How to Upgrade Your Donors

by Joe Garecht

Going Up

As you’ve probably heard at non-profit seminars and conferences, receiving another gift from a current donor is generally far easier than finding, cultivating and asking a new prospect for a donation.  This truism dovetails with the conventional sales wisdom that it’s easier to keep a customer than find a new one.

The way to keep a donor loyal to your organization and giving on an annual basis is called stewardship.  Stewardship is a continuation of the cultivation process and is essential to the long-term health of a growing non-profit.  Stewardship strengthens and deepens the relationship between the donor and your organization and sets the stage for continued giving.

In our Supercharge Your Fundraising class, we present an entire module on how to successfully steward donors.  Today, I want to talk about one specific goal of stewardship: upgrading donors.  Upgrading is asking your current donors to increase their next gift, give more often, or increase the size of a pledge that they have already made.

Why Upgrading is Important

If your organization is good at stewarding donors, you will have a reliable and stable group of supporters who make a gift every year.  If your organization is superb at stewarding donors, you’ll not only receive those annual donations, but you’ll also build a group of donors who are willing to open up their own networks to help you find new prospects.  This is called building fundraising networks.

The final step in the stewardship is upgrading your donors by asking them to increase their average gift size.

Upgrading your donors is important because it is the single easiest way to increase your annual revenue.  Donors who give are likely to continue giving, and if you are stewarding them properly, donors who give $50 per month are the most likely prospects to start giving $100 per month, and donors who pledge $100,000 to your capital campaign are the most likely people to pledge $150,000 to your next campaign.  In short, your current donors are the “low hanging fruit” for larger gifts.

Why Donors Upgrade

Donors upgrade their average gift size or current pledge for four reasons:

First, donors upgrade because they believe in your mission.  When donors feel like your nonprofit has a strong vision and is doing tangible good in the world, they want to become more involved in your efforts.

Second, donors upgrade because they feel like you are using their money wisely.  When a donor gives you money, he or she wants to know that you are spending it on things that matter and not wasting it.  If your nonprofit shows fiscal responsibility, donors will be more likely to upgrade.

Third, donors upgrade because they believe in your team.  This is why relationship-building is so important.  When funders believe in your team (including your board and staff) they will want to provide more funds so that the team can do even more good.

Fourth, donors upgrade because they are asked to upgrade.  While some donors will offer to upgrade their donation or pledge amount without being asked, this is rare.  In the vast majority of cases, donors don’t upgrade until someone from your organization asks them to do so.

The 5 Step Upgrade Process

Now that you know why donors upgrade, let’s take a look at the five step process your nonprofit can use to get your donors to upgrade their average gift size or current pledge amount:

Step 1: Acknowledge the Most Recent Gift or Current Pledge

The first step in asking a donor to upgrade is to recognize your donor for their most recent gift or the current pledge they are paying off.  Thank them for their support and investment in your organization and let them know the crucial role they play as part of your team.

Step 2: Show the Positive Outcomes from the Most Recent Gift or Current Pledge

Next, explain to your donor all of the great things you have been able to do with their money – all of the people that are being helped, all the good that is being done in the world as a result of their gift.  Alternately, if you are asking the donor to upgrade a pledge, show them all of the wonderful things that your will be able to do as they pay off their commitment.

Step 3: Explain Why You Need More Money

The next step is to explain why your organization is seeking more money.  Have things changed?  Has your vision gotten bigger?  Are you extremely close to your goal, and asking current donors for more support to end your campaign?  Are you launching a new project or trying to serve more clients?  You’re going to be asking this donor, who has already given you money, for a larger gift.  Explain to him or her why you need more.

Step 4: Ask Your Donor to Upgrade

Make your ask.  Your ask should be concrete (for a specific amount) and an actual question.  Don’t make a statement like “we could really use more support,” and don’t ask for a wishy-washy amount (asking for “as much more as you can give” is not an effective way to upgrade).  Instead, ask something  like, “Would you be able to increase your pledge from $25,000 to $50,000 over the next five years?”

Step 5: Be Quiet

As with all asks, the final step is to be quiet.  Once you make the ask, stop talking.  Let your donor think.  Then let them talk first.  It may seem awkward, or like too long a pause, but it’s not.  Sit tight.  You’ll receive far more yes’s if you stay quiet after the ask than if you keep on talking.

Upgrading is an excellent way to raise the average gift and overall revenue of your organization.  Does your organization have an upgrade strategy?  Are you actively working with donors to increase gift and pledge sizes?

Having a system for upgrading your donors is a key part of the Rapid Growth Fundraising System.  To learn how to quickly grow fundraising capacity at you organization, check out How to Rapidly Grow Fundraising at Your Non-Profit.

Photo Credit: Soul Rider

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