How recognising donors’ “stretch” led to an increase of 174%

I wanted to share an interesting tactic to help fundraisers planning stewardship activity during the pandemic – inspired by a pattern I’ve noticed in  conversations with various fundraisers who I train and coach.

It came about through one of our regular group coaching calls with people in the Bright Spot Members Club and one fundraiser from an overseas development charity shared that though not all of her donors are giving right now, those who are giving are tending to be more generous than they normally would.

In my new free ebook, Power through the Pandemic, I cite results from a homelessness charity, that has been running a very successful telephone fundraising campaign recently to their donors who have been giving around £15 per month.

They’ve made calls to see if those people would like to give more generously. They’ve made 600 calls so far, and have found that more people have chosen to increase their giving than normally would.

But really interestingly, the average amount they’ve increased by has gone up too, by an extra £30 in average value per person for the year.

Encouragingly, I’ve noticed the same trend in several other organisations, including ones that are not really obviously overtly affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

I’m sorry if you work for a cause where people are not so interested in giving generously right now. But I have noticed this theme in some charities with less obvious causes as well as the those clearly linked to the virus.

This is good news, obviously, because those calls or those requests for funds are paying you back more effectively for your effort. And secondly, it sets up what I think is a really good opportunity for how we can steward donors who have given more than usual.

The particular insight I’ve got comes from Episode 4 of the podcast I run, the Fundraising Bright Spots Podcast, which I made with a brilliant fundraiser called Rachel Hunnybun. She shared results from a couple of years ago, where she worked for a charity that had a particularly successful fundraising campaign.

Rachel noticed that people were being more generous in response to this campaign than normal campaigns. In fact, she noticed that 24% of people were markedly more generous. What she decided to do was to recognise explicitly that ‘stretch’ in giving. But because there were hundreds of them, she couldn’t make phone calls to all of them. So all she did was she and her colleagues wrote a handwritten thank you note. The main message was, “we noticed you were especially generous / even more generous to normal this time, and we really appreciate the difference this is making.”

She sent that card to half the people who had given more generously than usual, (even if they were giving at a relatively low level compared to major donors who often get this personalised treatment). That half received this lovely extra thank you card, and the other half, a control group, didn’t receive the extra stewardship in this way.

Rachel then monitored giving in the following year and found that something as simple as a handwritten thank you card led to tens of thousands of pounds in extra income.

In fact, giving from the group that received the handwritten thank you with this simple acknowledgement, increased by 174% compared to the previous year level.

So what does this mean for us right now?

We can’t do too much about the people who are choosing not to support our cause right now, but (assuming we can keep the doors open of our charity for the next months), one really valuable thing to bear in mind is look out for people who’ve been more generous than they normally would be. Then, the key question is:

What can you do to explicitly recognise this extra generosity at this difficult time?

For some donors, such as major donors, trust or corporates, it might be appropriate that they receive a bespoke phone call or even just a film from your chief executive or from someone on the front line, thanking them for this extra generosity when we need it most. Clearly, there’s all kinds of creative stewardship tactics you can do.

But if all you do is search on the database for people who are more generous than normal and send those people very simple handwritten thank you cards, then my expectation is the act of you acknowledging that will lead to them being even more generous in the coming months. Certainly that is consistent with what Rachel discovered.

If you want to check out Rachel’s interview, it is in Episode 4 of the Fundraising Bright Spots Podcast.

Just before I finish, if you like these kinds of insights and ideas and you want to get access to more of them, then there is an opportunity which we’ve never done before with the Bright Spot Members Club.

If you didn’t know about it, the Bright Spot Members Club is an online training and inspiration site, a community for fundraisers, and it includes:

  • More than 30 training bundles, with downloadable notes
  • Twice-weekly Group Coaching Calls
  • An encouraging, supportive community, to help you solve problems