challenged him to do the same or donate to your organization within the next 24 hours. Dave, being the good person that he is, dumped ice over his head and made a donation (we love Dave!). But now what? Dave has no connection to your organization; he only gave because Sarah challenged him very publicly.
Just because Dave doesn’t have a personal reason for caring about your organization doesn’t mean that he can’t or won’t care in the future. You just need to have a different strategy for cultivating Dave than you would for your cause-connected donors. Here are five ways to make a good first impression and increase the likelihood that a one-time donor like Dave will stick around beyond the hype:
- Thank Dave. Your mother taught you this when you were little: thank you notes are important.With Dave’s thank you note, however, be specific. Let him know that you know which door he came through. Mention the Ice Buckets so that he knows that you know where he came from. Also, provide a link in the email that brings him to your website so he can find out more and get further engaged.
- Get to know Dave. One of the best donor cultivation lines I have ever heard (and I wish I could remember who said it) is this: “Don’t try to French kiss me before you even ask my name.” That’s solid advice both for relationships and fundraising. Ask Dave questions about himself so that you know how to start building a relationship with him. How old is he and where does he live? What information is he interested in receiving from you? What other organizations does he support? Gather as much information as you can so that (a) Dave knows that you really want to get to know him and (b) you know how to tailor your next ask.
- Connect Dave (further) to the cause. Dave may or may not have a connection. We’re going to assume that he doesn’t.You can help create that connection, however, by letting Dave hear from people you have helped. Depending on the size of your organization and your resources, this may come in the form of an email, a hand-written note from one of your constituents, or a video about a project that has been funded by people just like Dave. Put a face to your cause and give Dave a reason to care.
- Make Dave the star. You and your staff may be the ones with the boots on the ground, manning the front lines, working directly with your constituents and creating real impact.However, let’s be honest: you can’t do what you do without the Daves of the world.Thank Dave publicly, put his name up in lights, ask him why he gave and then post his picture and quote on social media. Leave no doubt in Dave’s mind that he’s the star of the show and you can’t do this without him.
- Thank Dave again. You can never thank someone too many times. Trust me, I tried to convince my mom that I didn’t need to send Aunt Florence a thank you note for this year’s birthday gift, she knew I was thankful because I sent her one for last year’s birthday gift. My mom didn’t budge during the argument and she was right not to. People give from the heart but they still want to know that you received their gift and value it. An appreciated donor is more likely to be a repeat donor.
Now for the million-dollar question: when can we make another ask of Dave? Unlike romantic relationships, where you often have to guess what someone else is thinking, in fundraising relationships your data will tell you. Don’t ask Dave to make another donation right away, but ask him to do other things and see how he responds. If Dave is reading your emails, filling out the survey you sent him, responding to your request for him to sign a petition, and following through on other similar interactions, he’s probably ready to take the relationship to the next level.
Depending on your organization, this might mean asking him to make another donation. Or, it might mean asking him to fundraise through your peer-to-peer program. And if Dave isn’t following through on those other requests, it doesn’t necessarily mean he’s just not that into you; it might mean that he needs more time before taking things to the next level. Remember that most of us don’t get married the day after we meet the love of our life – no matter how great the first date was. Take your time and build a foundation.
A donor who comes in through a peer-to-peer program or media-induced fundraising craze may not have a direct connection to your organization, but with a little planning and a lot of stewardship, you can increase the likelihood that he will stick around for awhile. Put your best foot forward and make the most of the honeymoon period. And remember not to kiss on the first date.