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First-time donor communication: How and when to engage

October 18, 2021
Four nonprofit professionals are sitting in a circle and discussing their communications plan for engaging donors.

To create the optimal donor experience and increase retention, nonprofit organizations need tailored outreach strategies for first-time donors. Think about how your nonprofit currently engages with brand-new donors. When do you first reach out? How many messages do you send after the initial donation? What information are you providing?

If you’re unsure of the answers to these questions or want to improve your approach, look no further. We’ve outlined each step you should take from the moment a supporter makes their first donation. Use the following timeline as a guide for how and when to interact with first-time donors to ensure they stay engaged from the start.

Immediately: Say thank you

Gratitude goes a long way in making new donors feel like a part of your nonprofit’s community. Right after someone makes their first gift, you should express your gratitude in two places:

  1. A follow-up page. Set up your online donation page to display a custom confirmation message once transactions go through. Write a brief message of gratitude for the donation so donors feel your appreciation right away, and mention that they’ll receive a confirmation email shortly.
  2. A thank-you email in their inbox. Invest in fundraising software that allows you to set up automated thank-you messages that send immediately after each donation. This should be a short email that includes the donor’s receipt to confirm their contribution and mentions the specific campaign or project the gift will support.

These immediate messages should be just the beginning of your first-time donor communication plan. Hold off on sending more messages the same day to avoid overwhelming them, but be ready to bring them into your community with tailored messages throughout the coming week.

Same day: Record donor data

After expressing your thanks, input the new donor’s demographic, contact, and gift data into your donor management system.

Many data points, from the time of day the gift was made to your donor’s zip code, can help you customize upcoming donor communications and increase the probability of future gifts. If some of the data automatically flows in from your donation platform, supplement it with any other information you have and ensure everything is correct.

Within two days: Send a welcome email

While your initial thank-you email expresses gratitude for the donation, a welcome email says thank you for joining your nonprofit’s supporter community. This should be a longer email specific to first-time donors that combines gratitude, general information about your nonprofit, and ways to get more involved.

Use your donor management system to automate this initial email after first-time gifts. Make the welcome official by sending it from your executive director or a well-known program staffer. For even more impact, consider creating an entire email welcome series that includes multiple messages over the course of a few weeks. 

Within seven to ten days: Reinforce your thanks

After a week, you want to make sure your new donor remembers their initial commitment to support your purpose. To remind them, send one more email to conclude your welcome and reinforce your thanks. 

Send a warm, heartfelt email or letter using these tips:

  • Reiterate your appreciation for their first-time gift. Include the specific amount and the way it’ll support your campaign. 
  • Share an impact story that individual donations to your nonprofit made possible to show the importance of the donor’s gift. This person gave to your organization because they found your purpose appealing, so reinforce that!

Finally, provide them with next steps. Add links to resources on your website where they can learn more about your work and a registration page for an upcoming event or volunteer opportunity. Emphasize that you want to give them the chance to experience all your nonprofit has to offer. 

Start planning your first-time donor communications now

Communication in the first two weeks after a new donor gives can determine whether they give again. It’s never too late to update your first-time donor communication strategy and invest in tools to optimize this process. Bonterra Donor Engagement’s Guided Fundraising solution (formerly Network for Good) has helped many nonprofits and fundraising organizations engage their first-time donors with our automated outreach tools.

Guest Author: Nancy Schwartz

Marketing problem solver Nancy Schwartz helps nonprofit organizations raise awareness, hone messages, and grow loyal relationships with key supporters. Known for connecting strategy with refreshingly practical application, Nancy is a renowned speaker and trainer and a disarming, motivating coach and consultant. In any medium, her deep experience, insights, and passion guide clients up and over their most daunting nonprofit marketing challenges.

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    Donor Engagement
  • Nonprofits
  • Digital communications & marketing