As a nonprofit, communicating with your supporters is crucial to establishing lifelong donor relationships. Find out how you can make every message count.
By Gerard Tonti
Donors are the backbone of any nonprofit. Their generosity funds both the daily tasks and the overall mission of the organization. And yet, many donors feel under-appreciated and are uninformed about the great things these nonprofits are doing with their donations!
If you are a nonprofit professional, it is crucial that you place a much-needed emphasis on the donors who are backing your mission. So, how can you do that?
For one thing, take a look at your current donor communication practices. Do you adequately thank your donors for their generous gifts? Do you keep in touch with your supporters on a regular basis, rather than only to request a new donation?
If you answered no to either question, consider upping your donor communication strategy. Even if you answered yes, there is always room for improvement.
Here are 7 ways to improve your nonprofit’s communication:
- Personalize your messages.
- Encourage interaction.
- Segment your audience.
- Focus on the donor.
- Schedule communications.
- Manage donor data.
- Report and track metrics.
Ready to get started? Let’s jump in.
1. Personalize your messages.
Adding a personal flair to your communication is a great way to get your donor’s attention and strengthen the connection they feel to your nonprofit, which boosts donor retention.
A few key details that really bring a personal touch to your messages include:
- Donor’s name
- Donation amount
- Date of donation
This is the difference between “Thanks for the donation!” and “Thank you, [Sabrina], for your generous gift of [$100] on [January 1st, 2020].” This lets the donor know that you really appreciate this particular gift.
Consider implementing these details into customized thank-you’s for each donor. Most likely, you already send some sort of thank you message— but chances are, it might be a little bland. Thinking outside the box with your messaging leads to higher levels of engagement and a more personal response.
Consider creating a video, writing a note, mailing a personalized thank you card, or giving a shout out on social media to further show your donor appreciation. Look for opportunities to use more detailed information about your donor, such as the name of their pet or their birthday.
2. Encourage interaction.
Donor communication does not have to (and should not) be one-sided. Ask questions or send out surveys to encourage your supporters to communicate with you. This way, you better understand your donor network and they feel more included in the organization.
Ask questions, such as:
- What led you to donate in the first place?
- What attracted you to our organization?
- What interests you most about our mission?
- What impact do you most hope to see?
- Could you see yourself becoming more involved?
Engaging with your donors in the digital era is especially easy. Through email and social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, supporters are able to contact you in mere seconds. Let them know that you want to hear from them by inviting replies to emails and responses to social media posts.
Most importantly, listen to their answers. Try to implement any feedback you receive and thank your donors for their great suggestions. Be sure to respond to their online posts and questions in order to establish personal connections.
3. Segment your audience.
Unfortunately, donor communication is not one size fits all—at least it shouldn’t be. First-time donors should not be getting the same messages as monthly recurring donors.
To establish good communication practices, it is crucial that you first segment your donors. This allows you to send targeted messages customized to a smaller group of donors who share similar qualities.
For example, you might divide your donors into these categories:
- New donors: First-time donor messaging requires special consideration. A whopping 81% of first-time donors never give again, but you want to fight against this statistic by engaging donors right off the bat. Make sure to appreciate your new donors and their support for your cause. You want to get that second donation, also known as a golden donation.
- Recurring donors: Recurring donations are transferred automatically on the agreed upon schedule. For instance, monthly donors have committed to an ongoing donation each month for an undefined period of time. These donors are some of your nonprofit’s most important supporters. Consistent gifts provide stability, especially outside of peak donation season, and smaller donations add up quickly.
- Repeat donors: As opposed to recurring donations, a repeat donor is someone who has given to your organization before but has not committed to an ongoing donation agreement. Your messages to this group can encourage donors to opt for a monthly giving program.
- Lapsed donors: These are donors who used to give to your organization but have since stopped their donations (typically defined by a lack of gifts over a 12-month period). Create a strategy to reconnect with these supporters who have already established a connection to your organization.
- Members: If your organization is comprised of members, they tend to seek a more personal relationship, and desire frequent, ongoing communication. Click here to find out how to best manage your members. Consider sending a birthday message or telling them you miss them if their engagement starts to falter.
Depending on the specifics of your organization, you may choose to segment your donors in different ways and with different strategies. A segmented audience allows you to craft more direct and relevant messages to each individual and improves overall donor communication.
4. Focus on the donor.
There is an important difference between corporate communication and donor communication. The distinctions may be subtle, but they are powerful. Corporate communication places a focus on your organization and what you are doing, while donor communication shifts to an emphasis on the importance of each donor.
While it can be tempting to take the opportunity to brag about your nonprofit and your abundance of success stories, (and don’t worry: there’s still a time for that!) it is an excellent practice to focus on the importance of the donor.
Experts suggest using adjectives such as kind, caring, compassionate, helpful, and generous — the key characteristics of a moral person— to describe the donor and their gift. It’s human nature; donors like to be told that they are needed and important to your cause. Focusing on the donor is a great practice for improving your donor stewardship, too!
5. Schedule communications.
Because it is so vital to keep up your donor communications year-round, it is a good idea to implement a schedule to manage your ongoing communication. Some experts suggest at least one to two messages each month, which can get daunting and/or repetitive.
One way to do this effectively is to plan with a communications calendar (or editorial calendar) that allows you to draft out messages throughout the year. This is a great tool to keep up with your donor communication and ensure that it doesn’t fall through the cracks as a lesser priority.
A calendar is excellent for drafting time-sensitive messages, especially ones that you have access to ahead of time. A few examples include:
- Holidays: Getting involved in holidays like Valentine’s day (“we love our donors”) and Thanksgiving (“we are so thankful for our donors”) is a great way to make use of the calendar and annual celebrations. You may also choose to recognize days or months specific to your cause, such as World Hunger Day or Human Trafficking Prevention Month.
- National events: For example, the Presidential Election! The election effect is real when it comes to donors giving to their favorite social and political charities. Leverage this with strategic messaging to take advantage of current events (especially when they relate to your nonprofit’s cause).
- Fundraising season: Get started with your year-end fundraising by planning messages ahead of time. You already know that Giving Tuesday and the holiday season are especially generous times for donors; get that head start in the early months of the year to maximize your impact!
Overall, using a calendar to plan out your communications is crucial for ensuring the best donor communication practices. Just make sure to switch things up sometimes to keep your communication fresh.
6. Manage donor data.
To best target your communication to specific donors, take a look at your donor data collected by your donation pages and stored in your constituent relationship management (CRM) system, also known as your donor database. When you can use that data and make actionable insights, your CRM becomes an excellent resource to understand your audience and how they want to communicate.
For example, when your donation page asks for contact information, allow your donors to select their preferred method of communication (text message, phone call, email, physical mail, etc.) or the best time to contact them (day, evening, weekends) and then honor it. Donors appreciate when you actually take their preferences into consideration— and may become frustrated when you don’t.
Check out Salsa’s tips for keeping your data in top shape so that it becomes the most useful tool you have. Keeping your CRM data clean, organized, and updated is a great strategy for ensuring useful data for your communication practices.
7. Track and report metrics.
One of the best ways to improve your donor communication skills is to start with a better understanding of your current donor relations practices and how well they are working. Then, as you start to integrate these new ideas into your strategy, track certain metrics to read your successes and failures.
Useful metrics to track include:
- Open rates: The percentage of recipients who opened your message.
- Impressions: The number of times your message was viewed.
- Conversion rates: The percentage of recipients who completed a desired action.
- Bounce rates: The percentage of emails that never made it to an individual’s inbox.
Many CRM and communication software can provide this information, which you definitely want to take advantage of.
By collecting and analyzing this data, you can compare and contrast various communication channels with each other to determine which tactics are working well, and which could use a revamp.
When you implement these 7 tips and tricks into your donor communication strategy, you will begin to notice a significant improvement in your donor relationships. And with improved donor relationships, comes increased rates of donor retention!
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.