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A donor-eye view of new supporter engagement: tracking a gift to the top 40 charities.

A donor-eye view of new supporter engagement: tracking a gift to the top 40 charities.

While much has been written about effective supporter stewardship and donor care, fewer words have described how new donors should be welcomed and engaged in the first weeks and months following their initial action. Fewer words still explore how to make the best first impression on new donors who give unsolicited donations. What do donors experience when they make an unprompted donation to charity? How well do charities acknowledge and appreciate an unexpected gift?

This study maps the journey of a new, unsolicited donor who made a $25 gift over the phone to Australia’s biggest fundraising charities. Our donor’s experience is an accurate depiction of what most donors will see, hear or feel when they give to charity, and her first impression provides critical insights and valuable lessons for fundraisers.


The top 40 charities based on 2017 fundraising income* were selected to receive a $25 donation. Each call was made to the donation phone number during business hours in early February this year.


Most charities were very appreciative to receive our call. The process was predominantly warm, positive and pain-free. Though there were some exceptions:

  • 4 charities sent the donor to voicemail
  • 3 charities put her on hold
  • 2 calls were disconnected
  • 4 fundraisers were outright rude and couldn’t get the donor off the phone fast enough

Being made to wait on hold, to leave a voicemail message or to call back later is unacceptable. It’s clear that some organisations lack sufficient systems to quickly and efficiently process a caller’s donation. Some fundraising teams – 3 of the 40 surveyed – were unable to record the information in the database while the donor was on the phone. They had to pause the call and find a paper donation form which was manually completed – presumably with quill and ink.

Fundraising teams in 58% of charities are unable to receive phone calls directly from donors. Instead, the donation phone number, as listed on the website, sends the donor to an automated answering system or to the organisation’s main line. Given the significant investment in donor acquisition, the emphasis on retention and the vast sums spent on marketing automation, CRMs and IT systems, surely Australia’s top charities can do more to improve the giving experience of unsolicited donors?


  • 13 charities invited the donor to nominate where she wanted her gift directed
  • 9 charities asked about the donor’s contact preferences
  • 6 fundraisers asked about the donor’s motivations for giving
  • 6 calls left the donor feeling valued and passionate about the cause

Our donor received beautiful responses from some organisations. The best fundraisers were genuinely appreciative: they asked what prompted the donor to give; they volunteered information about activity near the donor’s home city; and one individual from Camp Quality told our donor that “the gift had made her day”.

Some donors will never speak to a fundraiser at your organisation, but the opportunity for them to do so – at the point when they make their very first action of support for your cause – is incredibly valuable. Charities that ensure the experience of giving a gift is seamless, rewarding, and utterly awe-inspiring, will have a good chance to build a long-lasting relationship with their new supporters.


It’s generally accepted best practice to send a gift receipt and thank you letter within 48 to 72 hours. In this research, only one in five charities lived up to that expectation: 10 charities responded within a week; 14 charities took around two weeks; and one receipt was received 77 days after the gift. Perhaps surprisingly, no charities issued a receipt by email and mail, which should be relatively easy to do.

Most alarming is the fact that seven charities have not issued a receipt or thank you more than five months after the initial gift. Of those seven, five have sent out donor appeals and donor care, while two charities have not sent a single communication by any channel. They did take our money though (we checked with the bank).


Some 24 charities fulfilled the gift receipt by mail. Of those, eight sent a dedicated thank you welcome pack. We received some fantastic welcome packs. Standout examples include Fred Hollows, Vision Australia, Royal Flying Doctor Service and the Garvan Institute of Medical Research.

  • 3 packs included engagement items: magnets; glasses to simulate impaired vision; and band-aids
  • 2 charities surveyed our donor as part of the thank you letter or welcome pack
  • 3 packs included a privacy policy
  • 1 charity invited the new donor to an event


Many organisations included in the research have dedicated stewardship journeys for new supporters from acquisition activity. But our donor was not included in some of these. In fact, we estimate that about one in five charities are missing unsolicited donors from their stewardship strategy entirely.

UNICEF was the only organisation that had a clear tactic to engage phone donors, specifically asking via email if our donor “would prefer to make a gift over the phone”.

  • 31 of the 40 organisations sent a combination of email and mail donor care and appeals between February and June
  • 4 organisations did not engage our donor in the 5 months since sending a gift receipt
  • 3 charities sent emails only – no mail, no autumn or tax appeal, no phone or SMS
  • 3 organisations included our donor in a March regular giving conversion phone campaign


Every call to your charity should be treated as critically important. And each donor should be made to feel like they have personally contributed to your organisation’s success and the progress of its mission. Your donors deserve an immediate emotional gratification when they call to make a gift.

Don’t miss out on what could be the only opportunity you ever have to speak to that individual.


Paul Bailey & Kim Gorski

Paul is the Strategist and Kim is the Project Manager at Amplify Fundraising, which helps charities to grow and steward their individual giving programs. Some of their clients include: RSL Victoria, The Lost Dogs’ Home, Musculoskeletal Australia, Launch Housing, Salvation Army Southern, Plunket, NeuRA and Anglicare.


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