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Here’s how nonprofits can skillfully upgrade donors

October 08, 2021
Four nonprofit professionals convene around a table and take notes on paper to determine how to upgrade donors.

Upgrading existing donors is an easy and effective way your nonprofit organization can raise more. Plus, it can lead to higher donor retention and engagement rates, helping to secure the future of your nonprofit.

Let’s dive into the reasons why donors upgrade their gifts before exploring five strategies you can leverage to result in larger gifts.

4 reasons donors upgrade their gifts

Before you ask donors to upgrade their gifts, it’s essential to understand the reason why donors may agree to do so. Although specifics vary from person to person, there are four main reasons donors are willing to make a greater investment in your nonprofit organization:

  1. Strong belief in your nonprofit’s purpose and ability to make an impact. Donors are more likely to support nonprofits with purposes that align with their own personal interests. Because they have an investment in your nonprofit, they’re more likely to respond positively to a donation upgrade appeal.
  2. Confidence in your nonprofit’s leadership and team based on demonstrated results. If your nonprofit regularly hits your goals and informs your supporters about the results you’ve achieved, donors will see you as reliable and will be confident in your leadership.
  3. Recognition of your organization’s good stewardship of resources through fiscal responsibility and management. Donors want to know that their gifts are being used wisely and effectively. If you establish your nonprofit as responsible with your resources, donors will be happier to make larger gifts.
  4. Clearly communicated requests for them to upgrade their donation level. In order to successfully upgrade your donors’ giving levels, you’ll need to make a clear appeal so that they understand what you want from them. 

When you create your appeals, keep these reasons for why your donors will want to increase their giving in mind. Ask yourself, how can you relate your appeal to these reasons and give your donors the confidence to make larger gifts to your nonprofit?

5 strategies to skillfully upgrade your donors

Leverage stewardship practices and a donor-centric approach as you use these strategies to upgrade your donors.

1. Prepare a specific appeal.

These appeals can occur through emails, texts, social media posts, or any other communication channel your nonprofit uses. When you share your appeal, make sure to mention the specific dollar amount or giving level you would like the donor to consider upgrading to. 

You can use the inform-engage-invite technique to ask donors to upgrade their gifts:

  • Inform donors about your nonprofit’s ongoing need for funds.
  • Engage donors by asking them for their advice or insights.
  • Invite donors to take the next step in supporting your nonprofit by upgrading their donations.

If you use this technique well, you’ll be able to establish yourself as a reliable partner deserving of your donors’ support. Additionally, add links to your donation page in your appeal to make upgrading easy.

2. Demonstrate impact and need.

Use compelling narratives and photos to demonstrate the impact of each donor’s most recent gift. Reinforce the need and urgency of your nonprofit’s purpose and explain to donors why it’s important for them to make gifts now, as opposed to later. You can do this by detailing your nonprofit’s ongoing programs or by explaining your future plans for expansion.

When you demonstrate your impact and need to donors, make sure to blend data and anecdotes to make your story compelling. Donors want to see concrete statistics that will back up your claims, but they’ll also connect better to messages with an emotional appeal such as a beneficiary’s personal story. By creating a great story, you’ll more successfully retain and upgrade your donors.

3. Use donor segmentation.

Some donors will be more receptive to upgrade appeals than others. You can segment your donors to determine which donors have the capacity to make larger gifts to your nonprofit. Evaluate what demographics these donors belong to, and ask yourself what information you can use to create a compelling appeal.

When it comes to understanding your donors, you can send them a survey to help you gather more information. Use open-ended questions to find out what their connection to your purpose is, why they donated, how they want to be involved with your organization, and which communication channels they prefer. Additional information about their personal or professional background can be a tremendous advantage in cultivating a relationship with each donor, accessing their networks, and helping you encourage them to upgrade their gifts.

4. Invite your donors to events.

To build relationships with your donors, invite them to special cultivation events. Ideally, these events will be shared experiences that are related to your nonprofit’s purpose or are relevant and interesting to your donors. For example, if your nonprofit is an animal shelter, you can invite your donors to spend an afternoon playing with puppies.

Use this event to learn more about your donors and encourage them to get more involved with your nonprofit. This will help you determine how to structure your donor upgrade appeals and what content to include in them.

5. Thank donors for their gifts.

Promptly and personally thank each donor for their upgraded gift or pledge. Ideally, a thank-you message should be sent within 24–48 hours after the donation has been received to ensure all donors know they are valuable to your organization.

Upgrading your donors: The bottom line

Throughout all of your donor communications, you should demonstrate that you are a reliable nonprofit deserving of your donors’ support. Build rapport with your donors and establish that you’re a trustworthy partner that’s working towards a purpose the donor also thinks is important. Keep in mind your donors want you to succeed—if handled well, you should have great success with upgrading your donors!

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