When it comes to getting that second gift, not a lot of nonprofits have a process in place. Despite the fact that they really need one.

Luckily, some of the most respected in the field are giving it — what I’ve come to call “Second Gift Syndrome” — the attention it deserves, lending some much-needed insight on how nonprofits can target SGS where it lives and boost their retention rates.

In a recent Agitator post, Roger Craver notes that second gift plans are often disregarded in fundraising circles. He points to Bloomerang’s “Just How Important Is a Donor’s Second Gift,” where Jay Love notes that he has never served on a nonprofit board where any focus was placed on developing a strategy to help secure a second gift from a first-time donor.

And we’re talking over 30 years, folks. Yep. Jay has been on boards longer than my oldest has been alive, and he’s observed that second gift strategies are pretty much nil across the board.

Second Gift Syndrome isn’t just alive and kicking — it’s the number one factor that impacts donor retention!

You want to transition new donors out of their impulse phases. They may have given in memoriam. They may have given during or after an event that you hosted. They may have given for a friend who asked them to. They may have given through a crowdfunding campaign or a single social media post. There are lots of reasons why one gift remains one gift. It’s up to you to turn that first gift into a second gift.

“Once a donor donates the second time we have moved beyond impulse giving from special event purchases or memorial/tribute gifts,” explains Jay. “They are now truly supporting your mission by consciously choosing to provide funds.”

And so in the case of new donors, a transition from impulsive giving to conscious giving isn’t just totally possible, it’s kind of necessary. But what’s a fundraiser to do? It comes down and back around to communication. Read Jay’s article and see what a viable plan for securing that second gift should look like.

And then stop and think about SGS from a business owner’s perspective for a minute. Imagine if you opened a neighborhood pizzeria and the neighbors poured in, one after another, for ‘za…and none of them returned for a second pie! Where would business be in a year?


I think by now it’s been made crystal clear: one of the smartest things you can do as a fundraiser is to implement a new donor strategy. The super simple (but tried-and-true) one I suggest looks a little something like this:

  1. A new donor makes an online gift and receives an immediate phone call
  2. Follow the phone call up with a personal email
  3. Follow the email with a direct mail thank you letter within 48 hours
  4. 2-4 weeks later, follow up with a direct mail welcome kit (which may or may not contain an ask)

Whatever plan you incorporate, make sure it works for your resources. By now, you know that one-size-all approaches typically don’t fit, especially when it’s your organization’s goal to grow.

Want to learn more tips and tricks for combatting SGS? Download my Donor Love Toolkit here. You’ll gain additional insight on why a donor retention focus is efficient and cost-effective, and you’ll get to see how your colleagues are stewarding their donors, taking them to that critical second gift…and beyond!


What’s In My Inbox | UNICEF USA brings hope and help during distress

September 19, 2017

How are nonprofits handling catastrophe right now? UNICEF USA illustrates a powerful example of how to deal with a disaster. Their most recent email to land in my inbox is to the point, urgent, and effective. It opens with harrowing imagery that conveys deep distress. The text superimposed over the photograph of a young boy […]

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Power of Storytelling | Adopting a purple hippo has never been more compelling ;-)

September 18, 2017

  Appleton, Wisconsin-based Fox Valley Humane Association is a nonprofit shelter engaged in doing wonderful work for animals. FVHA recently utilized instagram as a storytelling platform, and the narrative, which progressed over the course of a few posts (including short video clips), was decidedly goal-oriented, but also humorous. Showcased on a Rover.com blog called “Daily […]

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Fundraising Friday | September 15, 2017

September 15, 2017

Legacy giving has always been a hallmark of Simple Development Systems, so I like to point out exceptional examples of organizations doing it right. UNICEF UK has found a way to speak to their supporters about legacy giving by targeting specific donors and speaking directly to them about creating a lasting impact. This week’s Power […]

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Power of Storytelling | UNICEF UK finds legacy giving opportunities in storytelling

September 11, 2017

Ah, Founder’s Syndrome. It’s also known as “founderitis,” and it is a dreaded organizational illness. I’ve witnessed it time and time again with nonprofits, who face this difficulty when their founder (or founders), just can’t bear to let go. As a result, the founder wields the majority of the power and the other people involved in […]

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Fundraising Friday | September 8, 2017

September 8, 2017

Do you remember when Snooty, the oldest manatee in captivity, died at the South Florida Museum? Read this week’s Power of Nonprofit Storytelling for a prime example of transparency and honesty when systems go wrong. Are you a “glass half full” or “glass half empty” kind of person? I know that I get in my […]

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How long should you keep names in your database?

September 6, 2017

So…how long should an organization keep prospects, lapsed donors, and inactive volunteers in their database? Ahhhh. That’s a question that I get asked often. And the answer to this one is… Pretty much forever. I’ve witnessed plenty of resurrections over time, where lapsed donors “come back from the dead.” I can even tell you all about how […]

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Power of Storytelling | Transparency, honesty, and the legacy of Snooty

September 5, 2017

In late July, the South Florida Museum lost one of its beloved manatees, Snooty. At age 69, he was one of the oldest manatees in captivity. Still, there was immediate evidence that Snooty did not die of natural causes. An investigation was launched to officially examine Snooty’s cause of death. SFM, keenly aware of its […]

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Hurricane Harvey needs some relief, and we’re the ones who can help…

August 29, 2017

Like you, I’ve been watching Hurricane Harvey unfold, and I’ve been horrified (and saddened) over the sheer magnitude of its destruction. The news stories, regardless of how up-to-date and detailed, can only reveal so much, though. We can only imagine what it’s like to be caught in the thick of it, and my heart goes out to […]

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“Is all money good money?” On considering your gift acceptance policy…

August 28, 2017

A couple of days ago, Black Girls Code turned down a $125,000 gift from Uber. Just last month, Girl Scouts of the USA returned a hefty gift to its donor that amounted to $100,000. Hearts With a Mission, a youth shelter organization requesting $26,000 in government funds to finish out 2017, turned down a $3000 […]

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Fundraising Friday | August 25, 2017

August 25, 2017

What does real fundraising success take? After years working with hundreds of small nonprofits, one piece of the equation is definitely longevity in the workplace. If you’ve been (as I have) the fifth development director in three years, you know this is true. Rather than studying the problem, we studied the success! Download our free […]

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The Power of Storytelling | When nonprofit stories and the news cycle collide, it can be as awesome as an eclipse!

August 22, 2017

During last week’s installment of Motivate Monday, the one and only Vanessa Chase Lockshin, queen of The Storytelling Non-profit, talked all about creating connections between your organization’s stories and the news cycle. Figuring out how to do this the right way elevates your non-profit’s narratives through real-world relevancy and, in turn, elevates the wonderful work […]

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Fundraising Friday | August 18, 2017

August 18, 2017

I happened to see the story of Miss Butterworth’s social media weight loss journey (courtesy of the Asheville Humane Society) and couldn’t wait to share it with you. This week’s Power of Nonprofit Storytelling.  It will be that time of the year again before you know it! Lots and lots of year-end emails. What can […]

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Nonprofit Donor Surveying: Fundraising’s *Magic Bullet?*

August 17, 2017

Have you ever had to dig yourself out of a hole (one not of your own making)? That’s exactly the situation I found myself in my first fundraising job. The year was 2000, and I had just resigned from my job with one of the region’s largest grant-making foundations, to take on a development position […]

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The Power of Storytelling | Miss Butterworth’s story is touching *and* relateable!

August 15, 2017

Who hasn’t struggled with weight loss at one time or another? Believe it or not, pets are no exception. Case in point: Miss Butterworth arrived at the Asheville Humane Society as a morbidly obese pup. Weighing 20 pounds with her small frame, it was clear that her weight was holding her back from living her […]

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Fundraising Friday | August 11, 2017

August 11, 2017

For three days and two nights Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams left the comfort of his home to live life out on the streets. Read this week’s Power of Nonprofit Storytelling to learn why. *Donate.* *Give Now.* Could getting more creative and bringing your donor into the picture result in greater donations? This week’s […]

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What’s In My Inbox | Email “call to action” buttons go creative

August 8, 2017

The “donate button” has become ubiquitous in nonprofit email communications, and as interactive as it is, it’s grown a little bit stale. Whether it’s the single d-word or the word “now” coming after, perhaps inspiring a hint of urgency, your donors don’t just need to know they’re making a difference — they need to know how. The how is […]

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The Power of Storytelling | A mayor goes undercover…as a homeless person!

August 7, 2017

There are times when our lived experiences contain all of the necessary ingredients to create an amazing story. In the case of Ben McAdams, mayor of Salt Lake County in Utah, he made a decision to dive headfirst into the kind of experience that many are afraid to talk about: homelessness. In the process, he […]

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Fundraising Friday | August 4, 2017

August 4, 2017

How will you be ensuring that your year-end campaign is the best it can be? One way to ramp up your year-end fundraising results is by getting your board members involved in the process of the actual campaign. Use a Fundraising Menu to Order Up Your Successful Year-End Campaign! Free download included. In Do you […]

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Use a Fundraising Menu to Order Up Your Successful Year-End Campaign!

July 31, 2017

Why is year-end fundraising such a big deal for non-profit organizations? The numbers don’t lie. Almost a third of all American individual giving happens in December. And a surprising 12% of all giving occurs in the final three days of the year. Some non-profit organizations raise up to 70% of their entire budget in the […]

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