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The Donor Experience: Winning New Donors

Some social scientists believe that the desire to help others is pre-programmed into the human genome. Research has shown an innate desire in very young children to help others in need, even before they have been taught that helping is the right thing to do. Based upon this assumption, one would think that cultivating donors, born with the urge to help others, would be a piece of cake, right? In some ways it is, if you do it correctly.

Below are some steps that church leaders (and congregation members!) can take to win over the hearts of new donors.

  1. Make it clear that each and every member of the congregation has the ability to help and every gift is important, no matter how small. It's a classic example of the "bystander effect" - we are less likely to help someone in need if we see that there are others around to help in our stead. For instance, "I don't have to help that person with the flat tire along the side of the busy road because someone else will stop". It is the same philosophy that someone in a large congregation may have about whether or not to donate to the church - "Other people will donate", "my gift would be very small anyway, it's not needed", and "no one will notice if I don't give". Communicate to all potential donors that their individual gift will be valued and appreciated.
  2. Provide an example to emulate. Create an opportunity for long time donors to interact with potential new donors. Not only will established donors provide a strong example for potential new donors to model, but it is also a great opportunity to make long time donors feel appreciated for all they give. Perhaps allow an established donor to share his or her experiences as a member of the congregation during Sunday worship or arrange a dinner for established donors and new church members.
  3. Expand the Circle. Welcome new members and try to give roles and responsibilities within the church to new people. Young donors in particular like to feel that they are actively involved in a cause they are supporting and feeling as though one is part of the group will make one more likely to want to help other members of that group.
  4. Remember: it's not about the money. Show gratitude for gifts in all forms – whether it be $1,000 donated to the "new kitchen fund" or setting up for the next spaghetti dinner. Donations of time deserve the same thanks as monetary donations. Keep in mind, individuals who are generous with their time are also likely to be more generous with their resources, whether now or in the future. Someone who did not feel appreciated for one type of gift will be less likely to make additional gifts down the road.
  5. Get creative with communications. Revamp the church's website. Make the endowment brochure professional and eye-catching. Interact with congregation members through a variety of mediums to appeal to members of all generations.
  6. Focus on the impact. For the benefit of donors new and old alike, readily share the impact that past and present donations have had upon the church, the congregation, and the surrounding community. Transparency has become more and more important for non-profit organizations in recent years. Make sure that your donors know exactly where their money is going, what it will be used for, and the impact that it will have.

Megan McGee, Associate Director United Methodist Foundation of Western PA annual conference

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