Online Community-Building for Nonprofit Members

How important is online community-building for your nonprofit members? Read our guide to learn how online engagements can strengthen your membership base.

By Jake Fabbri

Creating a membership program for your nonprofit is a smart way to increase fundraising and donor stewardship. In exchange for charitable gifts in the form of membership dues, nonprofits grant their members privileges or perks, host engaging events for them, and offer additional opportunities to drive their mission. The people who join your nonprofit membership program are going to be some of your most passionate supporters.

One of the top reasons why supporters become members is to meet other like-minded people with aligned goals and to be a part of a community. The stronger this community is, the better you can attract new members and retain current ones. 

However, your nonprofit member community can only build and grow if you provide them with the right engagement tools and offer them meaningful experiences. 

Let’s say your nonprofit often hosts in-person events. There are certain tools and solutions you can invest in for community-building that will help attract new members and make the event more enjoyable. 

However, with the modern world growing increasingly dependent on digital solutions and a global pandemic keeping most of us inside, your nonprofit should be taking the steps to expand its online community-building. The bottom line is that 90% of Americans use the internet. These steps are crucial if you want to ensure your membership program is a success.

When you put the effort into building your online community, your nonprofit can:

  1. Offer unique opportunities and attract new members.
  2. Boost engagement among current members.
  3. Get people excited about the next (virtual) event.
  4. Manage nonprofit data better.

Don’t miss out on these community-building efforts. Look at your current membership management solution and ensure you’re doing all you can to engage your online community. Your current members will appreciate it and prospects will be attracted to it. Let’s begin!

1. Offer unique opportunities and attract new members.

For many nonprofits with membership programs, a top priority is attracting new supporters and growing your membership base. To keep your membership growing and get people interested in your mission, it’s important to have an established online presence.

For starters, your online space is the first place people visit to learn more about your organization, your mission, and any program guidelines. How you present your organization and membership program is crucial, especially if you want to keep everyone on the same page about your goals and mission. 

However, the internet is also saturated with others trying to do the same thing. It’s likely you’re not the only organization targeting your specific audience. That’s why it’s imperative to ensure that your nonprofit stands out, particularly through digital strategies. Consider these top tips:

  • Leverage your nonprofit website. Make sure your website clearly represents your organization. With a dedicated website, you can effectively explain your mission and provide a calendar of upcoming events. Host all necessary information in an intuitive way so prospective members and supporters can easily take the steps to join. 
  • Use microsites for member committees. Along with your dedicated nonprofit website, consider creating microsites. Microsites are websites that are associated with a main webpage, but also stand alone as an independent entity. This is a good way for you to organize and manage your various nonprofit member committees. You can even make these microsites private to host exclusive member-only content.
  • Offer online learning opportunities. Many members join your nonprofit to learn more about your mission and play a larger role. Consider offering online learning opportunities through video courses and classes. Make sure to advertise this on your website so potential members have a clear impression of all you have to offer.

By focusing on your online presence, you can showcase your nonprofit’s opportunities for community-building. Encourage people to join your organization, start their online journey off on a positive note, and set the foundation for future engagement.

2. Boost engagement between your current members.

While one of the main attractions of nonprofits are live fundraising events and other experiences, it’s challenging for every member to participate and attend. This gets increasingly difficult as your membership grows and spans across different locations. 

Therefore, it’s important to have a dedicated online place where you can engage current members and they can also interact with each other. Remember: a huge driver to joining your nonprofit membership program is the opportunity to connect with like-minded individuals who are already a part of the community. 

Your best bet to encourage online member engagement is to provide members with a portal that’s accessible from your nonprofit website. As soon as they join, members can start experiencing what you have to offer instead of waiting around for a live event.

Within your member portal, allow members to:

  • Navigate a searchable member directory. Give your members an opportunity to get to know their community even if they can’t actually meet them. This way, each member can have their own profile with a photo and basic details.
  • Communicate within message boards and forums. Online message boards and forums are popular places to discuss various topics. For instance, members can use message boards to discuss major events that may affect your nonprofit mission.

Active efforts to engage your members online will increase their chance of renewing their membership. 

To further drive online engagement with current members, evaluate your existing management tools and determine if you have the ability to automate triggered communications. For instance, if a member begins a form and doesn’t complete it or there are long periods of inactivity, you can automatically send out email reminders nudging them in the right direction.

Even if your membership is large, your nonprofit won’t create a meaningful impact if your members aren’t active. Ensure your online engagement efforts are at their best with a member portal and smart communication methods.

3. Get people excited about the next (virtual) event.

With most in-person engagements on pause, your nonprofit is likely planning a variety of virtual membership events. As you prepare for these events, consider the strategic online steps you can take to increase excitement and even attract new attendees. 

In addition to keeping current members satisfied, events are a great way to showcase your nonprofit’s accomplishments and mission for prospective members. It all comes down to how you market the event beforehand.

It’s not enough to just send out a mass email to your entire membership directory and think your online strategy is complete. Engage in additional digital efforts to help bring your members together. This way, you can garner excitement and encourage more member-to-member interaction. 

Consider these online engagement tips to market your next nonprofit membership event:

  • Get your members’opinions on event preferences. If you’re live streaming a speaker or multiple panels, send out a survey to get a sense of what topics your members are looking for. 
  • Host a dedicated event website. Consider building a microsite for each of your nonprofit membership events. This is a great way to attract new members! Non-members can easily find your event and a dedicated microsite eliminates the chance of getting distracted by other information. You can also capture leads and determine which of your marketing efforts are working best.
  • Customize targeted communication leading up to the event. As the event gets closer, make sure you segment your members based on registration status and ticket level (general admission vs. VIP) to send more personalized messages. According to this article, segmenting your constituents is one of the best ways to increase online engagement and build meaningful relationships. Your members are more likely to engage back when they’re only receiving communications that are uniquely relevant to them.
  • Let members build the perfect event schedule. If your virtual event consists of multiple speakers or activities, empower your guests by letting them create their own event schedule. This way, they know about all available opportunities and can plan their route in advance of the big day. If you offer a mobile event app, your guests can access their schedule from there.

Nonprofit membership events are successful because they provide a dedicated space for members to engage with each other and your mission. Take these additional steps to increase online engagement and continue to build your community. Additionally, the more you put into your online engagements, the more excited your members will be about your event.

4. Manage nonprofit data better

When increasing your online efforts and working to build your digital community, this offers a great opportunity to start tracking those engagements. As reported by Fonteva’s guide to the best membership management software, a solid software solution will effectively record and manage all important member data and metrics.

Along with your nonprofit management and fundraising tools, you likely also depend on a constituent relationship management (CRM) system to track all the data produced by these tools. Rather than manually transferring data to your CRM, many intuitive tools have integration capabilities and some are even native to the CRM. This eliminates the need for complicated and time-consuming integrations later.

A strong software solution will provide a complete view of strategic insights like revenue forecasting, trends, and member engagement. With your management tools and CRM collaborating, it’s easier for you to review past data and gain valuable insights. 

For instance, generate comprehensive reports to see which of your events were most popular in the last year. This can help you determine the types of events your members might want in the future or solidify a core marketing strategy that can be applied to all events. 

The best way to build your online community is to learn from past mistakes and always strive for improvement. Staying stagnant won’t motivate prospective members to join and may even discourage current members from renewing. 


If you’re wondering if increasing your online engagement is necessary for your nonprofit, the answer is yes. Don’t miss out on the chance to nurture a valuable online environment for your members, whether that’s with enhanced online member communications or with key data management strategies. This is the best way to keep members coming back year after year!

Jake Fabbri is the Chief Marketing Officer at Fonteva with over 18 years of experience working in marketing management. He has experience with lead generation, content marketing, marketing automation, and events. 

Social Channels:

https://www.linkedin.com/in/jacob-fabbri-329b59/

https://www.facebook.com/Fonteva/

Moving Away from Transactional Fundraising

Unfortunately, we’re looking at another tough year for fundraising. I’ve heard some people predict donations will decrease, while others say they’ll increase.

In this era of uncertainty, who knows? That doesn’t mean you should stop fundraising. Not at all. You just need to do it better. 

You may think the most important component of fundraising is raising money. While that’s important, so is building relationships with your donors. 

It’s hard to keep raising money if you don’t build a good relationship with your donors. Every single interaction with your donors needs to focus on building relationships. That includes fundraising appeals. It’s possible to raise money and build relationships at the same time.

You’ll have more success if you move away from transactional fundraising and focus on building relationships. Here are some suggestions.

Stop using transactional language

First, the word transaction should not appear anywhere in your fundraising. Sometimes I see the words “Transaction complete”after I make an online donation. That’s not giving me a nice warm and fuzzy feeling at all. I made a gift not a transaction.

Even more prevalent is the word receipt, which is often used in lieu of thank you. After a donor makes a gift, they should be feeling a lot of appreciation from you. 

Here are some actual thank you email subject lines I received recently.

“Your Recurring Donation Receipt” 

“Payment Receipt” 

This again is emphasizing the transaction. Payment information should not be the lead of any type of thank you. 

Contrast those with these ones that really emphasize their appreciation.

“Thank you for your generous gift”

“You are wonderful!”

This post by Richard Perry Avoiding Transactional Terms in Fundraising mentions other terms such as prospect and annual fund. These are often internal terms, but they reduce donors to a monetary unit. 

When organizations lead their fundraising appeals by saying “It’s our annual appeal” or “It’s GivingTuesday,” they’re not connecting with their donors by concentrating on why donors give. 

Many donors don’t care that it’s your year-end appeal. They care about your work and want to help. Instead, say something like, How you can help families put food on the table. 

Make relationship building part of your fundraising campaigns

You need to build relationships before, during, and after each of your fundraising campaigns.

Before your next appeal, send your donors an update to let them know how they’re helping you make a difference. This is especially important if you do more than one fundraising campaign a year. You don’t want your donors to think the only time they hear from you is when you’re asking for money.

Segment your donors

One way to help ensure you’re focusing on relationships is to segment your donors and personalize your appeal letters and other types of donor communication. 

Don’t send the same appeal to everyone on your mailing list. What is your relationship with these individuals? Maybe they’ve given once or many times. Perhaps they’re event attendees, volunteers, e-newsletter subscribers, or friends of board members. Mention your relationship in your appeal letter. For example, thank a long-time donor for supporting you these past five years.

Monthly donors get their own appeal letter. This doesn’t happen enough and it’s one of my biggest pet peeves. Build relationships with these committed donors. Recognize they’re monthly donors and either invite them to upgrade their gift or give an additional donation.

Segmenting Your Donors is More Important Than Ever

Create an attitude of gratitude

Your focus on building relationships continues when you thank your donors. Many organizations do a poor job with this. Send a handwritten note or make a phone call, if you can.

Welcome your new donors. Let them know how much you appreciate this new relationship. If you don’t, it’s likely to be a short relationship.

Be sure to also shower your current donors with love to keep your relationship going. Do something special for donors who have supported you for several years.

Make sure your donors get a heartfelt thank you, not something that resembles a receipt.

Thanking donors is something you can do at any time of the year. I think one of the best ways to connect is by sending a handwritten note.  I recently received a holiday card and a mug full of Lindt chocolate from a small, local nonprofit. It definitely warmed my heart, although you can always win me over with chocolate.

Holiday cards are a nice way to reach out, but don’t put a donation envelope in one. You have other opportunities to make appeals. Make it 100% about showing appreciation.

You can also send thank you cards at other times of the year. If money is tight, spread out your mailings over the year so each donor gets at least one card.

Don’t miss out on opportunities to build relationships

There are many ways you can build relationships with your donors throughout the year. This is so important right now.

You can give donors other opportunities to connect, such as volunteering, participating in advocacy alerts, and signing up for your newsletter. Done well, a newsletter or other form of an update is a good relationship-building tool. You could also offer virtual tours or Zoom discussions.

I’m amazed that after I attend an event, support someone in a walkathon, or give a memorial gift, most organizations don’t do a good job of building a relationship. I could be a potential long-time donor. Personally, I would never give a memorial gift or support someone in a charity walk if I didn’t believe in that organization’s cause. Don’t miss out on a potential opportunity to build longer-term relationships.

Have a relationship-building day

My main objection to giving days, such as GivingTuesday, is they focus so much on asking. What if we put all the time and energy we focus on giving days into a relationship-building day?

I’m not saying you can’t participate in giving days, but instead of the relentless begging, follow the formula above and build relationships before, during, and after your appeal.

Of course, you could choose not to participate in a giving day and have an all-out relationship-building day instead.

Giving Tuesday: What if it was called Living Schmoozeday?

Build relationships all year round

It’s easier to stay focused on donors when you’re sending an appeal or thank you, but this is just the beginning. Many organizations go on communication hiatus at certain times of the year and that’s a big mistake, especially now. Ideally, you should keep in touch with your donors every one to two weeks.

Stay focused on relationships. Good relationships with your donors will help you with retention, especially as we enter another tough fundraising year. 

Some Insights From 2020 to Bring Into the New Year

I hope everyone had a safe holiday. I’m sure you’re relieved 2020 is over, although uncertainty will stay with us for a while.

No doubt this past year brought a lot of challenges to your nonprofit. Even so, many organizations were able, for lack of a better word, to pivot and make changes to the way they ran their programs. 

Donations to nonprofits increased in the first half of the year. Hopefully, your organization was the beneficiary of some generous donors. That would have required you to continue fundraising and not pull back.

The pandemic and other outcomes from 2020, such as the economic downturn and a heightened awareness of systemic racism, have opened our eyes and taught us a lot. I hope we continue to learn from this as we progress through 2021.

We’ve also gained insight on better ways to do fundraising and communications. Here are some insights from the past year that we can take into 2021 and future years.

Make a plan, but be prepared to make changes

You must have fundraising and communications plans. If you haven’t put together these plans yet, do that now! 

If you had plans in place last year, you know you had to start making changes in March, but you did have a plan. Perhaps you had a gala or walkathon planned for the spring and you made those virtual. Maybe you ran an emergency fundraising campaign. Organizations that were able to make changes to a plan already in place were most successful.

Take a look back at 2020 to see what worked and what didn’t in your fundraising and communications. Incorporate what you’ve learned into your 2021 plans. 

Since we’re entering another year of uncertainty, make a plan to change your plans as the year progresses. Most likely you still won’t be able to do a large in-person event in the spring, but you might able to in the fall. If you can’t, make sure you have a contingency plan in place. And don’t stop fundraising!

Revisit your fundraising and communications plans regularly and make changes as needed. You may need to do this more often than in past years.

Remember that donor engagement and donor retention should be part of your fundraising plan. Those are key to success.

How to Prepare a Nonprofit Fundraising Plan

10 ELEMENTS FOR FUNDRAISING PLANNING – 2020-21

How NOT to Make a Fundraising Plan

Nonprofit Marketing Plan Template: 9 Simple Steps to Achieve Your Goal

A step-by-step guide to creating a nonprofit communications strategy

Donors are heroes

The pandemic has shown us the world is full of heroes, such as health care professionals and other essential workers. Donors are also heroes because you could not have gotten through the last year without them. Think of who came through for you. Most likely, it was long-term donors. 

This is why donor retention is so important and needs to be a priority. We’ve known this for a long time, but you’ll have more success if you work to keep the donors you already have instead of focusing on getting new ones.

Keep track of your retention rate. If it’s low, it’s something you can fix, usually with better communication. Your goal should be to have donors who support you for a long time.

It’s easier and less expensive to keep your current donors than to find new ones, so, once again, make donor retention a priority.

A Guide to Donor Retention

That said, you may have some new donors who saw a need and felt a connection to your cause, Don’t let these donors slip away.

The Importance of Making Your New Donors Feel Welcome

Whether a donor has supported you for 10 years or is brand new, they are heroes. Please don’t forget that.

3 Steps to Light Up Your Donor Engagement Strategy Through COVID-19 and Beyond

Monthly giving is the way to go

Speaking of retention, the retention rate for monthly donors is 90%. These donors are dedicated to your nonprofit. 

Monthly giving makes sense at any time, but it was especially crucial this past year. Organizations that had monthly giving programs saw a steady stream of revenue throughout the year. Donors who opt for monthly giving find it’s easier on their finances. Dedicated monthly donors also stepped up and gave additional donations last year.

Work on starting or growing your monthly giving program so you can have a bunch of highly committed donors. A good way to start is to invite your current donors to become monthly donors.

How Monthly Giving is a Win-Win for Your Nonprofit

Quick Tips to Create a Great Monthly Giving Program

Better communication makes a difference

I’d like to see us say goodbye to boring, generic communication. This past year donors saw real people with real problems in real time. They turned on the news and saw long lines at food banks. They read about theatres and museums that had to shut their doors to patrons.

It makes a difference if you can put things in human terms. Organizations that did this did a better job of connecting with their donors.

Stop using jargon, such as at-risk and underserved. These terms are demeaning to your clients, especially if they’re people of color. Tell more stories and go easy on the statistics. If you’re making a difference, you have stories to tell.

Better communication also means more frequent communication. Donors want to hear from you and they want to feel appreciated, too. I know it’s hard right now, but better, more frequent communication will help you raise more money. A communications calendar will help you with this. 

Start the New Year off by making fundraising and communications plans, if you haven’t already done so. Put donor retention and donor engagement front and center. This will help bring you more success in 2021.

Keep in Touch with Your Donors Throughout the Year by Using a Communications Calendar

I like to emphasize the importance of keeping in touch with your donors throughout the year. During the pandemic, this has become more important than ever, even though it may be harder due to everything that’s going on.

Your donors want to hear from you and don’t just want to be blasted with fundraising appeals. The good news is that better donor communication (thank yous and updates) can help you raise more money.

Ideally, you should communicate with your donors at least once or twice a month throughout the year. If that sounds impossible, it will be a whole lot easier if you put together a communications calendar (also known as an editorial calendar).

I like the term communications calendar because it emphasizes the importance of communicating with your donors and other supporters all-year-round.

Some of you may already have a communications calendar, which is great. Now is a good time to update yours for the coming year. For the rest of you, here are some suggestions to help you get started. Even though it will take a little time to put together, it will be worth it in the end because you’ll be able to do a better job of communicating with your donors.

This is not just a job for your marketing department. All departments need to work together. Figure out what information you need to share and when to share it. You want a consistent stream of information – not three emails in one day and nothing for three weeks.

As you put together your communications calendar, think about how you will use different channels and which audience(s) should receive your messages. You may only send direct mail a few times a year (and I hope you do use direct mail), but send an e-newsletter once a month and communicate by social media several times a week. You’ll often use several different channels when you send a fundraising appeal or promote an event.

Start big by looking at the entire year and then break it down by months and weeks. You’ll keep adding to your communications calendar throughout the year.

Your communications calendar is a fluid document and this last year is a good example of how you needed to make changes, especially as the pandemic started. We’re still in unchartered territory even as the vaccines roll out, so be prepared to keep things current.

Here are some categories you can use in your communications calendar. Some items will be time-sensitive and others won’t be.

Current Events/News stories

At the beginning of 2020, most of us couldn’t predict the year we were about to have. In other years, current happenings wouldn’t dominate your communication as much as they did this year.

At the start of the pandemic, I hope you reached out to your donors to wish them well and update them on your clients/community.

After George Floyd was killed, many organizations professed their support for Black Lives Matter. I hope that was the beginning of any communication about systemic racism and not the only one.

Our world has changed a lot this past year and many donors will expect more communication about social and economic issues. Keep them apprised of how all this is affecting your clients/community.

Updates

You need to keep your donors updated on how they’re helping you make a difference. Your print and e-newsletter should be included in your communications calendar. If you don’t do a newsletter, make a plan to share updates another way – maybe by postcard, email, and/or social media. Sometimes short updates are more effective.

Share your success and challenges, especially as we continue to navigate through the current climate.

Legislation

Advocacy alerts are a wonderful way to engage with your supporters. Be on the lookout for any federal or state legislation that’s relevant to your organization. Encourage people to contact their legislators about an issue or a bill. Then report back to them with any updates and thank them for getting involved. Many donors will be receptive to this type of involvement.

Time of year

Is there something going on during a particular month that’s pertinent to your organization? Perhaps it’s homelessness or domestic violence awareness month.

Thanksgiving, the holidays, and winter can be a difficult time for some people. How can you weave that into an engaging story to share with your supporters? This will be an especially hard winter for many people.

Keep in mind your organization’s anniversary doesn’t mean much to your donors unless you can tie that in with how they’re helping you make a difference.

Fundraising and recruitment

Be sure to add your fundraising campaigns to your communications calendar. Obviously, these campaigns are important, but you also want to show gratitude and send updates during this time without inundating your donors with too many messages. Planning ahead will help you strike this balance.

If your organization has specific times it needs to recruit volunteers, add that to your calendar, as well. 

Thank your donors

This is crucial! Find different ways to let your donors know how much you appreciate them. You can combine a thank you with an update. Do this at least once a month.

Events

Your organization may not be holding any in-person events next year, but perhaps you’ll continue to do virtual events. Besides your events, are there other events (virtual or in-person) in your community that would be of interest to your supporters? If so, you could share it on social media.

Ongoing content

If you’re making a difference, you have stories to tell. Share a story at least once a month. Client stories (either in the first or third person) are best. Your stories need to be relevant to the current situations, so you may need to create some new ones.

You could also profile a board member, volunteer, donor, or staff member. Be sure to highlight what drew them to your organization.

Put together a story bank to help you with this.

Keep it up

As you hear about other relevant information, add it to your calendar, so you can stay connected with your donors/supporters throughout the year. Information will be changing quickly next year, so you’ll want to keep on top of it.

Here’s more information to help you create a communications/editorial calendar. A couple of these links also include templates.

How to create and use a nonprofit editorial calendar

Make Your Fundraising Easier with a Donor Communications Calendar

Creating the Perfect Editorial Calendar – A Cinderella Story

EDITORIAL CALENDARS – RESOURCES FOR YOU

The Importance of Making Your New Donors Feel Welcome

As your year-end donations come in, you may have some new donors. If you get new donors this year, don’t take that for granted. 

In this tumultuous year, these donors saw a need and found a connection to your cause. Maybe you’re a food bank that’s seeing a record number of people. Perhaps you’re a beloved performing arts organization that’s temporarily closed.

Unfortunately, the likelihood these donors will stick with you is questionable. Even in the best of times, the retention rate for new donors is a little over 20%.

One of the many lessons from this pandemic is the importance of having long-term donors who will stick with you when you need them most. Therefore, it’s more important than ever to hang on to your new donors.

Start with a special thank you

Go the extra mile when you thank your new donors.

If someone donates online, it’s hard to tailor the thank you email specifically to new donors. But you can do that with a phone call, handwritten note, or thank you letter.

Try to call your new donors or send a handwritten note. This will make a great impression on them. Get together a group of board members, other volunteers, and staff to help you.

*Make sure these are actually new donors. A good database will help you avoid any snafus.*

Create a welcome plan

A week or two after the initial thank you, send a welcome package. You can do this by mail, email, or a combination of both.

Welcome your new donors. Thank them again and show them other ways they can connect with you. Invite them to subscribe to your newsletter, join you on social media, and volunteer (most likely virtually for now).

Your welcome package should include a warm introductory message and a few facts about your organization, but don’t brag too much. Keep it donor-centered. You could also direct people to your website for more information about your organization.

Be careful about how much information you send. Donors want to feel welcome not overwhelmed.

I don’t recommend sending unsolicited swag. You could offer your new donors a gift and they can let you know if they want to receive it, but it’s not necessary. I don’t like it when organizations send me things I don’t need, such as a wall calendar.

What donors really want from you is to know how they’re helping you make a difference.

What are you doing now to welcome new donors?

How to Create an Effective New Donor Welcome Series

Anatomy of a Stellar First-Time Donor Welcome Packet

Who are your new donors?

They could be event attendees, volunteers, or newsletter subscribers. If you know, refer to that in your thank you note, letter, or phone call. If not, send a short survey with your welcome package and ask, “How did you hear about us?” or “What drew you to our organization?” 

Another question to ask is whether your donors prefer print or electronic communication. Short surveys are also a good way to connect throughout the year. The more you know about your donors the easier it will be to communicate with them.

Make your current donors feel special, too

While I’ve been focusing on new donors in this post, retention rates for current donors have also been declining. The biggest hurdle is getting from the first to the second gift. That second gift is known as the golden donation. But don’t stop there. You want a third and a fourth, etc. donation.  

If you’re not acknowledging a donor’s past support, you’re making a huge mistake. Imagine how you would feel if you gave to an organization for over five years and they never thank you for your long-time support.  

These valuable, long-term donors could leave at any time, so ignore them at your own peril. Remember the importance of long-term donors. Make sure they get a special thank you from you.

Keep it up throughout the year

You should know you need to communicate with your donors regularly, especially now. Plan on special mailings or emails specifically targeted to new donors. Try to send something by mail if you can. It’s more personal and your donors are more likely to see it. 

Think of other ways to do something special for your new donors too, such as offering virtual tours or an invitation to a Zoom discussion.

Of course, don’t ignore your other donors. Keep reaching out – at least once or twice a month. 

Show appreciation and share updates. A huge factor in donor retention is a good donor relations plan that you’ll carry out regularly as long as your donors support you, which hopefully will be for many years.

This is the Year to be Truly Thankful for Your Donors

Thanksgiving is coming up and it’s a time of the year in the U.S. when we show gratitude to the special people in our lives. For many, it will be a different Thanksgiving. Some people may not gather with family and friends and if they do, it will be with fewer people, while taking precautions to stay safe. 

Your donors are also special people. Many of them have gone the extra mile this year to help you during these difficult times. Don’t they deserve to be showered with gratitude?  

Even if donors cut back on their giving or haven’t given at all this year, they should still get some attention. Hopefully, they’ll give again in the future. There’s a better chance of that if you treat them well.

Showing gratitude doesn’t happen nearly as often as it should, but you need to spend just as much time thanking your donors as you do on fundraising.

Here are a few ways to thank your donors and let them know they’re special.

Wish your donors a Happy Thanksgiving

Send your donors a special Thanksgiving message. A lot of nonprofits already do this, but I think as many organizations as possible should do it this year. If you can send a card or postcard, that’s great, but an email message is also fine.

As I hope you’ve been doing for the last several months, wish your donors well. Let them know how grateful you are to have them as part of your family. Your donors will appreciate a heartfelt message right now. 

Don’t stop with Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving isn’t the only time to show some #donorlove. The holidays and New Year’s are just around the corner and that’s a good opportunity, especially for those of you outside the U.S., to express gratitude. But you don’t need a reason. Just thank your donors and do it often. 

Whatever you decide, DO NOT include a donation envelope or any other type of ask with your thank you message. This is known as a thask and it’s guaranteed to deflate your donor’s good feelings in an instant.

Incorporate thanking your donors into your year-end fundraising campaign

Many of you are working on your year-end fundraising campaign. I know you’re trying to raise money, but you should also be showing gratitude. Does your appeal thank donors for their past or potential gifts?

Besides wishing your donors a Happy Thanksgiving, find other ways to show gratitude while you’re also sending appeals. This is especially important around #GivingTuesday and I’ll write more about that in my next post.

Be ready to thank your donors as soon as you receive a donation

Every single donor, no matter how much they’ve given or whether they donated online, gets a thank you card/letter mailed to them or receives a phone call.

Planning ahead will help you thank your donors as soon as possible. I’m sure you’ve spent a lot of time and effort getting your fundraising appeal out. Perhaps you’ve recruited other staff or volunteers to help you.

You need to do the same thing when you thank your donors. Get your board, other staff, and volunteers to help make phone calls, write thank you notes, or include a handwritten note on a thank you letter. Much of this can be done from home.

Do a better job of thanking your donors

Your donors deserve more than just the same, lame generic thank you letter. I write a lot about thanking donors. Here are a couple of recent posts that cover ways to do a better job of thanking your donors.

Get Ready to Pour on the Gratitude

How to Give Your Donors a More Personal Online Thank You Experience

The initial thank you right after you receive a donation is important. So is the next one and the one after that and the one after that….

Thanking your donors is not a one-time deal. You want to thank your donors at least once a month. Here are some ideas to show gratitude throughout the year.

  • Send a handwritten note.
  • Create a thank you video and share it on your website, by email, and on social media.
  • Send welcome packets to your new donors.
  • Invite your donors to connect with you via email and social media. Keep them updated on your success and challenges. Making all your communications donor-centered will help convey an attitude of gratitude.
  • Thank your donors in your newsletters and other updates. Emphasize that you wouldn’t be able to do the work you do without their support.
  • Create a virtual tour or other engaging video content so your donors can see your nonprofit up close and personal.
  • Thank your donors just because they’re great.
  • Keep thinking of other ways to thank your donors.

5 Donor Love Must-Do’s for the COVID-19 Crisis

9 Donor Stewardship Ideas to Keep Your Donors Feeling Connected While Practicing Social Distancing

We need more kindness right now

During these tumultuous times, we keep getting more and more divided. Wherever you live and whichever way you lean politically, we should all show more kindness towards each other. 

At the beginning of the pandemic, some people put hearts and teddy bears in their windows, along with signs of support for essential workers. That’s mostly disappeared and I’d like to see it return. I know everyone is tired of wearing masks and socially distancing, but it’s either that or you risk getting infected. Some kindness, both towards ourselves and others, will help us get through this.

In the spirit of kindness, show some gratitude to your donors and make them feel special. 

How to Give Your Donors a More Personal Online Thank You Experience

Many people donate online now. There’s a good reason for this. It’s usually fast and easy, or at least it should be. You may be opting for an online only year-end campaign this fall, although I do recommend mailing an appeal letter if you can.

One issue with online donations is the poor thank yous that come after your donor has given you a gift. I like to think of what happens after someone donates online as a thank you experience, which consists of a thank you landing page, thank you email, and a thank you by mail or phone, plus additional bursts of gratitude throughout the year.

Even though your thank you landing page and thank you email are automatically generated, it doesn’t mean they need to sound like they were written by a robot.

There’s a human being on the other end and they just did something great by donating to your organization. Don’t they deserve to be lavished with gratitude? Of course they do. Especially in 2020, possibly one of the worst years ever, when we’re dealing with so much and missing out on personal connections.

It’s not hard to make your online thank yous more personal. Here’s what you need to do.

Use words that convey gratitude

First, make a list of words you associate with gratitude. Did you come up with words such as transaction and processed? I hope not, although those are words I often see after I make an online gift. I cringe every time I see transaction complete or your gift was successfully processed.

Words matter and some words of gratitude include appreciate, grateful, and of course, thank you. 

Think of the donations you receive as the start or continuation of a relationship and not a transaction. 

Make a good first impression with your thank you landing page

Your landing page is your first chance to say thank you and it’s usually about as engaging as an Amazon receipt. In fact, I’ve seen online shopping receipts that are more personal than some nonprofit “thank you” landing pages.

Remember to use words that convey gratitude. You could open with Thank you, Kara! or You’re amazing! Capture your donor’s attention with an engaging photo or video. You could also create a thank you word cloud. Include a short, easy to understand description of how the donation will help your clients/community during these uncertain times.

Invite donors to connect with you in other ways such as signing up to receive your newsletter, following you on social media, and volunteering.

If you use a third-party giving site, you might be able to customize the landing page. If you can’t, follow up with a personal thank you email message within 48 hours.

Don’t let your donors think they only made a transaction.

How to Create Post Donation Thank You Pages That Delight Donors

How To Optimize Your Donation Thank You Page + Examples Of Nonprofits Who Do It Right

Write a thank you email that your donors will appreciate

Start off by thinking of a good subject line. At the very least say Thank You! and not Donation Received. Stay away from the dreaded words processed and transaction. You want your thank you email to stand out in your donor’s overflowing inbox.

Open your message with Thank You or You’re incredible, and not the usual On Behalf of X organization. Then let your donors know how they’re helping you make a difference for your clients/community.

You want to follow the rules of writing a good thank you letter. The key word here is good. It amazes me how many thank you letters/emails don’t do a good job of saying thank you.

You won’t be able to segment much, but you should be able to distinguish between single gifts and monthly donations.

Speaking of monthly donations, many organizations send their monthly donors an email acknowledgment each month. There’s nothing wrong with that, but what’s wrong is many of these are just plain boring and usually include the same generic message each month.

Your monthly donors have made a long-term commitment to you. You can show the same commitment to them by writing a better thank you email and mixing up the content by sharing updates. This is even more important now.

You can include a donation summary or receipt with your thank you email, but that should be at the end – AFTER you pour on the gratitude. I prefer the term donation summary because it doesn’t sound as transactional.

Remember, you’re a human writing to another human. Don’t make your message sound like it was written by a robot. Write something warm and personal.

Examples of Email Thank You Letters to Online Donors

Best Fundraising Thank You Emails for Your Supporters

Don’t stop showing gratitude 

Since your thank you landing page and email are automatically generated, you can’t make them as personal as a handwritten note, phone call, or letter. That’s why you need to do at least one of those for your online donors. An online thank you is not enough. Also, your donors may not see your thank you email, but you want to make sure they feel appreciated.

You also want to keep thanking your donors throughout the year – at least once a month if you can. If it’s too hard to use mail or make phone calls right now, you can keep thanking by email, as well as social media. A personalized thank you video is another great way to show some gratitude.

You want to give your donors a thank you experience. Your thank you landing page and email acknowledgment are just the beginning. Make them engaging and personal and keep up that theme as you continue to show gratitude to your donors throughout the year.

Get Ready to Pour on the Gratitude

You may have started working on your year-end appeal. Just as important, if not more important, is planning how you’ll thank your donors. 

Some of the themes of 2020 should be –  this is more important than ever and planning ahead.

Many organizations leave thanking their donors as a last-minute to-do item and it shows. You can’t do that this year, as well as in future years. You may have a harder time getting donations right now. If someone gives to your organization, they deserve to be showered with gratitude. 

There are many ways to thank your donors after an appeal – by mail, phone, email, on your website, or a combination of those. The more you can do, the better.

Thanking your donors is something you need to do well. Don’t shortchange your donors with a lame, generic thank you.

Here are a few ways to do a better job of thanking your donors.

Start planning now

Don’t wait until the day after your appeal goes out. Give yourself plenty of time to plan. 

Figure out what you’ll be able to do. I highly recommend a handwritten note or phone call. Can you do that for all your donors? If not, maybe you’ll break it down by new donors, long-time donors, or donors who have given a certain amount.

I understand that handwritten notes and phone calls may be hard to do right now. At the very least, your donors should get a letter, even if they’ve donated online. Whatever you decide, get started on the content now. 

Brighten your donor’s day with a handwritten thank you note

I love it when a nonprofit sends a handwritten thank you note. This is a rare occurrence, so if you do this, your thank you note will stand out in your donor’s mailbox.

Handwritten notes are great in many ways, but one advantage is you don’t have to write that much and it shouldn’t take too long. 

How to Write 3 Minute Thank You Notes

You could make thank you cards with an engaging photo or buy some nice thank you cards. Get together a team of board members, staff, and volunteers right after your appeal goes out to help with this.

Think about how much your donors will appreciate this nice gesture. Here’s a sample note.

Dear Lisa,

Thank you so much for upgrading your gift to $75. We’ve been serving three times the number of people at the Northside Community Food Bank. Your generous gift will help a lot. We’re so happy you’ve been a donor these past five years.

Phone calls are another personal way to show some donor love

Calling first-time donors is known to improve retention rates. But you could also call long-term donors to make them feel special.

Again, you want to get a team together to help. This is a great thing for your board to do. You may need to do a short virtual training at first. Here’s a sample phone script.

Hi Bob, this is Diana Turner and I’m a board member at the Northside Community Food Bank. Thank you so much for your generous donation of $50 and welcome to our donor family. Your gift will help feed more local families during this difficult time. 

How to Call Donors Just to Say Thank You for Donating

Write an incredible thank you letter

If it’s impossible to send handwritten notes or make phone calls, you can still impress your donors with an incredible thank you letter. Many thank you letters aren’t incredible and are mediocre at best. You’ll have an advantage if you take some time to create a great, donor-centered letter.

The purpose of a thank you letter is to thank your donors. Keep that in mind at all times.  

Don’t start your letter with On behalf of X organization…. If you’re sending it on your letterhead, it should be obvious it’s coming from your organization. Instead, start your letter with – Thank you or You’re amazing! Here’s another example from a letter I recently received – What a great friend you are to …….

You also don’t need to explain what your organization does. This is usually done in a braggy way by saying something like – As you know, X organization has been doing great work in the community for 20 years…. Someone who’s donated to your organization should already be familiar with what you do.

And, don’t ask for another gift in your thank you letter. You did that in your appeal letter. You can ask again another time. Keep gratitude front and center.

Write separate thank you letters for different types of donors.  Welcome new donors and welcome back your current donors. Monthly donors should also get special recognition.

Your thank you letter needs to make your donors feel good about giving to your organization. Let them know how their gift is helping you make a difference. Include a brief story or example. Make it relevant to the current climate.

As with all writing, make your letter personal and conversational. Write to the donor using you much more than we, and leave out jargon and any other language your donors won’t understand. Also, you must address your donors by name – not Dear Friend.

A few other ways to make your letter stand out are to use a colored envelope or include a teaser that says Thank You! If you can hand address the envelopes, use a nice stamp, and include a handwritten note inside, that will help make it more personal. You could also include an engaging photo in the letter.

Yes, you do need to include the tax-deductible information, but do that at the end, after you impress your donors with your letter, or include it on a separate page. It’s easiest to include this with the thank you letter or email. Then you don’t have to send it again unless your donor requests it.

An example from an organization that did it right

I mentioned the opening line from a recent thank you letter I received. This organization, a local theatre that’s unable to do live performances until sometime next year, did a lot of things right with their letter. Starting with sending the letter right away. I was surprised to get it so quickly, although 48 hours is what’s recommended, but rarely followed.

The envelope was hand addressed and the letter included phrases like – you are providing a sense of stability and hope as we all continue to navigate through these uncharted waters, and X theatre is still here – and is still strong – because of you! The phrase because of you is a must in a thank you letter. This letter also included a handwritten note saying – Looking forward to welcoming you back……

With everything that’s going on right now, it’s crucial to do a good job of thanking your donors, both now and throughout the year. In my next post, I’ll share some ways to improve your online thank yous.

Here’s more on thanking your donors.

5 Donor Love Must-Do’s for the COVID-19 Crisis

How to Write The Best Thank-You Letter for Donations + Three Templates and Samples

A Guide to Crafting the Perfect Donation Thank-You Letter

5 Thank You Letters Donors Will Love

How to Create a Fundraising Appeal that’s Relevant in the Current Climate

September is here. It’s my favorite month and the more moderate temperatures and lower humidity are a nice respite from all the uncertainty going on in the world.

Fall is the busiest time of the year for nonprofit organizations, especially if you’re doing a year-end appeal. The current climate (pandemic, economic downturn, heightened awareness of systemic racism, having to cope with all of this, etc)  will require you to create a new, more relevant appeal, although many of the components will be the same.

Even if you’re not planning on launching your campaign until later in the fall, you should get started on your appeal now. You need to create an appeal that will stand out and resonate with your donors.

A couple of things. You must address the current climate in your appeal. Instead of the usual boring, generic letter, you need to specifically address what’s been going on since the pandemic started. 

Also, your appeal needs to be personal – both for your donors and when you write about your clients/community. Be sure to check in with your donors and wish them well.

Here are some ways to create a better, more relevant appeal.

Make a good first impression 

First, you need to get your donors to open your letter. If you can’t get them to do that, then all your hard work has gone to waste.

Perhaps you’d like to include a teaser on the outer envelope. That doesn’t mean one that says 2020 Annual Appeal. That’s not inspiring, especially now. Instead, say something like – Find out how you can help local families put food on the table.

An oversized or colored envelope can also capture your donor’s attention.

You want to be both personal and professional. If hand addressing the envelopes isn’t feasible, make sure your mailing labels look clean, are error-free, and aren’t crooked. Use stamps if you can.

Create an inviting piece of mail.

Share a compelling story

A good appeal letter should open with a compelling story. Focus on a person or family and not your organization. Your donors want to hear about the people they’ll be helping and it needs to be relevant to the current climate. 

Here’s an example – Sarah, a single mother with three kids, was laid off earlier this year and had trouble finding enough money to buy groceries for her family. But thanks to generous donors like you, she was able to get boxes of healthy food at the Northside Community Food Bank. Sarah was embarrassed that she said to rely on a food bank to feed her family, but she is treated with respect and dignity each time she visits. 

You could also share a first-person story from a client/program recipient.

Include a photo

Include an engaging color photo in your letter or on your pledge form. Photos can tell a story in an instant.

Here’s more information on creating stories and photos.

Telling Your Stories in the Current Climate

How to Engage With Your Donors by Using Visual Stories

Make a prominent ask

Ask for a donation at the beginning of the next paragraph (after the story). Make sure it’s prominent and clear. Also, ask your current donors if they can give a little more right now. I know we’re in an economic downturn, but don’t be afraid to ask your donors to upgrade their gift. People want to help if they can.

Phrase your ask like this – We’re so grateful for your previous gift of $50. We’re serving three times the number of people at the food bank right now. Would you be able to help us out a little more this time with a gift of $75?

Your donors know times are tough. Also, if you’ve been doing a good job of engaging your donors throughout the year (this is so important now), they shouldn’t mind if you ask for a larger gift. Including the amount of your donor’s previous gift is helpful since people often don’t remember what they gave before.

Be donor-centered, as well as community-centered

There’s some dichotomy right now between being donor-centered and being community-centered, but I think you can be both. What you don’t want is to be organization-centered.

Show your donors how they can help you make a difference for your clients/community and how much you appreciate their role in that. Make your donors feel good about supporting your nonprofit.

At the same time, respect your clients/community by not undermining them by using terms like at-risk youth or underserved communities. They are people, after all.

Share your success and challenges

I’m sure this has been a challenging year for you. Maybe you’ve had to do things differently, but how you had to make changes to your food bank is less important than why you had to do it. You need to continue providing healthy food to families, while doing it safely.

Highlight some of your accomplishments, but you can share challenges, too. A theatre where I’m a subscriber had to shut down in March and won’t be able to open again until sometime next year. Understandably, this created a budget shortfall and they’re trying to raise $100,000 by December 31.

Show how you plan to continue your work with your donor’s help. Remember to stay donor-centered! You need your donors right now.

Personalization is more important than ever

Don’t send everyone the same appeal. Try to send different letters to current donors, monthly donors, lapsed donors, people on your mailing list who haven’t donated yet, event attendees, volunteers, and friends of board members. 

The more you can segment, the better, but at the very least, you must do these two things.

Send a personalized appeal to current donors. They’re your best bet for getting donations now. Let them know how much you appreciate their support. If a donor contributed to an emergency campaign earlier in the year, be sure to thank them for that. These donors are committed to helping you through this difficult time.

Also, send a specific appeal tailored to monthly donors, giving them the recognition they deserve. You can ask them to upgrade or give an additional year-end gift.

This is not the time to send a generic, one-size-fits-all appeal letter. Go the extra mile for your donors, so they’ll continue to support you.

Your appeal letter should also have a personal salutation and not be addressed to Dear Friend or Dear Valued Donor. How much do you value this relationship if you can’t even use a person’s name?

This may sound like a lot of work, but if you give yourself enough time, it should be doable. Personalizing your letters can also help you raise more money.

Make it easy for your donors

Include a return envelope with amounts to check off or an envelope and a pledge form. Show what each amount will fund. Do this on your donation page, too.

How To Create Donation Tiers That Drive Donations

Some donors will prefer to donate online. Direct them to a user-friendly donation page on your website.

Donation Page Best Practices For Nonprofits; Tips for Great Donation Pages

Offer a monthly or recurring giving option

Monthly gifts can generate more revenue, give you a steady source of income throughout the year, and improve donor retention. Encourage your donors to give $5, $10, or even $20 a month. This may be a more viable option for some of them. 

How Monthly Giving is a Win-Win for Your Nonprofit

Be careful and don’t send an appeal to your current monthly donors that invites them to become monthly donors. That’s one reason why they need their own appeal.

Your letter must be easy to read (or scan)

Use short paragraphs and bulleted lists, along with bold or color for keywords, but keep it tasteful. Make it easy to read and scan. Most people won’t read your letter word for word. Use a simple font and 14-point type.

It’s fine to go over a page, especially if you’re breaking up the text with a photo and short paragraphs. I know longer letters can perform better, but donors have a lot going on, so if you’re going to write a longer letter, make every word count. You can also add a quote or short testimonial. These can be powerful and it helps break up the narrative.

Think of your letter as a conversation with a friend

You can create a better appeal if you think of your letter as a conversation with a friend. That means not using jargon like at-risk youth and underserved communities. Be specific and use everyday language. Your goal should be for your reader to understand you.

Refer to your reader as you and use you a lot more than we.

How to Perform the “You” Test for Donor-Centered Communications – Do You Pass?

Too many editors spoil the appeal

Your entire staff doesn’t need to be involved in writing your appeal. Generally, the more people you involve in writing your letter, the worse it becomes. Fundraising Consultant Tom Ahern refers to this as letter writing by committee.

Your best writer should craft it and then turn it over to your best editor. Whoever signs the letter (your Executive Director?) can take a quick look at it, but don’t send it to a committee.

If you don’t have someone on your staff who can write a good fundraising appeal, then hire a freelancer or consultant to do it.

Besides weakening the content, involving more people takes extra time.

Make a good lasting impression, too

Repeat your ask at the end of your appeal. Don’t forget to say please and thank you.

Be sure to add a PS. People often gravitate to the PS as they scan the letter, so include something that will capture their attention. Here you could emphasize monthly giving, ask if their company provides matching gifts, or thank them for being a donor.

Get your pens out

Include a short handwritten note, if you can. Make it relevant to each donor, such as thanking someone for a previous donation or hoping a potential donor will support you. Hand sign the letters in blue ink.

This could be a tough fundraising season. That’s why you need to spend some time writing a better, more relevant appeal letter that will resonate with your donors and help bring you the donations you need. Good luck!

Read on for more advice and resources on writing a better fundraising appeal for the current climate.

10 Tips for Nonprofit Direct Mail Fundraising During COVID-19

3 Strategies Every Nonprofit Should Use for Year-End Fundraising in 2020

7 Wise COVID-19 Fundraising Templates

Image by Howard Lake

Personalization in Marketing: A Nonprofit’s Guide to Success

Personalization in your nonprofit’s marketing strategies is an important way to build relationships with your supporters to support long-term fundraising goals.

By Gerard Tonti

Personalized marketing is key for nonprofit success, especially when it comes to donor communications. Your supporters are much more likely to pay attention and feel appreciated when your nonprofit addresses them and their interests in your marketing initiatives. This helps build stronger relationships with them and maintain their support in the long-term.

Therefore, as you create your marketing plan, make sure your nonprofit effectively uses software to engage your audience and personalize outreach as much as possible. 

Here at Salsa, we work with all sorts of nonprofit organizations, helping them manage data that makes personalized marketing possible. We’ve found some of the most successful strategies to connect with supporters through data and effective marketing include: 

  1. Address your supporter by name. 
  2. Employ preferred marketing channels. 
  3. Launch a new donor marketing campaign. 
  4. Segment supporters by giving level. 
  5. Consider the geographic location of supporters. 
  6. Keep an eye on engagement metrics. 

The only way to completely personalize your marketing campaigns is to reach out to each supporter individually— every time. This is unrealistic and would use a lot of your organization’s resources and time. 

Therefore, nonprofits have devised techniques to personalize their messaging in a timely manner. Each of these strategies requires the use of an effective donor database solution. Keep this in mind as you’re exploring these techniques.

Now, let’s get started!

1. Address your supporter by name. 

This first tip might seem like a small detail, but it’s incredibly important to encourage your donors to actually read the messages you send to them. It’s a crucial step to establish a connection with your supporter, making it one of the foundations for effective communication

Consider your mail and email communications. Are you more likely to read a message with a salutation of “Dear valued donor” or “Dear [your name]”? Probably the latter! As an example, look at the two samples from nonprofit thank-you messages: 

Dear valued donor,

Thank you for your generous contribution to the buy-a-backpack campaign. Your gift is supporting the purchase of school supplies for hundreds of kids in the community. 

Compare that first message to the following: 

Dear Kiesha, 

Thank you for your generous contribution to the buy-a-backpack campaign. Your gift of $1,000 allowed us to buy new school supplies for 100 kids in the community. 

Using the supporter’s name in the introduction catches their attention and shows that the message is crafted for them rather than a mass audience. 

Other details included in the message were also designed to personally address the supporter’s action, including: 

  • Specifying the amount of the gift contributed
  • Communicating the impact of that specific contribution
  • Identifying the campaign that the supporter contributed to

By getting specific and using personal details in the messages you send supporters, you’re telling them the communication was crafted specifically for them. This establishes a more personal relationship over time. 

2. Use preferred marketing channels. 

There are a lot of different ways you can get in touch with your nonprofit’s supporters. However, your supporters probably check some communication channels more frequently than others. 

Using the channels your supporters pay the closest attention to is a great way to boost supporter engagement with your organization. 

How can you figure out which channels your supporters prefer? There are two primary ways: 

  1. Ask them. This is the easiest way to figure out your supporters’ preferences. Send them a survey and ask key questions about what messages they like the most and how they’d prefer to receive those messages. 
  2. Analyze marketing results. The other way you can discover your supporters’ preferences is by analyzing their past engagement metrics with various platforms. If you find that a supporter tends to open and click through your emails more often than other platforms, you should continue using email. 

Some of the channels you may consider analyzing and asking your supporters about include: 

  • Email
  • Direct mail
  • Phone calls
  • In-person meetings
  • Social media

After you’ve discovered the most effective and desired channels among your supporters, you can start integrating those channels into your marketing plan. 

Keep in mind, however, that the most effective way to communicate with supporters is through a multi-channel marketing approach. This means your organization will use a few separate channels to touch base with each of your supporters. For instance, you may use social media for frequent updates, direct mail to inform supporters about new campaigns, and phone calls to show your appreciation to donors after they contribute. 

3. Create a marketing campaign for new donors.

Many nonprofits tend to focus heavily on donor acquisition. In reality, it’s a good strategy to put more emphasis on retaining those supporters you already have. Retaining donors is a more cost-effective strategy with a higher chance of increasing your secured revenue. 

Specifically, the best way to increase your donor retention rate is to make sure your new donors feel welcomed and appreciated by your nonprofit. 

We suggest creating a new donor marketing campaign to accomplish this goal. An easy way to do this? Develop a drip campaign with information that will intrigue this audience. It looks like this: 

  • Develop templates and email drafts of information that new supporters will appreciate and engage with. Make sure these emails stand out and differ from one another. For example, you might send supporters a one-pager about the need for your mission, a summary of the upcoming events or virtual opportunities offered by your organization, and updates from your most recent program, all in separate emails.
  • Create a donor segment of new supporters. You can set up automatic emails to send to this group of supporters using effective marketing tools. Be careful not to send the messages too frequently as to not desensitize the supporters to seeing your name in their inbox, but send them frequently enough to keep you in the front of their minds. Once or twice a week should suffice. 
  • Provide the next step to drive engagement further for this group of supporters. For example, you might ask them to sign up for your newsletter, make a second gift, or register for your upcoming (virtual) event. Be sure to include this as an eye-catching call-to-action in your email communications. 

To make this possible, your nonprofit needs both fundraising and marketing software that will work well together. Salsa’s fundraising software offers an example of a solution that has features such as rich donor profiles and a seamless integration between fundraising and marketing to help nonprofits create these useful campaigns. 

4. Segment supporters by giving level. 

While you undoubtedly appreciate all of your supporters, some have a greater capacity to give and the ability to drive your mission further. 

That’s why as you personalize your communications, it’s important to recognize the donors with the greatest potential lifetime value so you can focus your efforts on developing a connection and relationship with them.

You can do this by segmenting your supporters by giving level (or prospective giving level if you’re using prospect research strategies).

Major donors and major prospects should have the most personalized interactions with your organization. You may go above and beyond with these supporters by: 

  • Setting up in-person or video meetings with them
  • Asking them for their opinions on your latest campaign
  • Giving advanced notice about major campaigns
  • Calling them more frequently with updates

Segmenting your donors by giving level gives your organization a better understanding of who your major prospects and donors are so you can specialize your outreach to them and make stronger connections.

5. Consider the geographic location of supporters. 

One characteristic that you should consider as you personalize your communications with supporters is where they live. This has been historically important for event planning as nonprofits send specialized invitations to their supporters who live in the area where an event will occur. 

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and stay-at-home orders, nonprofits have realized that geographic location is a less significant factor when hosting virtual fundraising events. Handbid’s virtual event guide explains how to host these and reiterates how they can unleash greater event potential by removing geographic restrictions to attendance. 

However, this doesn’t mean you should stop considering the geographic location of your supporters. 

Geographic location is important for communicating impact to your donors. For example, imagine you’re a donor contributing to a nonprofit that helps provide school supplies for kids. You might feel an even greater connection to this cause if you know your contributions are helping kids in your own community.

Drawing on the ties that supporters have to their own communities helps them feel like they’re truly making a difference that they can see in their everyday lives. 

6. Keep an eye on engagement metrics. 

After you’ve incorporated personalization strategies into your nonprofit’s marketing plan, be sure to keep an eye on the success metrics to see how they’re performing. Consider tracking the difference in the metrics before and after you implemented personalization strategies to ensure your communication is actually improving and you’re further engaging your audience. 

Some key performance metrics that you can keep an eye on include: 

  • Email open rates
  • Email click-through rates
  • Event attendance metrics
  • Survey response rates
  • Donor retention rates

As these metrics increase and improve, your fundraising efforts should also show signs of improvement. Keep an eye on all of your metrics in your nonprofit’s CRM software. If your donor database integrates seamlessly with your marketing and fundraising solutions (like Salsa’s Smart Engagement Technology), you should be able to easily track and measure success metrics. If you want to learn more about choosing and implementing software that makes this possible, check out this handy guide.  


Personalized marketing is key for your nonprofit’s increased donor engagement and retention strategies. It’s important to develop relationships and encourage a greater connection between donors and your organization. Use these six helpful strategies to get started with your organization’s personalized marketing. Good luck! 

Gerard Tonti is the Senior Creative Developer at Salsa Labs, the premier fundraising software company for growth-focused nonprofits. 

Gerard’s marketing focus on content creation, conversion optimization, and modern marketing technology helps him coach nonprofit development teams on digital fundraising best practices.