Acquire, Renew, and Upgrade


During a recent webinar I attended, one of the participants said, “Isn’t that all there is to fundraising – acquire, renew and upgrade?” On a very simplistic level, he was right.


Acquiring new donors is a necessity. You always want to grow your database with prospective donors and new donors. Every organization needs to have specific strategies to acquire new donors. Examples might include having an open house or sending out a very special direct mail appeal. One of my favorites is a VIP breakfast where board members invite one or two friends or colleagues to just come and learn about the organization. There is no solicitation. This activity can be repeated two or three times a year.


We also know that organizations will always lose donors. The reality is that no matter what a nonprofit does some donors will quit giving. They might move on to other interests or they might move to a different community. Some will even pass away. The organization’s goal is to add more donors to the database and not increase the number of lapsed donors or non-donors. Therefore, having very targeted measurable donor acquisition strategies is important and should always be part of a nonprofit’s annual fundraising plan.


Connecting with Donors

The acquisition of new donors is only part of the equation. A second part is to renew donors. Currently only one out of four first time donors will make a second gift to the organization. This statistic is based upon the most current Fundraising Effectiveness Survey. Again, an organization needs to develop strategies just for the renewal process. In order to renew and upgrade donors there is an additional element at play – relationship building. Unless your organization has done something to connect with the newly acquired donor, to build the relationship between the donor and your organization, then renew and upgrade are most likely not going to happen.


Building that relationship, connecting with donors, begins immediately upon receipt of the charitable donation. When you receive the donation and immediately pick up the phone and call the donor to say thank you, you have created the first step towards having a lifetime donor. You don’t even need to speak with the donor. You can leave a voice message. The idea is two-fold. Let the donor know you received the donation; and second, express gratitude.


The phone call should then be followed by sending a thank you letter. Two very easy steps, that take very little time, and yet are often the determining factors as to whether that donor will ever give to your organization again.


Research over the past two decades by Penelope Burk, Cyrus Research, and Adrian Sargeant, Indiana University, has demonstrated the critical importance of phone calls and thank you letters for donor retention. There are no guarantees that you will retain 100% of your donors, in fact, you probably will not. However, you will have a much greater possibility of beating the national donor retention rate of around 45%.


Today, you can automate the thank you with an email when the gift is made online. You have instant gratitude. An online platform with no sense of what just occurred said thank you. Where is the connection? There are development professionals who believe that is good enough. Might we wonder the percentage of the organization’s donor retention?


Engage with Donors

Following the initial thank you calls and letters, there are other ways to connect with donors. A quick survey asking their preferences for receiving communications is always helpful. Actually delivering their preference makes them feel heard.


You can also invite them to tour your nonprofit. Inquiry as to whether they have an interest in volunteering. Invite them to a meet and greet where they can learn more about the mission. By providing different means of engaging donors in the mission of the organization, you will learn more about the donor’s interest in the mission and they can see first-hand how their donation impacts the community.


Renewing and upgrading donors requires more than an automated thank you. It requires connecting and engaging with donors. Knowing what the donor cares about and what their vision is for a stronger, healthier, and more vibrant community can lead to a lifelong donor relationship.


If you want to raise more money in 2022, a suggestion would be to acquire, connect, engage, renew, and upgrade.


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