What’s the most vital element of a successful nonprofit organization?
Donors fuel your mission with loyalty and passion. They’re the ground of your entire operation. They keep you accountable. Most important of all, donors are the ones that fund your nonprofit! No donors, no cause. Period. And yet, too many organizations aren’t prioritizing a donor communication strategy that keeps their contributors happy, engaged, and excited to give.
Here’s a truth: it always takes a lot less effort and money to keep the donors you have than work to acquire new ones. While expanding your network of supporters is always a good idea, it pays not to take your existing contributors for granted. In this article, we tackle the primary do’s and don’ts that go into a solid donor communication plan to help you identify what you’re doing right and where there might be room for improvement.
#1: Say Thank You
You’re busy and your to-do list is a mile long, right? Nevertheless, if you don’t find time to express gratitude to your contributors on the regular, they’re going to find another cause to get behind. Why? Studies such as that of Engage show that one of the main reasons donors leave is a lack of gratitude. In other words, when people part with their hard-earned cash for a good cause and get little thanks, they see no reason to stick around.
Solution: say thank you to your contributors every time they give (yes, every time!). While text or email work great, showing your gratitude on social media is key. Nothing works better than public acknowledgment to reassure your supporters that you appreciate them.
#2: Get Personal
Consistent with the advice above, when you’re thanking your donors for their generous contribution—or just communicating with them in general—make it personal!
- Say their name. Whether you’re sending updates, thank you notes, or annual reports, never begin your communication with some generic form of “Dear Contributor” or “Dear Friend.” Figure out what makes more sense for your organization and balance it against what your supporters prefer: a casual “Hi, Jean-Luc!” or a more formal “Dear Mr. Picard” makes all the difference.
- Remember dates. People are bombarded with ads and messages everywhere they turn. You can cut through the chatter by remembering important dates like birthdays or anniversaries. Getting a heartfelt “Happy Birthday!” message shows your donor that you know who they are and that what’s important to them is important to you, too.
- Leverage history. Whether a donor has contributed thousands of dollars to your organization or a mere $5, they expect you to remember their good deed. When communicating with donors, refer to their past kindness and engagement with your organization, i.e.: “At our annual raffle last summer, when you won an ice-cream maker and generously donated $100…”. Leveraging a donor’s history reminds them of their loyalty and builds strong long-term relationships.
#3: Let Donors Be the Heroes
If you’re sending out regular newsletters and posting updates to your social media channels that are all about how wonderful your organization is, you’re missing a critical component of a smart donor communication plan. Why? Because your communication is all about you, you, you. Step out of the spotlight and flip the script: make your communication about your donors.
It all starts with making supporters feel good about helping you out. Why do people give to philanthropic causes? It’s not just because donating is a nice thing to do. People give because of how it makes them feel. It’s simple: doing good feels good.
Make all those feel-good vibes work in your favor. In your communication with contributors, always be mindful of their generosity, not yours. Play up their achievements, not yours. Don’t say “Donate because we’re great.” Say “We’re great because you donate.” Always use donor-centric language to let contributors know that you have a stellar organization thanks to their efforts!
#4: Show impact
When you show donors the impact of their donations, they give more funds more often. Since people care about doing good because it feels good, up the ante by demonstrating just how phenomenal your supporters are!
- Demonstrate results. In your thank-you messages, spell out exactly how a contribution was used, i.e.: “Your generous donation, Deanna, enabled a family of five to stay warm this winter with coats and boots.”
- Be specific. When asking for funds on your donation pages, specify how the money will be allocated, i.e.: “Every $50 will shelter and feed a litter of kittens” (hint: add a photo of the kittens so your donors see the very furry critters that benefited from their kindness).
- Report back. Send annual donor impact reports that break down your organization’s finances and highlight how donations helped you meet your funding goals. Consider adding the names of your biggest supporters to your report. That extra boost goes a long way to making major contributors feel appreciated.
#5: Keep Talking
You know what’s worse than calling an organization and being put on hold? It’s being told to leave a message so they can call you right back… and then waiting for a call that never comes. When donors feel ignored, they’ll jump ship in a hurry.
- Use social media wisely. Keep contributors motivated with regular social media updates. Be specific about what’s going on at your nonprofit and use images and videos to do it! Research shows that videos are an especially effective channel for connecting with nonprofit constituencies. It probably has something to do with the magic of seeing your pretty face and hearing your voice that makes video communication feel personal and authentic.
- Be responsive. Respond to comments, emails, and phone calls promptly. Don’t keep contributors waiting around for weeks just to get a generic reply.
- Ask for feedback. Effective communication is a dialogue, not a monologue. Engage your supporters by asking for feedback. Retweet their comments. Send surveys asking your supporters to share their interests and what motivates them to give. Reach out to lapsed donors and ask them (tactfully) what happened. The point is to demonstrate that you care about what your contributors think and that their opinion matters.
#6: Maintain a donor database
If you’re going to get personal with your contributors, you’ll have to remember important details about them. The most efficient way to do that is to create and maintain a donor database. It should include:
- Contact information
- Donation history
- Important dates (birthdays, anniversaries, special events)
- Demographics (age, location, profession, etc.)
- Interests (i.e. is a contributor more invested in regional impact, the annual gala, or volunteering every weekend?)
Donor Communication Plan: What Not to Do
Now that we’ve covered some of the major do’s for improving your donor communication game, let’s break down several don’ts that are best avoided.
Don’t Always Ask for Money
Look, we get it: nonprofits are strapped for cash and if you can’t ask your supporters for funds, then who can you ask? The problem with that approach is that it risks making your donors feel like you only like them for their money. Even if that’s true, making incessant demands is a bad way to communicate with anyone.
Experts recommend using the 3:1 ratio. For every 3 times that you communicate with a contributor, ask for a donation only once. For example, if you’re trying to encourage a long-standing donor named Dr. Polaski to contribute to your spring fundraiser, you might proceed like this:
- Post a social media update about how much fun your spring fundraiser will be, thanking your donors for making it all possible. Give Dr. Polaski a shoutout, praising her for her ongoing support.
- Email Dr. Polaski a calendar with all your seasonal events, addressing her by name and wishing her a fantastic spring.
- Send Dr. Polaski an invitation to the spring fundraiser, with a personal remark of gratitude and a request for specific amount, i.e. “When you attended the spring fundraiser last year, I was so grateful that your generous donation covered ABC. This year, a donation of $100 would cover XYZ.”
The idea is to strike a balance between connecting and making a direct ask, so that Dr. Polaski believes she is appreciated and involved in your organization, without feeling like you’re taking advantage of her.
Don’t Rely on One Channel
Your donors are all different, which means that they give in different ways. Some love the freedom of new technology that fundraising platforms like RallyUp have pioneered, while others prefer to stick to old school methods of communication. Flexibility, however, is key.
Astonishingly, a mere 14% of nonprofits communicate with smaller donors across multiple channels! It’s a mistake to assume that if contributors live their lives largely online, they don’t receive physical mail IRL. An even bigger mistake? Only 1 in 12 organizations bother to pick up the phone and call donors! This is just silly, because studies show that when donors get a simple thank-you call within 48 hours of donating, they’re likely to give more later.
Here’s the deal: most donors use multiple channels to learn about causes, communicate with organizations, and donate. Reach out to your supporters in a variety of channels:
- Social media
- Phone call
- Handwritten letters (yes! It’s an oldie but a goodie. In an age of virtual everything, taking the time to send a handwritten note is a guaranteed way to make your donors feel special and valued).
Don’t be too cool
Some nonprofit leaders assume that the best way to snag supporters is to bombard them with facts, statistics, and infographics. While it’s critical to base your financial decisions and advocacy on verifiable data, it’s not the numbers that make people give. As we already covered, human beings are emotional creatures who donate to good causes because of that lovely warm glow we all get from doing something nice for others.
What this means for your nonprofit: emotions are your friend. When you’re communicating with your constituency and asking for donations, don’t play it cool. Use emotional language to get under their skin and touch their hearts. That means your communications should be making generous use of pictures, videos, and powerful stories with good guys who triumph over the bad guys (hint: the good guys are the donors, so let them shine!). These narrative strategies work better than statistics to attract donors because they satisfy the emotional need to connect and contribute.
Master the Art of Communicating with Donors and Raise More!
When you’re ready to plan your next exciting fundraising event, take the time to personalize your messages and updates to your donors, use colorful language that tells a story, and make your contributors the heroes of that story!
At RallyUp, we understand that donors are what keeps your organization ticking. That’s why we designed a fundraising platform that’s easy and fun for donors to use while empowering your nonprofit to plan and promote unique fundraising events, sales, and campaigns for FREE. As you create your fundraiser, we’ll have your back with 24/7 support to make sure that your supporters get a memorable experience—every time.