Asking Donors for a Second Gift

Posted on 07/01/2018

One of the mantras of annual giving goes like this: make a gift now and we won’t ask you to make a gift again this year. But due to the rise of Giving Days and crowdfunding campaigns, through which donors may be inclined to participate in smaller ways to help institutions meet their goals, an increasing number of programs can’t make that “one gift per year” promise today. Why? Because they’re implementing “second asks” – revisiting donors who have already made a gift in a given fiscal year and asking them for additional support. Some programs are understandably reluctant to take this approach for fear of offending donors or hurting future retention rates. Rutgers University isn’t one of them.

Rutgers typically runs two second ask campaigns per year – one in January and one in May. In January, they reach out to donors whose previous gift was made between June and November. Then, in May, they target donors whose previous gift was made between December and March. Sometimes the second asks are for a general fund (e.g., scholarships), but the best response rates often come when donors are asked to support a specific area that’s important or personal to them. During the past fiscal year, Rutgers found that 24% of their donors made more than one gift.

Rutgers has found that second asks can also be a great way to upgrade donors and strengthen the pipeline. For example, if someone has been consistently contributing $750, a second ask for $250 can serve as a way to increase their total giving to $1,000 and welcome them as a member of a leadership gift society. For programs that encourage unrestricted support the first time around, a second ask can be a way for donors to support a special interest, such as a department or an athletic team.

The big question for many annual giving professionals is what happens after someone makes a second gift? Does their likelihood of giving in the following year decrease? Surprisingly, no. Second ask programs not only have an obvious benefit in terms of revenue; they can also boost donor counts and alumni participation by increasing donor retention over time. In fact, the more gifts a donor contributes in a single year, the more likely they are to renew their support the following year. At Rutgers specifically, a donor is 13% more likely to renew if they make a second gift, and 23% more likely to renew if they make 3 or more gifts in a year. Even limited second asks, like including your current donors on a Giving Day, can be a step in the right direction. Just be sure to recognize that you are asking for something special and make them feel appreciated and acknowledged when asking them to contribute again.

As the old saying goes, if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. For a growing number of programs, even when you do succeed, it may be worth asking again.

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