Lifting Investment at All Levels

Why does upgrading deserve our attention? Upgrading is the quickest and most cost-effective path to increasing annual revenue to further an organization’s mission. But moving donors to higher levels of giving requires more than simply asking donors to increase their gifts. An organization must commit to developing and implementing a strategic upgrade plan.

Step 1: Audit for Understanding

  • Use indicators like gift source, demographics, giving behavior, channel behavior, engagement and interaction to compile behaviors and characteristics that signal donor value over time.
  • Identify patterns of offers, engagements and/or asks that sustain or erode value.

Step 2: Upgrade as an Organization

  • Approach upgrading as an increase in donor value for the organization. Donor value can be measured by donor investment of dollars (gift amount, frequency of gifts); donor loyalty (long-term retention, participation in giving clubs); and donor investment in time or engagement (action, advocacy).
  • Acknowledge and be comfortable with the fact that upgrading may result in donors switching or expanding giving channels.
  • Focus on the ultimate goals of upgrading and retaining.

Step 3: Steward and Engage

  • Design a year-long cultivation plan for donors that includes a combination of communication channels (mail, email, social, phone, in-person, events).
  • Stay committed and deliver.
  • Include soft asks where appropriate, but focus on gratitude, appreciation and information.
  • Pay attention to connections that donors initiate.

Step 4: Use Behavioral Science

  • Integrate approaches like the following to help inspire increased giving:
  • Story of one (connect emotionally by telling the story of one person rather than many).
  • Social proof (provide cues about other’s actions that you’d like a donor to replicate).
  • Anchoring effect (ensure that the element that immediately draws a donor’s attention is the most important to drive action, as the first piece of information received is used to make decisions).

Step 5: Make the Ask Clear and Compelling

  • Anchor the ask.
  • Keep it simple.
  • Connect emotionally.
  • Communicate why the donor matters and how their gift will impact change.

Step 6: Use Data and Analysis to Refine Strategy

  • Crunch the numbers and review data through multiple angles (package, audience segment, testing, etc.).
  • Identify strategies that are working, not working, or in need of re-testing.
  • Look for successes that can be tested with other audiences and channels.
  • Look for opportunities to test new ideas or approaches for segments that are not performing as well as expected, or where there is room for further improvement.
  • Take the time to gather and analyze data before refining strategy.

In 2017, S&W worked with the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) to implement a strategic donor upgrade plan developed using the six steps outlined above. ICT’s commitment resulted in the following year-over-year successes:

  • Increased the percentage of donors upgrading by 1.6%.
  • Increased the overall average gift of donors by $27.
  • Increased the number of donors upgrading to $1K by 22%.
  • Increased the number of donors upgrading $1K+ by 62%.

Schultz & Williams Senior Director Kristin Parker Serrano presented along with Caity Craver, DonorTrends CEO, and Lizzy Ludwig, International Campaign for Tibet Deputy Director of Development, at the DMA Nonprofit Conference in Washington, D.C., on February 22, 2018. This article is a synopsis of their session on the importance of upgrading donor giving at all levels.