Opportunities and Challenges of Emotional Response Giving

By Suzanne Hilser-Wiles, President at GG+A

Your organization just got an influx of new donors…but how do you keep them?

Across the globe, giving was one of the ways millions of people responded to the pandemic. In a moment that felt hopeless and overwhelming, helping others offered people a way to do something positive and make a difference. Recently I had the chance to speak with Liz FitzGerald, Director of Development at ACLU, about emotional response giving and the challenges of retaining first-time donors who give in the wake of a national or global event. With so many of our client institutions experiencing an influx of new donors in response to the pandemic, this topic remains top of mind.

Here are some of the practical takeaways from that conversation:

Define your retention goals – Is it to meet or exceed a historic first-time renewal rate? Is it to renew more donors from certain geographic areas or with a certain profile? This will enable you to develop a strategy that supports your specific desired outcomes. For example, one of our clients focused its retention efforts on donors in its region because it believed those donors were more likely to benefit from its mission and would ultimately be better long-term prospects.

Speak your (full) mission – Don’t assume that the event that triggered the gift is representative of the donor’s primary interests. You can test different messages and educate these donors about other work you are doing to support your mission. Just because they had an emotional reaction to that event doesn’t mean it’s the problem that is most aligned with their philanthropic goals.

Take risks – with messages, methods, channels. You will not only learn things about these donors, but you are also likely to learn things that will enhance your fundraising overall. One of our clients changed up its renewal cycle to include more digital communications to first-time donors, a strategy that worked so well they ended up revamping their communications for all lapsing donors.

Use the data – Don’t let anecdote overwhelm decision making. By analyzing the behaviors, responses and outcomes with these donors, you can continue to finetune your approach to them and to your other prospects. This is especially true when it comes to complaints! Don’t let negative feedback from a handful of new donors stop you from reaching out to all of them…especially if your approaches are working with many!

Educate your organizational partners – Too often the annual giving team, the marketing team and the finance team don’t have shared expectations around the efficacy of these efforts. Make sure everyone is clear about the costs and ROI on first-time renewals.

Show the impact – Reporting back on your response to the event that triggered the gift – and your long-term commitment to the underlying issues – will help reinforce the donor’s decision to choose your organization as the place to invest.

Don’t give up! While these donors may be less likely to renew, they are still worth the effort.

Listen to the full webinar here, part of GG+A’s thought leadership series. If you have a question or comment on this topic, email me at [email protected]