Engaging First time Donors

by Kim Lagunas on August 30, 2017

The YMCA of Greater Houston submitted this post prior to Hurricane Harvey. We are sharing it today to recognize the YMCA of Greater Houston’s fantastic work to engage with and recognize first-time donors. Our thoughts are with our friends and colleagues in the Houston area and the communities that they serve. To learn more about the YMCA of Greater Houston’s relief efforts, click here.



Each one of us comes from different economic backgrounds. Being a first-time donor to a non-profit organization might be small for some, but something really big for others. A first-time gift to a charity should always come across to the organization as being a significant gift. Cherish, appreciate and cultivate!


Stewardship of your first-time donors begins with your annual appeal, whether the appeal focuses on supporting a YMCA location or a program, with a focus on measured outcomes.


At the YMCA of Greater Houston, most of our appeals focus on specific programs:

  • YMCA Operation Backpack
  • Adaptive Sports
  • Youth Sports
  • Kamp K’aana (two-week program for obese children ages 10-14)
  • Swim Safety
  • Active Older Adults


Philanthropy helps us measure outcomes, which we in turn share back with our donors so that they can understand the impact of their gift. For example, our 2016 appeals raised $7,600,000 and impacted 161,051 people in our Y community.


  • $2,480,516 to support 83,923 people in Chronic Disease Prevention
  • $2,320,079 to support 29,231 children in Academic Achievement
  • $1,798,077 to support 26,810 people in Outreach
  • $549,800 to support 4,728 people Strengthening Youth and Families
  • $451,528 to support 16,359 children in various Swim Safety programs


When someone generously donates to your Y, acknowledgment comes first, without a question! It’s what you do once you receive the donation that will keep the donor returning and hopefully increase their gift over time. According to the Donor Retention Handbook by Classy.org, “it is known that it is more cost effective to retain your donor than to find new ones, returning donors tend to become more involved with your organization.”


More than just sending a simple receipt, try to go the extra mile and send them a hand-written thank you note. Another step that helps cultivate your donors is following up a few months after you receive the gift to discuss what’s going on in your organization or check if they are available for a program tour. It’s important to keep them engaged.


At the YMCA of Greater Houston, we have created a New Donor Recognition Packet for donors of $100 or more. We mail the packet within a week of sending the acknowledgement letter. In the packet, we include a personalized card with an “I support the Y” window cling and a small bookmark. We feel it is important to encourage our first-time donors to share the Y message with others!

Here is an example of stewarding a first-time donor who made a significant gift. A few years ago, I cultivated a donor who had moved out of state by sending her an email asking about a possible donation to help sponsor a kid to camp. That summer I took photos of a child we had sent to camp on financial assistance and asked the little girl to write a note to the donor who sponsored her. That same summer, I mailed the letter and the photo to the donor sharing the joy and gratitude of the little girl.


The following year I received an email from the same donor wanting to send two kids to camp, instead of just one. This year, I contacted her to see about sending three kids to camp, to which she readily agreed. Over the summer, I asked the camp to film a 30-second video via a smart phone to say, “thank you.” She loved it! In my last follow-up with her for the summer, I sent her impact numbers of our Kamp K’aana program, a program she hasn’t supported yet but showed interest in during our conversations. Next year, I hope she will increase her gift once again to send more kids, as she has the financial capacity to do so.


For 2018, we’ve created a master chart to track all the amazing stewardship activities we want to do. It’s all about cultivating and listening to your donors, which is even more impactful as your first-time donor becomes a cumulative donor.


Kim Lagunas focuses on donor relations at the YMCA of Greater Houston. She started her career with the Y in 2007 after many years in the corporate oil/gas business and then retail industry. For the past 10 years, Kim has been the Executive Assistant to various Chief Development Officers and her duties have shifted to Donor Relations/Stewardship where her passion lies. She has spent the last 20 years dedicated to volunteering at her children’s schools. Kim is married with 5 children, 2 granddaughters and 2 rescue dogs. She loves spending time with family and traveling.


YMCA Stewardship Week is August 28-September 1. Read the NAYDO.org blog to be inspired by some of the best-in-class samples submitted by fellow Y development professionals. Follow us on Twitter where we’ll be sharing even more resources and ideas on donor relations best practices, gratitude, and engagement with our donors – search #YGratitude to find us. And finally, visit the Stewardship Gallery on Exchange and check out the new sample additions.