7 Steps for Converting One-time Donors Into Recurring Donors or Members

WRITTEN BY Sayana Izmailova, WildApricot

Imagine this scenario:

Your nonprofit has organized quite a successful online fundraiser — engagement on social media went through the roof, people got their friends and family involved, and you received hundreds of donations from people you’ve never heard from before! 

You celebrate the success of your fundraiser and carry on with business as usual. 

But a few months later, you realize that apart from that initial spike in donations, your monthly revenue hasn’t really increased. All those new donors who were introduced to your organization through the fundraiser seemed to have vanished off the face of the Earth. They made their donations and then you never heard from them again. 

Does this sound familiar?

The reality is, first-time donors are extremely valuable, but many organizations fail to develop a relationship with them and inspire them to give on a recurring basis

Maybe you haven’t heard from them after that first gift, but how much have they heard from you? 

In this post, we’ll take a look at the seven crucial steps you should take if you want to convert one-time donors into recurring donors or members. The process is not a quick one, but following these steps will drastically increase your chances of growing your community and making the most of your fundraising efforts. 

Let’s dive in!

7 Steps For Converting One-Time Donors into Recurring Donors

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1. Express Gratitude

When a donor makes their first one-time gift to your organization, this is your chance to make a positive first impression and make sure your relationship with them is off to a great start.

This begins with the moment that the gift is made. Think about the experience of a donor who, for example, made a gift online through your donation page. Do they get immediate confirmation or are they left wondering whether or not the payment went through? Do they receive a thanks message or simply an automatic receipt?

A heartfelt thank you message is absolutely crucial, regardless of the size of the gift. For online gifts, you can set up automatic emails. For mailed-in donations, you can send a personalized email or even give the donor a quick phone call. Depending on the size of the gift, you may need to take it further and send a customized letter or a handwritten note.

As a general guideline, aim to send some sort of gratitude message within 24 hours, and make sure to send a tax receipt within three days.

This will let the donor know that their gift is very much needed and appreciated, and they’ll be much more likely to give again in the future or join your organization as a member.

MobileCause automatically sends donors one-time and recurring gift receipts that can be used for tax purposes.

2. Get to Know Them

A few weeks after a donor makes their first gift to your organization, reach out to them once again to get to know them. This can be a phone call if the donation amount was substantial, or a simple survey included in your welcome package. 

It’s important for you to know as much as the donor is willing to share, so you can start building a relationship with them and personalize your future communications. For instance, you can ask how they found out about your organization, what drew them to you and why they made their gift. This will help you understand what about your mission has resonated with them, and you can make a note to focus on this area in your subsequent conversations. 

Be sure to also ask about any particular programs or services that the donor is interested in hearing about. When it comes time to give them updates, this is the information they’ll appreciate most.

Finally, don’t forget to ask about basic preferences, such as how often they’d like to stay in touch, whether they prefer emails, phone calls or in-person meetings, whether they’d like to be invited to events, and other details. This will show the donor that you genuinely care about their experience and will avoid any unsolicited communications.

3. Show Impact

Donors want to know how their donation helped make a difference in your organization, especially after their first gift.

You can showcase their impact by sending an annual report, or a custom report that includes details on their particular area of interest. Let them know what their donation has helped achieve, and if possible, include testimonials from the people who benefited from your programs and services.

One thing to avoid is showing impact too quickly — if a donor makes a $100 gift and the next day they receive an email about how their $100 helped buy food for children in need, your communication will seem disingenuous and distasteful. Instead, wait six months to a year to provide a fulsome update and, once again, express gratitude.

4. Show Them How Much You Need Them

While it’s important to show impact, always boasting about the work your organization is doing can send a falsely positive message — that you’ve got everything you need to continue making a difference and you don’t need to rely on donor support or membership dues.

That’s why your communications should always strike a balance between showing impact and expressing need. Tell your donors about the work you’re doing, but also tell them how much work still needs to be done and how their future donations will help.

One important thing to remember is to never combine the two into one piece of communication. If you’re sending a report with the intent to show impact and give thanks, don’t mix in any messaging about what else you need — this will simply confuse and, at times, annoy your donors.

Instead, send a separate letter a few months down the line or have a conversation with them about what your organization’s future plans are and how they can get involved.

5. Stay in Touch

After a donor makes their first gift, the worst thing that could happen is that they simply forget about you. To avoid this, be sure to stay top of mind by regularly staying in touch. 

This doesn’t have to come in the form of bombarding them with calls, letters and emails. In fact, that could do more damage to your relationship. Instead, find ways to keep them up-to-date and make them feel like they’re part of a community.

You can do this by inviting them to follow you on social media and posting regular updates there, sending them a holiday card, asking them for feedback or advice, getting them to participate in challenges and contests, and sending newsletters.

It’s important to add variety to your messaging. If every single one of your emails or newsletters pressures the recipient to make another gift or join as a member, they’ll quickly unsubscribe. Instead, mix in communications that have nothing to do with donations or member dues, such as holiday greetings, announcements, behind-the-scenes content, and stories about your organization and the people it serves.

Finally, prioritize the donors’ preferences. If they’ve indicated that they don’t check email and want all their communications by mail, do just that. If they made it clear that they only want to receive the newsletter and nothing else, remove them from all other lists.

Sure, this might mean they don’t get to hear from you as much, but a happy donor you rarely talk to is better than an annoyed donor who receives everything you send and discards it without reading.

6. Don’t Ask for Too Much Too Quickly

Your ultimate goal is to convert a one-time donor into a recurring donor or a member, but this doesn’t happen overnight. Like any meaningful relationship, this process takes a lot of time — you have to take the steps to cultivate trust, loyalty and mutual benefit.

One of the worst things you can do that will interrupt this process is asking for too much too quickly. If a first-time donor made a $20 gift, don’t ask them to immediately sign up to give $20/month or become a paying member. Your request will be ignored at best, but will more likely put off the donor and ruin your chances in the future.

Before asking them to commit, make sure you follow the aforementioned steps and be patient. Create opportunities for meaningful conversation and get to know them first. Maybe the next time you ask them to make a donation, it can be another $20 gift, or a slightly higher amount.

Remember, also, that your relationship does not revolve around a monetary transaction. Some donors are eager to join your community but don’t have the financial means at this time to become a recurring donor or member. You can continue to cultivate your relationship with them by inviting them to events or asking them to consider volunteering their time. When someone has already made prior commitments to your organization, they’ll be more likely to offer their support in the future.

7. Make it Easy

Finally, if you want a one-time donor to become a recurring donor or member, you have to make the process easy for them. Avoid creating too many steps, sending lengthy forms, and making them wait 15 minutes on the phone.

If it’s unclear to people how they can sign-up, they’ll be much less likely to actually do it. If they try to call your office once or twice but no one picks up, they’ll probably change their mind before they’re able to reach you. 

A much better option is to include a link to an online sign-up form in an email you send. You can also have them send you a quick email about it  — if they’ve made a donation before, you already have their information and can make the update in the backend on your own.

Be sure to immediately send confirmation of their new recurring donor or member status, including the details of their payment terms. This will avoid any misunderstandings in the future.

What next? 

Once someone has joined your community as a recurring donor or member, the process begins all over again. Go back to steps 1-6 and keep repeating them for the donor’s entire lifecycle. Proper stewardship will help retain them for many years and help them see the value in their contributions. 

If appropriate, you can also eventually try and upgrade them to a higher monthly amount, so these steps will be especially relevant then. 

Remember to always keep your relationship with donors and members a priority and they’ll help your organization thrive!

Sayana Izmailova
Content Marketing Specialist


Our goal at MobileCause is to help nonprofit organizations create and manage successful digital fundraising campaigns, raise more money and retain donors longer. Request a free demo with one of our fundraising experts to learn, step by step, how MobileCause can simply help set up your campaigns while transforming your results.

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