Build Relationships With Your Donors Every Step of the Way

2592683540_77e7a1ac7f_mMany nonprofits think fundraising is all about raising money. But raising money is only part of the fundraising equation.

Fundraising’s Not About Money (What???)

One of the most important things you need to do is to build relationships with your donors. Building relationships should be front and center in everything you do.

Here are some ways you can incorporate building relationships every step of the way.

Make relationship building part of your fundraising campaign

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.

Don’t send the same appeal to everyone on your mailing list. It’s crucial that you segment your donors and personalize your appeal letters.

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.

Pour on the appreciation

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.

Send welcome packets to 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. Give a shout out to donors who have supported you for several years.

Don’t miss out on opportunities to build relationships

I’m amazed that after I attend an event 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.

When you hold an event, give your attendees an opportunity to sign up for your mailing list. Next, call or send thank you notes afterward.

Besides thanking people for attending your event, let them know how much money you raised and share specific ways their support is helping you make a difference. Then invite these supporters to connect in other ways such as signing up to receive your newsletter or volunteering.

The same thing applies if you hold a charity run or walkathon. These events often generate new donors. Someone might donate to your 10K because her friend is running in it. Thank everyone who donated and invite them to be a part of your community.

Memorial gifts are another missed opportunity. Also, if a person has given a donation in memory of someone, they deserve a heartfelt response and the opportunity to connect with you in other ways.

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.

Turn a giving day into 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.

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.

Ideally, you should keep in touch with your donors every one to two weeks. You can do this with newsletters, updates, thank you messages, advocacy alerts, and surveys. A communications calendar will help you with this.

Build relationships with your donors every step of the way. This will help you with that always-important donor retention because you want committed donors who will support you for a long time.

Build Loyal Donor Relationships in 3 Easy Steps.

Donor Relations: 8 Best practices for your Nonprofit

How To Build Meaningful Relationships With Your Donors

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Seeing the World Through Your Donors’ Eyes

16694129500_90ff25d71d_mIn my last post, I wrote about the importance of staying donor-centered. Now let’s take it a step further. Try to think like your donors. Visualize one donor or a type of donor and imagine how they will respond to your communication.

Get to know your donors better

You may have a hard time with this if you don’t know your donors very well. One way to get to know them better is to send short surveys. The key here is short. Ask a few questions at a time.

3 Examples of Nonprofit Donor Surveys

The 5 ½ Principles of Effective Donor Surveys

GET TO KNOW YOUR DONORS: THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO NONPROFIT SURVEYING

While surveys are a great way to connect, not everyone is going to respond to them. Another tactic to try is to create donor personas. You can use your database to figure out vital information and/or interview a few donors.

How to Develop Donor Personas for Your Nonprofit

GUIDE: Using Donor Personas to Maximize Your Nonprofit Fundraising

I think some of the most important things to know about your donors are why they give to your organization, what aspects of your work are important to them, and how they like to communicate (by mail, email, social media, or a combination of those).

Let’s look at these more closely.

Why do your donors give to your organization?

Donors are human beings, not just money machines. There’s a reason they’ve chosen to give to your organization. If you can find out what drew them to your nonprofit, it will help you with your donor communication.

Most likely they feel a connection to your cause. For example, I support the American Cancer Society because way too many people I know have been affected by cancer.

The best time to find out this information is right after someone donates, especially for first-time donors. This will be easier to collect online and you could include this question on your donation form.

Of course, not everyone donates online. You could also include a short survey and a reply envelope or a link to an online survey with your thank you letter or welcome packet for new donors. (You do send those, right?)

What aspects of your work are important to your donors?

You may have already found out this information from the question above, but most likely you’re working on several initiatives. If your organization is working to prevent homelessness, you may discover your donors are most interested in finding affordable housing for homeless families. Then you can share stories and updates about that initiative.

What communication channels do your donors prefer?

It’s probably more than one, but listen carefully. Don’t spend a lot of time on channels your donors aren’t using much.

Email will probably be your biggest communication tool. You won’t use direct mail as much because of the cost, but you do need to use it at least a few times a year, especially if you find out some donors don’t use electronic communication.

You could also try to get feedback about the frequency of your communication. Shorter, more frequent messages, especially for email and social media, should be more effective. This doesn’t mean blasting your donors with a bunch of generic messages.

The advantage of email and direct mail is you have complete control of them, unlike social media. Speaking of social media, almost every day you hear about some issue with Facebook. I’ve stopped using it and only use Twitter sporadically, but that’s just me. Other people can’t get enough of social media.

This is a good opportunity to monitor your email and social media to see if people are responding to your messages. Look at the open rates, click-throughs, and likes. (I know likes don’t mean that much, but they do reflect some sort of engagement.) Monitor this frequently and focus your efforts on channels your donors are using.

Use your database

As you gather vital information about your donors, put that in your database. Your database also comes in handy because you want to segment your donors – first-time donors, long-term donors, monthly donors, etc – so you can personalize their communication as much as possible.

Putting your work into action

You’ve spent time getting to know your donors better. Now you want to make sure they respond to your messages. This can be hard, especially when donors are bombarded with messages from many sources.

Keep them in mind. What will entice them to look at your email or letter and take action, if necessary. The email subject line Find out how you helped Claudia and her family move into a home of their own is profoundly better than April e-newsletter.

Now that your donor has opened your e-newsletter, is the first thing she sees a story about Claudia? You know from surveying your donors they like to read about the people they’re helping.

Every step of the way you need to see the world through your donors’ eyes – why they give to your organization, what they would like to hear from you, and which channels are best for connecting with them. Do this for every fundraising letter, thank you letter, newsletter, or any other type of communication.

Take time to get to know your donors, so you’ll have a better chance of keeping them for a long time.

 

How You Can Stay Donor-Centered

379714893_a11931e4a0_mMany nonprofits don’t seem to understand what it means to be donor-centered. I think it’s fairly obvious. It means focusing on your donors’ needs and interests, acknowledging them in your letters and other communication, and taking into account that not all donors are the same.

I guess it’s not obvious enough because you see countless examples of generic, organization-centered communication that barely acknowledges the donor.

Your communication suffers if it’s not donor-centered, but you can change that. Before you send your next appeal, thank you letter, or newsletter, run it through this donor-centered checklist.

Fundraising Appeals

  • Is your fundraising appeal focused too much on your organization – rambling on about how great you are? Your organization may be great, but let your donors figure that out. Your donors are the ones who are great, and they want to hear how they can help you make a difference for the people/community you serve.
  • Is your appeal segmented to the appropriate audience? Thank past donors or reference your relationship to a potential donor. Maybe they’re event attendees, volunteers, or friends of board members. Send separate appeal letters to monthly donors.
  • Is your appeal addressed to a person and not Dear Friend?
  • Is your appeal vague, impersonal, and filled with jargon your donors won’t understand? Don’t say we’re helping underserved members of the community. A donor-centered appeal would say something like – With your support, we can help low-income families find affordable housing.
  • Does your appeal make people feel good about donating to your organization?

Thank you letters

  • Does your thank you letter come across as transactional and resemble a receipt? Yes, you need to acknowledge the donation is tax deductible, etc, but most donors are more concerned about how their gift made a difference.
  • Does your thank you letter (or better yet, a handwritten note) shower your donors with love?  Start your letter with Thanks to you! or You’re incredible and not On behalf of X organization…..
  • Are you telling your donors the impact of their gift?  For example Thanks to your generous donation of $50, a family can get a box of groceries at the Northside Community Food Bank. 
  • Do you recognize each donor?  Is this the first time someone has donated?  If someone donated before, did she increase her gift?  Did he upgrade to monthly giving? Acknowledge this in your letter/note.

Newsletters

  • Does your newsletter sound self-promotional and focus on all the wonderful things your organization is doing instead of showing your donors how they’re helping you make a difference? Think about nixing the letter from your CEO unless you can guarantee it’s donor-centered.
  • Is your newsletter written in the second person? Write to the donor and use the word you more often than we. How to Perform the “You” Test for Donor-Centered Communications – Do You Pass?  BTW, all your donor communication should be written in the second person. It’s much more personal.
  • Does your newsletter include success stories, engaging photos, and other content your donors like to see? Lead with a story because donors love to read about the people they’re helping.
  • Are you using the right channels?  Perhaps you only send an e-newsletter, but some of your donors prefer print.
  • Are you showing gratitude to your donors in your newsletter?

Always think of your donors first

Use this checklist for other donor communication such as annual reports (these are rarely donor-centered), your website, and social media posts.

Make sure the messages you send to your donors focus on them and make them feel special. Staying donor-centered can help you build relationships. This is especially important as retention rates continue to plunge.

Read on for more information about staying donor-centered.

Lots of donor-centric sentences for you to steal

Creating a Donor-Centered Appeal Letter: A Makeover!

Donor-Centered Storytelling Boosts Fundraising. Period.

How You Can Create a Better Nonprofit Newsletter

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A newsletter can be a great way to engage with your donors, but the key word here is can. How often does that actually happen? Unfortunately, not very much because most donor newsletters can be used as a cure for insomnia. They’re too long and filled with boring articles that brag about how wonderful the organization is.

It’s possible to create an engaging newsletter your donors will want to read. Here are a few ways to create a better nonprofit newsletter.

Think about what your donors want

You need to include content that will interest your donors. Do you think they would rather read an article about your CEO receiving an award or one about the Turner family moving into a home of their own after shuttling between motels and shelters? The answer should be obvious.

Your donors want to hear about how they’re helping you make a difference.

A print newsletter can be a good investment

You may opt not to do a print newsletter because it’s expensive and takes too much time, but you’re making a mistake if many of your donors prefer print.

I think you’ll have more success if you can do both print and electronic newsletters. I recommend a short e-newsletter once or twice a month and one to four print newsletters a year.

Many organizations put a donation envelope in their print newsletter. This is a proven way to raise additional money and you may be able to recoup your expenses.

You can also save money by creating a shorter print newsletter (maybe two pages instead of four) or only mailing once or twice a year. You can print them in-house, as long as it looks professional.

Donors are more likely to read a print newsletter. But ask them what they like, and listen to what they say. If a majority of them prefer print, then you need to find a way to accommodate them.

Share stories

Each newsletter needs to begin with a compelling story. Client stories are best, but you could also do profiles of volunteers, board members, and donors. Focus on what drew them to your mission (more on that below).

Create a story bank that includes at least four client success stories to use every year.

Don’t veer away from your mission

A common article I see in many nonprofit newsletters is one about a foundation or major donor giving a large gift. This may be accompanied by a picture of someone holding a giant check. Of course, you should recognize these donors (and all donors), but why is this gift important? How will it help the people you serve. For example – This generous $50,000 grant from the Helping Hands Foundation will allow us to buy much-needed new computers for our afterschool program.

Something else I see a lot is a profile of a new board member. Instead of focusing so much on their professional background, let your donors know what drew them to your organization. We welcome Jane Simpson, Vice President of the Lewis Company, to our board. Jane has a brother with autism and is very passionate about finding ways for people with autism to live independent lives.

Write to your donors

Write your newsletter in the second person, emphasizing you much more than we. Be personal and conversational. Say – You helped the Turner family move into a home of their own or Because of donors like you, X number of families have been able to move out of shelters and into their own homes.

Leave out the jargon and other language your donors won’t understand. Write as if you’re having a conversation with a friend.

I’m not a fan of the letter from the CEO because those tend to be organization-centered instead of donor-centered.  

Show some #donorlove

Never miss an opportunity to thank your donors. Every one of your newsletters needs to show gratitude and emphasize how much you appreciate your donors.

Make it easy to read (and scan)

Most of your donors aren’t going to read your newsletter word for word, especially your e-newsletter. Include enticing headlines and email subject lines (if you don’t, your donors may not read it at all), at least a 12-point font, and lots of white space so your donors can easily scan your newsletter.

Stick to black type on a white background as much as possible. Colors are pretty, but not if it’s hindering your donor’s ability to read your newsletter. Photos can be a great way to add color, as well as tell a story in an instant.

Use the inverted pyramid and put the most important story first (client success story or profile), keeping in mind your donors may not get to all the articles.

Very important –  make sure your donors can read your e-newsletter on a mobile device.

Keep it short

Your print newsletter should be no more than four pages. Limit your monthly e-newsletter to four articles. Some organizations send an e-newsletter twice a month. Those should be even shorter – two or three articles.

You may find you have more success with shorter, more frequent email updates.

Send it to the right audience

Fundraising expert Tom Ahern recommends sending your print newsletter only to donors. This can help you keep it donor-centered, as well as cut down on mailing costs.

Send e-newsletters only to people who have signed up for it. They may or may not be donors, but an e-newsletter can also be a good cultivation tool. Quality is more important than quantity. Not everyone will want to sign up for your newsletter and that’s okay. Focus on the people who are interested in it.

If you’re a larger organization, you could create different newsletters for different programs or one specifically for monthly donors.

Create a better newsletter that your donors will want to read.

Read on for more information on how to create a great donor newsletter.

How to show your donors they matter

HOW TO MAKE NONPROFIT NEWSLETTERS THAT ENGAGE AND ENCOURAGE

7 Nonprofit E-Newsletter Best Practices

3 Pitfalls of Nonprofit Newsletters and How to Avoid Them

Image by Petr Sejba www.moneytoplist.com

It Takes More Than Luck to Keep Your Donors

422810636_b02ba5dfed_m.jpgDonor retention rates continue to be poor, especially for first-time donors. Donors don’t keep magically donating to your organization and you can’t hope you’ll get lucky and they’ll donate again. You need more than luck to keep your donors.

Pay attention to your donor retention

Many organizations spend all this time and energy on acquiring donors, concentrating more on volume and don’t seem to be concerned that they’re churning through different donors year after year.

If you don’t know your retention rate, figure that out now. A Guide to Donor Retention  If you ’re losing donors, it’s most likely because you’re either not communicating enough or communicating poorly. Fortunately, this is something you can fix, but it will take more than leprechauns granting wishes. If you want to keep reaching that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, you’ll need to work at it.

When figuring out your retention rate, you’ll find you have some lapsed donors. Take some time to reach out and let them know you miss them and want them back.

You need good donor relations

Donor relations should be easier than raising money, and it can be fun, too. Make it a priority, as well as something you do throughout the year.

The biggest hurdle is getting your first-time donors to donate again, so do something special for your new donors like sending them a welcome packet.

That said, don’t take your longer-term donors for granted. Send them a welcome back letter. I’ve donated to several organizations for a number of years, and it bothers me when they don’t acknowledge that.

Donor loyalty is also important

Your goal should be to have high-quality donors who will support you for a long time. Who has supported you for three, five, or even ten years? Go the extra mile for these loyal donors. This takes more work, but it will pay off in the long run. You don’t want to lose these valuable donors.

Keep building relationships

You may be between fundraising campaigns or events. It’s easy to get complacent right now, but don’t do that. You need to work on building relationships. Let your donors know how much you appreciate them and keep doing that again and again.

It takes more than luck to keep your donors. You need to show appreciation and stay in touch throughout the year. You could reach out now by using a St. Patrick’s Day or spring theme, or get inspired by one of the ideas in the links below.

12 Ways to Inspire and Delight Your Donors…With Examples!

The K.I.S.S. Method For Donor Retention Is Best For Most Nonprofits

Get Ready to Show Some #DonorLove

Give Your Monthly Donors the Attention and Recognition They Deserve

245744537_9b2401b807_mMonthly donors are special because they’ve committed to donating to nonprofits long-term. Retention rates for monthly donors are 90%, which is considerably better than retention rates for other types of donors.

You’d think because of this, organizations would be jumping for joy and giving these donors extra special attention. But you would be wrong. While some organizations do recognize their monthly donors, unfortunately, many do not.

This post will show you how you can give your monthly donors the attention and recognition they deserve. If you don’t have much of a monthly giving program or want to start one, here’s more information on that.

Incorporating Monthly Giving Into Your Fundraising

Welcome your new monthly donors

When someone becomes a monthly donor, whether they’re a first-time donor or have upgraded from a single-gift donor, welcome them into your family of monthly donors.

Be accommodating

I highly recommend a contact person for your monthly donors in case they need to update their credit card information or make a change to their gift, hopefully an upgrade. Include this information in their welcome letter.

Speaking of letters, tax season is upon us (oh joy), and several organizations have sent me a summary of my monthly donations. This is extremely helpful for people who itemize deductions. Make this letter more than just a receipt. Thank your donors and let them know how their monthly donations are helping you make a difference (more on that later).

Another way to help out your monthly donors is to let them know when their credit cards are about to expire. Don’t rely on your donors to remember this. I’m dreading the day I have to update my credit card information. Most likely I will miss some organizations. This will help you, as well, so you can keep receiving a steady stream of donations.

Make your thank yous more than just okay

When you send your initial thank you letter, you MUST recognize the recipient as a monthly donor.

Many organizations send a monthly acknowledgment email or letter, and I would say most are just okay. Some are basically only receipts. And while it’s helpful to know the organization received your donation, you’re not practicing good stewardship if that’s all you do.

You could spruce up these monthly acknowledgments, both by not making them sound like they were written by a robot and by providing some donor-centered updates.

One recommendation I have is to make sure every monthly donor gets at least one handwritten thank you note a year. You don’t have to write much but you will make a good impression.

Reach out at least once a month

Besides showing #donorlove, here are some other ways to reach out to your monthly donors.

Create a special newsletter for monthly donors or include a cover letter referencing monthly donors. I’m not always a fan of the letter from the Executive Director, so see if you can keep it donor-centered. You could also give a shout out to your monthly donors and include information on how to become a monthly donor.

Hold an open house for monthly donors. Even if they don’t attend, they’ll appreciate the invitation. You could also offer tours, either at a specific time or on request.

Include a list of your monthly donors in a newsletter, annual report, or on your website. Donor lists are just one of many ways to show appreciation and not the only one, so do much more than just that. Of course, honor any donor’s wish to remain anonymous.

Send an email update specifically for monthly donors.

Thank yous, newsletters, and updates are not a one-time time deal. Keep it up throughout the year. Create a special section in your communications calendar specifically for monthly donors.

Keep Monthly Donors Longer With These 6 Engagement Tips

Monthly donors get their own fundraising appeals

As I mentioned before, once someone becomes a monthly donor, you must always recognize them as such. You most certainly should send fundraising appeals to monthly donors, but not the same ones you send to other donors.

I think the best way to raise additional money from monthly donors is to ask them to upgrade their monthly gift. Be as specific as possible. For example – We’re so happy you’re part of our family of monthly donors and are grateful for your gift of $5.00 a month. Could you help us out a little more this time with a gift of $7.00 or even $10.00 a month?

You can also ask monthly donors for an additional gift during one of your fundraising campaigns, but you MUST recognize they’re monthly donors – We really appreciate your gift of $10 a month. Could you help us out a little more right now with an additional gift? We want to expand our tutoring program to three more elementary schools.

If you send the usual generic appeal, imagine your donor saying –  “But I already give you $10 a month and you don’t seem to know that.”

All your donors are special, but monthly donors are extra special. Don’t they deserve some attention and recognition?

 

Break Free From Your Generic Communication

4002324674_cc8c5b9d3e_zHow many times have you received an appeal or thank you letter that never mentions your past giving or that you’re a monthly donor? All you get is a generic, one-size-fits-all letter that doesn’t acknowledge who you are. Chances are most of the other donors of that organization are getting the exact same letter.

This happens way too often and it’s a problem. Your donors aren’t the same, so they shouldn’t all get the same letter. Another problem is these letters continue with the generic theme by using vague language and even worse – jargon.

Break free from your generic communication and create something more personal. Here’s how.

Segment your donors

Segment your donors into different groups as much as you can. At the very least, create different letters for new donors, repeat donors, and monthly donors. You can also personalize letters to lapsed donors, event attendees, volunteers, etc.

Strengthen Your Donor Segmentation: 7 Successful Strategies

4 SIMPLE DONOR SEGMENTS THAT WILL MAXIMIZE YOUR FUNDRAISING EFFORTS

Thank your donors for their previous gifts and/or upgrades. Speaking of upgrades, many organizations don’t ask donors to increase their gifts because they’re sending everyone the same, generic letter. If you don’t ask, you most likely won’t receive. One reason (among many) to segment your donors is it can help you raise more money.

You can craft an appeal like this – Thank you so much for your donation of $50 last year. Could you help us out a little more this time with a gift of $75 or even $100? This way we can help more homeless families find housing.

Also, giving donors the amount of their last gift helps them out. Donors are busy and give to other organizations besides yours. They may not remember what they’ve given before.

Although, even if you ask for an upgrade, it may not happen if you ignore your donors or only blast them with appeals. You need to practice good donor relations, too.

Top 10 Ways to Upgrade Nonprofit Donors

And let’s stop sending Dear Friend letters, as well. You’re not being a good friend if you don’t even use your donors’ names.

Yes, this will take more time, but it’s worth the investment. So is a good database to help you with this. Your donors will feel appreciated and may give you more money.

Generic language is uninspiring and confusing

If you’re bombarding your donors with vague, generic language or jargon, you’re going to bore and/or confuse them pretty quickly. Most of your donors don’t have a medical or social services background. They don’t use terms like food insecurity, at-risk populations, and underserved communities and neither should you.

Use language they’ll understand. Instead of talking about food insecurity, give an example of a family choosing between buying groceries and paying the heating bill. What you mean by at-risk or underserved?  Are high school students less likely to graduate on time? Do residents of a certain community not have good health care nearby? Get specific, but at the same time, keep it simple.

Deconstructing Your Jargon

Green Eggs and Ham. The quintessential primer for nonprofit donor communications.

Another way to burst past generic language and jargon is to tell stories. Most people respond better to a human-interest story than a bunch of boring statistics.

If You’re Making a Difference, You Have Stories to Tell

How you can do better

You may be between fundraising campaigns right now and have a little more time (or maybe not). If so, now is a good time to start segmenting your donors in your database, if you haven’t already done that. Also, segmenting your donors isn’t a one-time deal. Make changes if you need to. For example, some of your single-gift donors may have upgraded to monthly.

In addition, dust off those templates and freshen up your appeal letters and thank you letters. Create letter templates for different donor groups and replace your vague, generic language with something clear, conversational, and specific.

Have someone outside your organization, a friend or family member, look at your messages. Something that’s clear to you may mean nothing to others.

Take time to break free from your generic communication with something that will show your donors how much you appreciate them by recognizing who they are and giving them content they can relate to.