Test Donations: The Importance of Followup

Your big, annual fundraiser has just gone off without a hitch. Finally, the months of preparation are over, the endless stress and anxiety lifted from your shoulders as the night draws to a close. You can relax again. Take it easy. Return to business as usual.

A background shot of a high-end, formal event.

Many of you are probably shaking your head, but you’d be surprised with just how often we hear people express this sentiment. Fundraisers who say they can’t wait for their event to be over, that they just want to relax for a while. As most of you probably know, though, the real work begins when your event ends.

To highlight why, we wanted to share a story:

A close friend of ours (we’ll call him James) runs a foundation that gives away millions of dollars each year. He’s always looking for organizations to support, and so we introduced him to one of our clients whose values were in alignment with his. The introduction went well, and James went home intrigued. Eventually, after doing more research on the organization, James decided to donate $15,000. He felt that the organization was poised for growth, and loved their mission.

This story, though, doesn’t have a happy ending. A few weeks passed. Then, to thank James for his generous donation, the organization sent him… a form letter. An automated response. That was it. There was no follow up, no curiosity. They didn’t inquire about what had moved him to donate. They didn’t look for ways to get him more involved. They didn’t even highlight the impact his donation would have.

It was the last time James gave money to that organization.

An image of someone writing a form or filling out a letter by hand.

And there’s a greater tragedy here. James wanted to give more. His donation was a test, of sorts; he was curious about how the organization followed up with donors. Finding out told him everything he needed to know. An organization that isn’t thoughtful about the way it follows up with donors is an organization that’s going to struggle with long-term viability. You miss out on untold opportunities when you don’t nail the followup.

Plus, James isn’t the only one out there making donations specifically to see how organizations respond. We recently interviewed fundraising expert (and Vice President at Grenzebach Glier and Associates) Jarel Loveless on our podcast, Joey Talks, where he said this:

“I make a test gift. Make a smaller gift. I want to see how they respond. Do I get an automated thank you? Do I get no thank you at all? Do I get any sort of recognition? Do I get my tax letter, even? So, you know, I think about those things. There’ve been organizations where I’ve made a smaller gift, and I get a phone call from someone on the team that says ‘Hey, I see you’re a first time donor. Thanks so much.’ That automatically makes me want to get more engaged because I know that my time is valued, and they made me feel like my funds are making a difference.”

Now, the obvious lesson is to treat every donation like it’s coming from James or Jarel. After all, you never know who could be giving you a “test donation.” But it’s also bigger than that, right? Because even if none of your donors secretly runs a charity foundation, in a way, all donations are test donations.

First-time donors are giving you their money, but they’re also giving you a chance. They’re trying to engage with your organization in a greater way, and how you respond matters. Meaningfully following up with them (rather than just sending an automated response) can turn new donors into lifelong supporters. And, of course, actively nurturing relationships with your existing donors is a key part of ensuring their continued support.

An image of a woman on the phone. She's smiling.

So what works? Here are some key things to remember when thinking about your post-event fundraising strategy:

  1. Start immediately. The sooner the better. Strike while the iron is hot, and the memory of the experience is still vivid.
  1. Keep it personal. Mass emails are fine, but the goal should always be to reach out and thank every donor individually. Handwritten letters, phone calls, etc. Whatever your organization has the capacity for.
  1. Ask for feedback. Not only will this help you improve your future events, it will also make your attendees feel valued.
  1. Immortalize the experience. Spend time sharing photos and videos. If you’ve partnered with us to capture footage during the event, we can help you create professional video content to keep people excited about the incredible work your organization is doing (like this highlight video we produced for the Down Syndrome Association of Greater St. Louis).
Highlight video of Step Up for Down Syndrome 2019.
  1. Share donor impact. Keep donors up-to-date on how you’re putting their money to use. Tell your story as it happens.

A thoughtful followup strategy is a critical part of a successful event. And a thoughtful followup strategy should prioritize individually connecting with and thanking donors. It’s one of the easiest things to overlook… and one of the most costly. You may never know when someone’s giving you a test donation, but if you focus on nailing the followup each and every time, it’ll never matter.

Want to learn more about event planning and followup? What other questions can we help answer? If you’re interested in joining our community, you can find our nonprofit Facebook group here or sign up for our monthly newsletter here.