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Getting previous donors to give again

Piggy bank on a white background

It can take a lot of effort to bring a new donor on board, even if that’s just someone giving you a few pounds in a street collection. If someone donates to your cause, they will likely identify with it in some way or the work your charity does aligns with their values.

If only everyone felt this way about your charity, you would never need to look elsewhere for funds. However, because there are currently more than 169,000 UK charities in existence, it can be a bit of a lottery for a donor to choose yours.

And that’s assuming you’ve got someone willing to give their money to a charitable organisation in the first place. Not everyone can afford to do this, and even if they had the funds, some people still wouldn’t give to charity. It’s all horses for courses.

The odds of finding a willing donor, for the reasons mentioned above and more, are slim, which is why charities need to ensure their donors feel valued and acknowledged.

It’s much easier to keep a donor than win a new one—you’ve done a lot of the hard work already to get them to give at all. However, there’s a fine line between asking them for more money towards a project because you think they would want to help and pestering the life and soul out of them.

If a donor feels that they’re being treated as a money machine, they’ll find excuses to not donate. According to campaign expert Jeff Hensley, there is such a thing as ‘donor fatigue’. The pandemic made the issue worse, due to limited fundraising methods being allowed to go ahead. Collectively, donors were understanding, and regular givers made sure their favourite cause could continue their work amid the crisis; Hensley says donors ‘gave more than ever before’ during the pandemic.

His belief is that donors enjoy giving, or they wouldn’t do it. They get a good feeling, knowing they’ve helped make somebody’s life a little better, and find it a fulfilling way to spend spare funds. They may fall out with their cause of choice if the charity changes direction or becomes too political; however, what’s much more likely to stop them giving is if they don’t get any fulfilment when they donate. This can be as simple as not receiving a timely acknowledgement or thank you when they give a monetary gift.

All donors, especially regular ones, deserve your attention, and not just when you need money from them. For instance, they like to learn of the impact their donations make, future plans of the charity and any new projects/service areas. They also want to feel valued as people; if they have feedback, they want to be listened to (actively ask for feedback, if you can). Above all, they want to feel that the charity, and those who work for the cause, appreciate that its work could not continue without the goodwill and financial support of their donors.

Research has shown that 53% of donors leave a cause when it fails to communicate with them. And whilst you may believe a generic postcard will suffice, donors much prefer tailored messages that personally acknowledge their generosity. Put yourself in their shoes…if you had a friend who only popped up when they wanted something, who paid no attention to you or your life and only thought of themselves, you’d quickly end the relationship. It should be a two-way street. Treat them as good friends.

Conversely, some charities, particularly smaller organisations, are hesitant to go back to donors and ask for more of their money—even if they have a good relationship with them and talk to them regularly. They believe that any request for financial support will be rejected and do more harm than good. As mentioned, if you’re begging your regular donors for money every time the wind changes, they’re going to get fed up. If, however, you have never asked them for money before, or it’s a decent while since you did, few donors will be offended by your request. They may still choose not to donate, but it’s highly likely the reasons for this will be nothing to do with you or your cause, but their personal circumstances.

Recognising a donor’s previous gift and explaining where their money went and what it did is an indirect prompt that’s easy to arrange. Your donor will get all the feels, knowing how someone has benefitted from their generosity—so much so that they may decide to do it again. This may sit better with small charities as they build up confidence to be more direct and upfront with their requests for funds. Be careful to celebrate and be thankful of their previous donation; don’t use the opportunity to guilt-trip them into giving more money, as this is unlikely to work, and they may instead feel like a walking cash cow.

Charities need their regular donors more than ever in this economy. Treat them well and they’ll support your organisation for a very long time.


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