Stewarding First-Time Donors to Annual Giving: 5 Tips

Friday, April 28, 2023

Retaining your nonprofit’s donors depends on the effectiveness of your stewardship. Especially for first-time donors, you need engagement strategies like tailored communications, appealing involvement opportunities, and genuine appreciation to keep them invested in your mission. After all, you’ve put in the work to successfully acquire a new donor and you don’t want to lose them now.

Proactive stewardship will ensure you not only keep new donors interested in your nonprofit but inspire them to give again each year. Explore these five tips to improve your stewardship efforts and guide first-time donors to annual giving:

  1. Develop a stewardship plan for new donors.
  2. Welcome them to your community.
  3. Highlight involvement opportunities.
  4. Personalize annual giving asks.
  5. Include first-time donors in your year-end campaign.

Involving first-time donors in your annual giving campaign can have a major impact on their future involvement with your organization. Let’s dive into the process of encouraging first-time donors to give again year after year.

1. Develop a stewardship plan for new donors.

Before you even start communicating with donors after they give their first gift, make sure you have a firm understanding of your stewardship goals and strategy.

Meyer Partners’ donor pyramid guide explains one of the key goals of stewardship: to gradually move your donors up to higher and more frequent levels of giving.

You can use tools like a donor pyramid to visualize this goal or an ideal donor profile to discover which first-time donors are most likely to align with your mission long-term. Using a donor pyramid, for example, you would place a minor first-time donor at the bottom of the pyramid, then aim to move them up to the higher levels of a mid-level or recurring donor.

Once you have a clear understanding of your goals, take the time to develop a specific stewardship plan for first-time donors by following these steps:

  1. Evaluate your current data and strategy for communicating with first-time donors.
  2. Choose marketing channels to focus your new donor outreach efforts on, such as direct mail, email, or social media.
  3. Plan out what types of communications to send in the weeks after a first donation and how often you’ll do so. 
  4. Schedule key dates throughout the year to follow up with first-time donors.

When creating your stewardship plan, be sure to include plans for sending thank-you messages, event and volunteering invitations, campaign updates, and future asks.

2. Welcome them to your community.

Now that you’ve solidified your goals and strategy, let’s dive into the process of stewarding first-time donors to annual giving from their first donation.

Immediately after a first-time donation, send a thank-you and welcome email. You want your donors to feel they’re part of your community right away. After the initial email, consider additional ways to welcome them, such as:

  • Sending informational direct mailers or emails to give an overview of your mission and the work your nonprofit does
  • Inviting them to follow your organization’s social media accounts
  • Asking them to fill out surveys about their communication and giving preferences
  • Shouting out new donors individually in newsletters or on social media 

Each time you reach out, emphasize the new donor’s role in your organization’s work and explain how their donation will help you make a difference. Donors who feel appreciated and informed from the beginning are more likely to give again in the future.

3. Highlight involvement opportunities.

After the initial welcome period, continue the stewardship process by periodically sending out information about ways first-time donors can get more involved with your nonprofit. These opportunities could include fundraising events, volunteer programs, or even peer-to-peer campaigns.

To make these opportunities more appealing for new donors, tailor your invitations based on any preferences they reported and whether or not they’re local. Consider creating a virtual welcome event or an exclusive volunteer opportunity just for new donors. At these events, they can get to know each other and learn more about your organization on a personal level.

Don’t forget to record engagement data in your donor management system as new donors start to get involved. Knowing what types of events each new donor enjoys will help you tailor future communications for their preferences and increase the chances they become an annual donor.

4. Personalize annual giving asks.

You’ve made your plan, welcomed the new donor, and kept in contact by offering opportunities to get involved. These stewardship efforts have kept your organization on the donor’s mind, but they’ve still only donated one time. What do you do when it’s time to make another ask?

All your outreach up to this point provides you with valuable information you should use to personalize your first annual giving ask. First, personalize the ask for new donors by explaining what annual giving is and why it’s important. Make your case for support by demonstrating the major impact of annual gifts on your nonprofit’s operations.

To further personalize your asks for first-time donors, you should also:

  • Express gratitude for their previous donation and involvement. Check your CRM to see if they participated in any events or volunteer opportunities, and thank them for that specific involvement.
  • Mention their exact donation amount and the campaign it supported. If possible, explain the gift’s impact as well. For example, you could say, “The $200 donation you made last March covered two first-generation students’ college application fees. This donation paved the way for their acceptance into their top schools.
  • Include a clear call to action and several ways to give. Ask them directly to give to your annual giving campaign, and link to your donation page, text-to-give information, and any other ways to give.

You can also make it easy for new donors to make a greater impact with their next donation by highlighting matching gift opportunities. According to 360MatchPro’s matching gift guide, 84% of donors say they’re more willing to donate when their donations are matched by their employer. Let donors know how much more of a difference they can make with an annual matched gift.

5. Include first-time donors in your year-end campaign.

Lastly, don’t miss the opportunity to steward first-time donors during your year-end campaigns. While you may typically focus more on mid-level and major donors during this crucial fundraising period, the end of the year can be the perfect time to reach back out to new donors.

When you segment donors for year-end giving outreach, be sure to create a segment of first-time donors and tailor communications for them. Emphasize the impact they can make with an annual gift at this time of year by helping fund next year’s operations. Let them know what programs and campaigns you want to pursue in the coming year, and explain how you can’t pursue those initiatives without building up your annual fund.

Using these tips, you can cultivate lasting relationships that inspire donors to give for multiple years. When you reach that point with a donor, don’t stop the stewardship there. Focus on encouraging them to deepen their involvement in other ways or join your monthly giving program.