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Most nonprofits have a standard process in place for building a relationship with a new donor. It’s likely that your organization does too.

The flow is probably relatively standard: someone donates, they receive a thank you, they’re added to your email stream, they might receive an event invite, etc., etc.

However, many nonprofits are not as well-equipped to handle when they have a sudden surge of new donors. Whether you have a campaign go viral or there’s an event that causes a peak in interest in your cause, your nonprofit should be prepared to properly steward all new donors, even if they come in bulk.

For example, consider the current situations in Houston, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, and the Caribbean. Four separate hurricanes have tragically taken many lives and destroyed entire regions and communities.

First, Harvey hit Houston and brought with it severe winds, rain, and flooding. Then, Hurricane Irma made its way through the Caribbean with record-breaking intensity. Everywhere Irma made landfall, from Barbuda to Haiti to Florida, felt the storm’s power and experienced immense devastation. Next, Hurricane Maria built steam as it moved along a course very similar to Irma. Maria hit Dominica and neighboring islands, and then absolutely pummeled Puerto Rico, ravaging the U.S. territory.

Most recently, Hurricane Nate hit regions in Central America, including Costa Rica, Honduras, and Nicaragua, and caused at least 28 deaths before moving north toward the Gulf Coast of the United States. Hurricane Nate has officially made landfall in the U.S., largely affecting Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama, causing flooding and mass power loss.

It is absolutely devastating. And many folks who have not historically been charitable donors are admirably stepping up to help the relief effort (learn more here and here).

As a result, many of the nonprofits serving those communities are experiencing a spike in donations and new donors. Those nonprofits now have an opportunity to bring great assistance to the areas affected by the hurricanes, and if they are strategic about how they steward their new donors, they’ll be able to continue providing vital services to the region for years to come.

Recovering from Harvey, Irma, Maria, and Nate is going to take years, and the nonprofits in the impacted cities need every donation possible to aid in their regions’ rehabilitation.

It’s a very real and very sad example of exactly why nonprofits need to be ready to make the most of their new influx of donors, with a proper plan.

To help you put that plan in place, we’ve compiled 3 effective strategies:

  1. Perform prospect research.
  2. Check on their matching gift eligibility.
  3. Incorporate them into your communications.

First, let’s dive into the prospect research advice.

1. Perform prospect research.

Usually when we talk about performing prospect research, we’re talking about it in the context of the front-end of the donation process.

For example, you’re trying to increase the number of major gift donors to your organization, so you do a prospect screening of your current donor pool to see if anyone carries the markers of a major gift prospect (property ownership, wealth, strong philanthropic history, and so on).

The process will be similar here, but instead of doing it as a precursor, you’ll be doing it after the fact. And you’ll be using it as a tool to get to know your new batch of donors and better understand where their future with your organization is headed.

With a prospect screening of your new donors, you’ll be able to take a few actions:

  • Find major gift prospects and properly steward them.
  • Identify candidates for any volunteer programs.
  • See who might be a good monthly donor.
  • Segment the donors for more customized future outreach.

Of course, that’s only a short list of the many benefits you’ll get from screening.

In summation: Prospect research will allow you to segment and organize all your new donor data into actionable categories.

2. Check on their matching gift eligibility.

A matching gift is a donation given by a donor’s employer that “matches” the original contribution, usually at a 1:1 ratio.

As we’ve explained previously, “Matching gifts are a type of corporate giving program that essentially double an employee’s initial donation to an eligible nonprofit organization…With matching gifts, your donors are able to give to your organization twice with only incurring the cost of the initial contribution.”

Chances are, a good portion of your new donors’ gifts are match eligible. 

If you don’t have a built-in matching gift reminder in your donation process, you should consider doing some sort of matching gift follow-up.

For example, you can send all new donors an email that explains the matching gift potential and process. When they hear that they can increase their gift to your cause at no cost to their own bank account, they’re going to be inclined to take that opportunity.

Here’s an example of a well-executed follow-up email and acknowledgment:

Here's a confirmation email that includes a matching gift reminder.

In summation: Like the example above, you too can promote matching gifts and make your sudden surge in donations even bigger.

3. Incorporate them into your communications.

Arguably, the most important action you can take with your new donors is incorporating them into your communication streams.

Even if you don’t have the time or capacity to do more than that, you should ensure that all new donors are receiving your newsletter, standard direct mail, and any other customary communications.

Getting new donors into your communication streams makes sure that your organization stays front of mind and will help you improve your retention rates.

To continue our example from the introduction, this hurricane season has been deadly and absolutely devastating. If your nonprofit services the regions affected by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Jose, Maria, and now Nate, you’ve likely seen a surge in gifts over the past two months.

For example, imagine someone reached out to your organization and gave a gift of $100 in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. Now, after seeing Irma, Jose, Maria, and Nate, that same donor is looking to give again. If you properly stewarded that individual following their first gift, you’ll be high on their list for their next gift, and your nonprofit will receive the funding that is crucial to the disaster relief services you’re providing.

Repeat giving is a cycle that starts with your stewardship services.

If you already have your donor database integrated with your donation pages and your marketing automation, this should be a relatively straight forward (and likely automated) process.

If your organization does not have that level of technology, the process is going to require more man power. However, the return on investment for retaining these new donors should make it worth it.

In summation: By adding new donors to your communications, you ensure that your organization and your cause stays front-of-mind.


While a surge in donations is always something to celebrate, if you have a plan in place for handling the new donors, you greatly improve your chances of retaining those same donors.

Employ the techniques above, alongside your other donor retention strategies, and start building relationships with your new donors.

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How to Handle a Sudden Surge of New Donors: 3 Tips