CASE STUDY

Institute on Religion and Public Life

347% growth in major gifts by launching a successful donor club program


When the Institute on Religion and Public Life (publisher of the flagship magazine FIRST THINGS) reached out to American Philanthropic in 2010, it had a solid base of individual supporters, but recognized that it lacked a system for retaining and upgrading these contributors over time. Working closely with the Institute and its executive director, American Philanthropic helped launch and manage a new major donor club for the Institute.

Although the Institute had a large base of supporters, like many nonprofits, it had no system in place to identify major donor prospects and to cultivate them to give at higher levels. Likewise, it lacked messaging designed to encourage its supporters to upgrade their giving and a formal way of recognizing their most committed supporters.

To address these challenges, American Philanthropic worked with the Institute to create a unique major donor club called the First Things Editor’s Circle. In creating the Editor’s Circle, we put in place a program that recognized major donors, those who made annual contributions of $1,000 or more, at increasingly higher levels of support. For each level of the Editor’s Circle, we assigned tangible benefits that would be attractive to the Institute’s donors and could be easily fulfilled. As the donor club got underway, we identified Editor’s Circle prospects and developed approach strategies to invite them to join the donor club.      

In 2010, before the Institute established the First Things Editor’s Circle, it had 49 donors who contributed $1,000 or more. In the first year of the Editor’s Circle that number grew to 103. By 2016, the Editor’s Circle had grown to 219, representing a 347% growth in major donors since the program was started.

In launching the Editor’s Circle, the Institute on Religion and Public Life did not just grow its number of major donors—it increased the amount received from these donors as well. In 2010, 49 major donors contributed a total of $116,350 to the Institute. In 2016, 219 Editor’s Circle members gave $1,385,476, representing a more than ten-fold increase in major donor support in just six years.

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