Creating a New Donor Welcome Package
You never get a second chance to make a first impression. This is especially true for college and university annual giving programs, which are constantly competing with other nonprofits for the attention and support of donors. Often times, the first gift is a test. Donors will see how the institution responds before they decide to give again. While retention rates for prior-year donors tend to hover around 60 percent nationally, retention rates for first-time donors can be below 20 percent. That’s why it’s so important to take a personal and proactive approach to recognizing new donors when they offer their support.
The LSU Foundation’s annual giving team understands the value of new donor retention. After a year of significant donor growth and increased participation, their annual fund team faced the task of motivating those donors to make their second gift. They decided that the key was finding a way to celebrate those new donors and make them feel valued for their support. It was also important to highlight their collective impact. Since 82 percent of LSU’s annual contributions come from donors who make gifts of $250 or less, it was critical to show how even small gifts add up each year to make a difference for the school community.
LSU’s central annual fund team worked collaboratively with colleagues across the university – including donor relations, communications, and marketing, as well as the individual school units – to develop a new donor welcome package for their first-time donors. During the design process, the team looked at samples from other institutions for inspiration and, using those resources as a guide, came up with a piece that accomplished their goals and was unique to the personality of LSU.
The team produced a piece that celebrated a donor’s first gift with the tagline “You gave, we noticed.” They shared facts about the collective impact of philanthropic support and the number of first-generation students enrolled at LSU to align with the piece’s “firsts” theme. Each package included a special gift in the form of “tech tag” stickers with the beloved LSU tiger mascot. The team also utilized phonathon callers and student workers in the advancement office to add handwritten notes for a more personalized touch. Above all, the piece showed that LSU had taken note of the donor’s first gift and that it had an impact.
According to Julie LeFebvre, LSU Foundation Senior Director of Annual Giving, the team made the welcome piece one component of a year-long effort to target first-time donors with special messaging. They sent versions of the new donor piece via email and also included customized first-time donor language in their appeals. They worked hard to ensure that the outreach would make these donors feel special, but not overwhelmed. The team worked closely with development officers to suggest that their deans and other academic leaders follow up with handwritten thank you notes to new donors once the packages were received, but they pulled back on additional stewardship from the units so that the new donors didn’t feel inundated.
While it’s still early to know the long-term impact of their new donor strategy, LSU saw its first-time donor retention rate climb from 28 percent to almost 33 percent. Alumni have also been sharing positive feedback and pictures with their LSU “tech tag” stickers, so the team knows that the strategy has been well-received. They are hoping that over time this approach will grow their first-time donor retention rate to between 40-45 percent.
When someone decides to donate to an institution for the first time, it makes a powerful statement. Recognizing, celebrating, and engaging first-time donors is critical to maintaining their support and building a strong retention rate, while helping to cultivate a community of loyal and consistent supporters for many years to come. Because nothing is more important than a donor’s first gift – except their second gift.
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