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One Giving Day Tactic to Rule Them All

This article was written by Ariel Glassman. She is no longer with Ostara, but we want to preserve this piece so that you can learn from her and from the work she did while part of the Ostara team.


After six years, many nonprofits in Seattle and King County seem to have their GiveBIG action plans down pat. But as the number of nonprofits competing for donor dollars grows, organizations should continuously evolve their practices and increase the sophistication of their campaigns. Chances are, even the most tried-and-true, dependable GiveBIG and giving day campaigns could use a little freshening up. 


GiveBIG comes at a busy time of year for most nonprofits. The prospect of adding something new to your campaign might not be so appealing. But there’s one tactic that is so effective and efficient that I recommend it to every single client. 


You’re probably thinking there has to be a catch. It’s probably expensive, annoying to plan, and/or overly complicated to execute. Right? Nope.


This activity:


Costs nothing

Is fast, easy, and fun to do

Helps you in the short and long term

Works for nonprofits of any budget or staff size

Works for nonprofits operating in any mission space or impact sector

Can improve your internal culture of philanthropy (yes, really)

Is over when GiveBIG is over (phew!)


So, what is this magical unicorn, this fairy dust-sprinkled activity? I’m so glad you asked. It’s instant stewardship.


If you attended my “Making the Most of GiveBIG” workshop at the Seattle Foundation last month, you heard me ring this particular bell over and over.


Instant stewardship is the practice of sending each of your giving day donors a customized email thank-you from a real human within 90 seconds after the push notification of the gift arrives.  It takes the concept of stewardship – the care and feeding of your donors through demonstrations of gratitude and impact – and dramatically accelerates the usual timeline.


Stewardship drives retention. I probably don’t need to tell you how important donor retention is to the health of your fundraising program and achieving your mission. Spoiler alert: It’s really important.


Retention of giving day donors requires special attention because 30-60% of them will be new. GiveBIG is a huge opportunity to acquire new donors. Unfortunately, new donors are hard to keep. Only 19% of an organization’s new donors make a second gift. Ouch.


But if you can get that second gift, 63% of these returning donors will keep giving beyond that point. That’s huge, and that’s where the majority of your fundraising revenue comes from. That’s why stewardship is so important, and even more important for opportunities that bring you new donors – like GiveBIG. You need to intervene to ensure that they’re on the path to their second gift.


But new research shows that it’s not enough just to thank and steward donors. Online engagement has a half-life of about 24 hours, so response time matters.


According to fundraising communications expert (and one of my professional heroes) Tom Ahern, new donors who get a personal thank-you within 48 hours are 4 times more likely to make that all-important second gift.


Waiting even one day after GiveBIG to personally thank a donor cuts the impact of the thank-you in half. If you wait two days, that thank-you reaches only a quarter of its full potential; and so on and so forth. This is why the speed of stewardship is so important.


Instant stewardship can also help build your internal culture of philanthropy and make your job easier in the long run. Non-fundraising staff often resist participating in development work, usually because they think fundraising is all about asking, and they fear being expected to make asks. This barrier to a genuinely participatory culture of philanthropy can be difficult to overcome. Change sticks when it’s incremental; you have to let people dip their toes in new waters before asking them to dive in.  And they have to be shown, not told.


Instant stewardship during a giving day like GiveBIG is an opportunity to give resistant or tentative non-fundraising staff an easy, early win in the juiciest part of the fundraising cycle – thanking donors! The process can be managed in a way that allows you to delegate some of this (easy, fun, quick) activity to non-fundraisers in your organization, and show them how good it feels to be part of your organization’s gratitude machine. That quick taste of initial success can build their confidence and openness towards fundraising in the future.


That’s why you should execute instant stewardship for your giving day donors. Click here for the second post in this series – a step-by-step tutorial for flawless execution of instant stewardship on giving days. 

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