How to Engage Donors to Keep Them Giving Year After Year

By Korrin Bishop

As you know, it takes staff time, resources, and diligence to attract new donors to your nonprofit. With the upfront investment you put into cultivating donor relationships, you might be wondering how you can turn those first-time donors into supporters who give to your mission each year. 

Engaging one-time donors to become recurring donors has a lot of value. One study found that monthly donors give 42% more in a year than one-time donors, and another showed they were worth over 52% more in their first year of giving.

So, if you’re looking to up your engagement game to keep donors giving year after year, you’re taking a great step for your organization. In this article, we’ll cover nine ideas to help with your engagement planning.

1. Send a Timely Thank You

One of the most important steps in building relationships with your donors is the thank you. When a donor gives to your nonprofit, make sure to acknowledge their gift with a phone call or email within 24 hours. This shows them you noticed their effort and value their support.

If this is a one-time donation (rather than a recurring monthly donation), follow up with a thank you letter and tax receipt within 72 hours of the gift, as well. This both demonstrates that your nonprofit is organized and able to get your donors the documentation they need and is also another chance to say thank you and let them know you appreciate their gift.

2. Send a Welcome Package

After a donor’s first gift, you have a chance to make them feel not just like someone who gave your organization some money, but rather, a valued member of your philanthropic community. Following their first gift, send a welcome package to tell them a little more about your work, what their gift will allow you to do, and how grateful you are that they’re joining your mission.

Your welcome package can be physical or digital. If you mail your welcome package, you can include a signed thank you card, a brochure about your work, a copy of your last annual report, and even some branded swag like an awareness bracelet, pen, or hat. 

If you email your welcome package, consider adding a personal video message. You can also include imagery that captures the emotion of your mission, links to your social media pages where your new donors can continue to follow your work, and some key takeaways about the impact their gift will have.

3. Make Use of Surveys

As you’ve probably noticed, not all donors like to be engaged in the same ways. Some prefer emails, others like texts, and some still like good old-fashioned snail mail. Donors may also have different interests in how they want to continue to support your nonprofit. Some may be interested in your major fundraising events, while others may be more attracted to volunteer opportunities.

Surveys are a great way to show your new donors that you care about how they want to engage with you and that you’re being proactive to learn what works best for them. You can ask them what attracted them to your organization in the first place, whether they have any special interests related to your mission, and what their communication preferences are.

Surveys help you get to know your donors better and meet them where they are.

4. Make Use of Donor Data

Many of us can’t remember the details of every one of our organization’s supporters off the top of our head, so if that resonates with you, you’re in good company! Keeping track of all your interactions with each donor in a customer relationship management (CRM) system can help you better connect with each individual. 

You can collect information in your CRM on how much a donor has given in the past, their birthday, whether they’ve attended any of your events or volunteered their time, if they’re a member of any local associations or businesses that could make good partners for your nonprofit, and more. This donor data will help you create more meaningful communications and deepen your relationships.

5. Regularly Show Impact

Donors want to know that when they give money to your organization, you are using it well. They want to know their gift is really making an impact. You can help engage them in your mission by highlighting this impact on a regular basis.

There are several channels you can consider for sharing your work. You can send an annual report to summarize your impact over the course of the year and monthly newsletters to show what you’re accomplishing each month. Staying active on social media is also a great way to announce your nonprofit’s big updates, highlight testimonials from your beneficiaries, and even give shoutouts to your donors who make things possible.

6. Encourage Recurring Donations

Donors who give monthly, even if it’s a small amount, tend to stay donors for a longer time. To encourage monthly giving, incorporate an option on your donation form that supporters can check to make their gift automatically repeat each month.

If a supporter makes a one-time gift, consider ways to let them know about your recurring donor option. You may also want to give your recurring donor community its own name and branding or message it as being a part of the “family.” 

You can also highlight the benefits of a monthly gift for both your donor and your organization. 

Your donor won’t have to remember to keep returning to your website to give, and they’ll also have the option to donate as much or as little as they want every month. If they can’t afford to make a large one-time gift, you can remind them that just ten dollars a month over the course of a year will add up to a $120 gift. Emphasize the ease of a recurring donation.

You can also let donors know how recurring gifts create a sustainable, reliable funding stream for your mission so that even in uncertain times, you’re able to rely on your recurring donor family to keep making an impact.

Recurring donors should get their own special thank you, and remember to keep showing gratitude and sharing updates throughout the year.

7. Don’t Ask Them to Give Too Often

Have you ever had an organization or an individual only get in touch with you when they want something? If you have, you probably know how icky or irritating the situation can feel. You may have even found yourself pulling away from the dynamic. Relationships are give and take, so when one person is constantly asking for more but not connecting in other ways, it can be a real turnoff. 

Asking for donations too often will discourage people from wanting to give to and support your organization. Most of your communications should be about showing the impact of your donors’gifts. By demonstrating what you’re able to do with their donations, you’re building the case for why they should give again without even needing to ask.

8. Get Them Involved in Other Ways

While monetary donations are critical for nonprofits, they’re not the only way supporters can be involved with your mission. A great way to engage one-time donors is to get them involved with your organization in a variety of ways. You can invite them to attend your events, share volunteer opportunities with them, participate in a peer-to-peer campaign, and ask them to help spread the word about your nonprofit to their friends and family via social media or other channels.

As donors engage with your nonprofit in new ways, their commitment to your work grows. They’re able to interact with your mission and get a hands-on experience that they’ll likely remember more than a donation envelope.

9. Surprise & Delight

When someone you care about gives you flowers or writes you a note on your birthday, it can feel really nice. But, sometimes it’s even nicer to get those flowers or notes completely out of the blue! People enjoy knowing that others are thinking about them and value them, especially when they don’t expect it.

You can show your donors some love by letting them know you’re thinking of them when they don’t expect it. Rather than only saying thank you right after a gift or a volunteer shift, consider sending them a simple handwritten card in the mail on a random day throughout the year. This heartfelt approach will work wonders! 

Engage Your Donors to Keep Them Committed to Your Mission and Giving Each Year

Each new donor to your organization is an opportunity to build a lifelong relationship. Using the tips above, you can engage your donors in a way that keeps them involved with your mission and coming back to donate year after year.

Korrin Bishop is a freelance writer and editor who specializes in the nonprofit world. She studied Nonprofit Administration at the University of Oregon, serves as the pro bono Development Director for Sundress Academy for the Arts, and has been involved with nonprofit work spanning audits, volunteering, communications, fundraising, and more. You can learn about her work at: www.korrinbishop.com.

Why Monthly Giving Makes Sense

A bit of good news from the fundraising world – monthly giving is on the rise! If your organization doesn’t have a monthly/recurring giving program or it’s fairly small, now is a great time to start or grow your monthly giving.

In this post, I’ll tell you why monthly giving makes sense (or cents) on so many levels, how to start or grow your program, and how to nurture it going forward. 

Monthly giving helps you raise more money

Monthly or recurring donations can help donors spread out their gifts and it’s easier on their bank accounts. They may be apprehensive about giving a one-time gift of $50 or $100. But if you offer them the option of giving $5 or $10 a month, that may sound more reasonable.  

It can also give you a consistent stream of revenue throughout the year instead of certain times, such as when you do individual appeals and (virtual) events and when grants come in.

Monthly gifts are smaller, but you can raise a lot of money with lots of small gifts. Political candidates do it all the time. Also, monthly gifts aren’t as small as you think. The average is over $20 a month.

It can also be a more feasible way to get larger gifts. A gift of $100 a month may be more appealing to a donor than giving a large sum all at once. Even if they start with a smaller donation, monthly donors are more likely to become major donors and legacy donors.

It raises your retention rate, too

The retention rate for monthly donors is an impressive 90%. That’s significantly higher than other retention rates. 

One reason is that monthly gifts are ongoing. But your donors have agreed to that, so this shows they’re committed to your organization. 

These are long-term donors

This post highlights Charity Water’s successful monthly donor program. The key to their success – they moved from a short-term approach to a long-term focus.

I know Charity Water is a large organization, but that doesn’t mean your smaller organization can’t take the same focus. Long-term donors should always be one of your priorities.

How to get started

If you don’t already have a monthly giving program, make this the year you start one. It will help you raise more money in what’s expected to be another tough fundraising year.

A good way to start is to invite your current donors to become monthly donors. Your best bet for monthly donors are people who’ve given at least twice. These are donors who have shown a commitment to you. 

That doesn’t mean you can’t ask first-time donors. This could be a good way to connect with donors from your most recent campaign. And if you haven’t officially welcomed your new year-end donors, do that now. 

Quick Tips to Create a Great Monthly Giving Program

How To Start A Monthly Giving Program (In 6 Simple Steps)

Make monthly giving the go-to option

Make monthly giving front and center in all your campaigns. It should be an easy option on your donation page. Include it on your pledge form and make it a prominent part of your appeal letter, maybe as a PS.

I can speak from personal experience that once I started giving monthly, that’s the way I wanted to give to all organizations. Your donors would probably agree.

A handful of organizations don’t offer a monthly giving option, which is a mistake. Some have a minimum donation, which I would also not recommend, if possible. If you do have a minimum, make it $5 a month instead of $10. 

If your reason to have a minimum donation amount is to save money on expenses, is that happening if your minimum deters someone from giving at all? You often have to invest a little to raise more money.

Make your monthly donors feel special

You need to do a good job of thanking your monthly donors. Go the extra mile and segment your monthly donors into new monthly donors, current monthly donors, and current donors who become monthly donors.

Segmenting Your Donors is More Important Than Ever

This way you can personalize their thank you letters to make them feel special. Be sure to mail a thank you letter, or even better, send a handwritten note. An email acknowledgment is not enough.

Many organizations send a monthly acknowledgment email or letter, and most are just okay. Some are basically only receipts, and as I mentioned in a recent post, your thank yous need to be more than a receipt. Yes, it’s helpful to know the organization received your donation, but you’re not practicing good donor 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 engaging updates.

One thing you should do is send your donors an annual summary of their monthly gifts. 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.

[ASK AN EXPERT] How Often Should We Thank Monthly Donors, and How?

Practical, Creative Ideas to Thank Monthly Donors

Best Practices For Recognizing, Thanking And Retaining Monthly Donors

Reach out at least once a month

Your monthly donors made a commitment to you by giving every month. Make the same commitment to them by reaching out at least once a month.

You could create a special newsletter for monthly donors or include a cover letter referencing monthly donors. If that’s too much, you could give a shout out to your monthly donors and include information on how to become a monthly donor in your newsletter.

A thank you video is always welcome. Considering personalizing it, if you can. You could also offer a video tour or Zoom discussions for monthly donors.

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.

Thank yous, newsletters, and updates are not a one-time time deal. Keep it up throughout the year. Many nonprofits start out communicating regularly with their monthly donors and then disappear after a couple of months. You need to stay in touch with your donors right now.

Create a special section in your communications calendar specifically for monthly donors to help with this.

Go all out for your monthly donors

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 or email. I wanted to upgrade one of my monthly donations recently and the organization made it really easy by including a link in their monthly acknowledgment email. Yes, these emails can be useful.

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, because most likely they won’t, especially now. You also don’t want to miss out on any revenue. Remember, small donations add up.

Set up a system where you can flag credit cards that will expire in the next month or two. Then send these donors a friendly reminder email/letter or give them a call. 

You could encourage donors to give via an electronic funds transfer from their bank account instead. Then neither you nor your donors need to worry about credit cards expiring.

Once a monthly donor, always a monthly donor

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. We’re serving triple the number of people at the community food bank right now. Could you help us out a little more 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 need to run our tutoring program virtually for the time being and we want to continue serving as many students as we can.

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

But if you let those committed monthly donors know you think they’re special, they’ll be more likely to upgrade or give an additional gift. Many monthly donors have stepped up and given additional donations during the pandemic. That’s what you want.

Don’t miss out on this proven way to raise more money, boost donor retention rates, and provide an easier giving option for your donors. 

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.

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.

Segmenting Your Donors is More Important Than Ever

A few weeks ago I mentioned one of the themes for your fundraising and communications this year should be this is more important than ever. I don’t need to remind you we’re not living in normal times.

I know you have a lot going on and it may be tempting to send all your donors the same appeal and thank you letter. Don’t do that. 

Your donors are not the same. Some donors have given for at least five years (these donors should get a lot of attention). Some are monthly donors. Yet, nonprofit organizations fail to recognize that and send everyone a one-size-fits-all letter. 

This is why you need to segment your donors. If you don’t segment your donors and send different letters to different types of donors, you’re telling them you don’t recognize them for who they are.

Don’t worry, you don’t need to create 100 different types of letters. Four or five should be sufficient. Your appeal and thank you letter will stand out if it’s not the same old, same old.

Here are a few different types of donor groups. Feel free to add more if that’s relevant. The more you can segment, the better. Investing in a good database will help you with this.

Current single gift donors

One of the biggest hurdles nonprofits face is ensuring first-time donors give a second time. If they keep giving after that, they’re showing their commitment to your organization. Don’t blow it by ignoring this.

An appeal letter to current single gift donors (Monthly donors get their own appeal. More on that below.) must acknowledge their past support. This is also a good opportunity to ask for an upgrade. Many organizations don’t do this, but it’s a good way to increase your revenue. Even in a pandemic and economic downturn, it’s okay to ask donors to give a little more. They will if they can.

If these donors give again, they should get a handwritten note, phone call, or letter letting them know how much you appreciate their continued support. If they’ve upgraded their gift, acknowledge that, too. 

Potential/new single gift donors

If you’re sending an appeal to someone who’s never donated to your nonprofit before, what is your connection to them? Are they volunteers, event attendees, or people on a list you purchased?

The more you can establish a connection, the better chance you have of getting a donation.

The retention rate for first-time donors is terrible. One of the reasons is poor communication. You can help boost your retention rate by making your new donors feel special.

New donors should get a handwritten note, phone call, or letter welcoming them as donors. Invite them to connect with you in other ways such as signing up for your newsletter, following you on social media, or volunteering.

Then a week or so later, send them a welcome packet by mail or email. Personalization is crucial with new donors.

Are We Sure An Automated Email Welcome Series For New Donors Is A Good Idea?

New monthly donors

Brand new donors who opt for monthly or other recurring donations get the same special thank you treatment mentioned above. Welcome them to your family of monthly donors. 

Current monthly donors

Your current monthly donors must get their own appeal that recognizes them as monthly donors. In this appeal, you can either ask them to upgrade their gift or give an additional year-end gift. 

When your donors renew or upgrade their monthly gifts, they, of course, get a super fabulous thank you.

Current donors who become monthly donors

Your current donors who decide to become monthly donors are also showing their commitment to you. They get a handwritten note, phone call, or letter thanking them for their continued support and for joining your family of monthly donors. From now on they should get specialized appeals and other communication targeted to monthly donors. 

Segmenting your donors can pay off

In this down economy, some donors may cut back on their giving. Don’t let them choose between organizations that communicate throughout the year with engaging, personalized appeals, thank yous, and updates and organizations who just send generic, one-size-fits-all communications.

You need your donors. Spending extra time segmenting your donors and personalizing your communications will be worth it if you can raise additional revenue and boost your retention rate.

4 Smart Donor Segmentation Strategies for Nonprofits

11 Ways To Segment Your Donors To Improve Your Fundraising

How to Effectively Segment Your Donors and Audiences 

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.

Do the Best that You Can

Times are tough now and there’s so much uncertainty. Everyone is feeling it. I’m sure your nonprofit organization has been dealing with many challenges over the last several months.

Even though it’s hard, you need to keep going. If you haven’t been fundraising or have done very little of it, you’ll need to unless you have a good amount of reserve funding, which many organizations don’t.

If you’re wondering whether or not you should run your fall fundraising campaign, here are a couple of things to keep in mind. You can’t raise money if you don’t ask. Also, what would happen if your organization didn’t exist?  

The need your clients/community face is still there and has most likely increased. And while social and human service organizations are vital, arts and culture organizations are also important for the community. 

We need our nonprofit organizations to succeed.

You can do this! Just do the best that you can and that may mean going smaller in some instances. 

Quality counts

You want to get started on your year-end campaign as soon as possible. Now would be good. One of the first things you should do is figure out what worked and what didn’t from past campaigns. 

I wrote about getting ready for your year-end campaign in a previous post. You want to produce quality fundraising appeals and thank you letters. Don’t use the same templates you’ve used in the past. You must address the current situations. I’ll have more on this in future posts.

It’s worth the time and effort to craft a stellar appeal because it should help you raise more money.

Segment your donors

One aspect of a good appeal letter is personalization. You must segment your donors as much as you can. At the very least, segment them by current donors, monthly donors, and people who haven’t donated before.

You’ll have the best luck with people who’ve donated before and they’re going to want to see a letter that thanks them for their past support.

Monthly donors are the backbone of many nonprofit organizations and have a retention rate of 90%. Any time you communicate with them you must recognize them as monthly donors. You can ask your monthly donors to upgrade or give an additional donation.

Donors who have supported you before deserve a great appeal letter, and thank you letter too!

Mail your letters if you can

You should try to mail your appeal letters if you can. This is a proven way to raise money. I know mail can be expensive and who knows what’s going on with the post office. Everyone may have to work remotely again later this fall. I hope that’s not the case. Do your part to keep COVID at bay.

If cost is an issue, you could just mail letters to current donors and monthly donors and send email to other donor groups. Think segmentation! 

This is a good opportunity to look at your previous fundraising campaigns. If you have people on your mailing list who have never given or haven’t given for a while, it’s probably in your best interest not to mail them a letter. For lapsed donors who haven’t given for more than three years, you could send them a targeted letter or email telling them you miss them and want them back. If that doesn’t produce results, consider moving them to an inactive file. 

Focus on donors who will be more likely to give.

An electronic campaign can work

If it’s impossible to mail your appeals, run a high-quality email campaign with lots of reminders, but not so many that you overwhelm your donors. Think quality, not quantity. Don’t make it like the onslaught of political emails I’m getting now.

Use enticing subject lines and the amazing appeal you’re going to create. Many organizations ran successful electronic campaigns in the spring when the pandemic broke out so this is something that can work. 

These organizations were able to access their CRM/database remotely and you want to make sure you can do that.

If you can only do electronic thank yous right now, make them sparkle. You could make a thank you video, photo, or word cloud. And remember, thanking your donors isn’t a one and done deal. Keep thanking them throughout the year. 

Use this opportunity to see what channels your donors are using. Maybe social media makes sense for you, maybe it doesn’t. Also, consider calling some of your longer-term donors, especially if they don’t use email.

Focus on retention 

Donor retention should always be one of your top priorities – before, during, and after your appeal. Remember, your best bet for donations are your current donors.

Focusing on retention will help during the economic downturn. Some donors may not be able to give this year, but maybe they’ll be able to in the future. Keep engaging with them.

Retention: Still Your Best Strategy

Make time for what’s important and take care of yourself

I know there’s a lot going on both at your organization and in the world. Make time for what’s important, take care of yourself, and do the best that you can.

Donor Retention Strategies: From CRMs to Annual Reports

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By Jay Love

Nonprofit professionals have a lot on their minds. You’re probably thinking about methods to keep your staff and constituents safe during the pandemic, effective work-from-home strategies to keep everyone productive, and how to maintain programming while adhering to social distancing guidelines. 

Whatever you do, don’t stop fundraising during these difficult times. While this fundraising may look different, it should never cease entirely. You need revenue to keep your organization alive amidst a shifting economy. 

Not only that, but it’s imperative that you analyze your fundraising strategy and consider additional strategies you can take to ensure that when all of this has subsided, your organization comes out on top.

This means one of your organization’s main priorities right now should be maintaining and improving your donor retention rate.

According to Bloomerang’s donor retention guide, the average donor retention rate has been sitting between 40% and 50% for the last fifteen years. The image below shows its progression.

Bloomerang_Ann Green Nonprofit_Donor Retention ExampleYour nonprofit should aim to be above average in your donor retention now so when the pandemic ends, you’ll have developed these relationships and have an even stronger base of support. 

A higher donor retention rate translates directly to higher revenue for a few reasons. First, retaining donors is substantially less expensive than acquiring new donors. Second, donor gifts tend to increase as they develop stronger connections with your mission. Finally, donor retention leads to a more predictable revenue stream, putting it in a good position to increase steadily. 

In order to increase your nonprofit’s donor retention rate and secure additional funding, even during difficult times, we recommend the following strategies: 

  1. Make donor retention a priority. 
  2. Create strong first impressions. 
  3. Focus on engagement. 
  4. Stay transparent with supporters. 

Here at Bloomerang, we’ve helped nonprofits just like yours increase their fundraising revenue by focusing their attention on donor retention. These strategies can help you too! Let’s get started. 

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1. Make donor retention a priority. 

In order to effectively improve your organization’s donor retention, you must make it a priority. You simply can’t wish that it will improve, barely adjust your approach, and then expect your rates to drastically increase. Rather, you should recognize that the work you put into developing your donor retention strategies is directly correlated to the results you’ll see in your fundraising revenue. 

One of the best ways to make sure you’re making donor retention a priority is to put donor retention information front-and-center for you and your staff to see. 

To do this, you may consider the following placements: 

  • On the fundraising dashboard in your CRM. The best option is to choose a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) solution that emphasizes donor retention and its importance for your organization. This will automatically track your retention rate for your team to see. Plus, effective engagement and donation tracking within donor profiles will help drive your retention rates up. This guide can help you choose a solution that prioritizes your donor retention rates. 

Bloomerang_Ann Green Nonprofit_CRM Example

  • In regular communication documents with your team. If your team hosts regular organization-wide check-in meetings, create a standing slide in your presentation tool to update them about the current progress and status of your donor retention rate. 
  • On your office’s wall. When your team is back in the office, consider tracking your progress with a “donor retention meter” posted in a common space. This meter should show your current donor retention rate, your goal rate, and the trend line that measures your progress so far. 

If your organization sets quarterly or annual goals, consider incorporating donor retention into these goals. This will make sure your whole team is on the same page and working toward improving these metrics. 

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2. Create strong first impressions. 

Donor retention is all about strengthening your relationships with supporters. The beginning of that relationship is crucial for achieving your retention goals. After all, the majority of donors donate once and then never again. 

According to reports from the Fundraising Effectiveness Project, the average new donor retention rate is very low (around 20%) while repeat donor retention rates jump drastically (to over 60%). This means if your nonprofit can convince people to donate a second time, chances are they’ll keep giving in the future. That’s why the second donation is often referred to as the golden donation

Bloomerang_Ann Green Nonprofit_new vs existing donor retention comparisonTo make sure your nonprofit begins relationships with supporters on the right foot, we recommend you consider the following strategies: 

  • Streamline the donation process. Donation abandonment occurs when you’re able to get people to your donation page, but they never hit “submit” on the donation itself. This can occur when your donation process is not optimized. We recommend strategically organizing your donation page so the process is quick and easy for supporters to complete. You can do this by only asking for the information you need, ensuring everything fits on one page, and including a clear “submit” button. 
  • Send immediate appreciation. In addition to including a confirmation page after the donation is submitted, be sure your organization is following up immediately after every donation by sending a thank-you note. This will further confirm that you received the donation and show your donor that you’re grateful for their contribution. Consider sending new supporters a welcome packet or other information to greet them after their initial gift.
  • Call your new supporters. Calling new supporters personally shows them your organization cares deeply and wants to start a relationship. It’s a more personal way to thank them. In fact, our own research shows that calling donors at least once within 90 days of their first donation increases first-time donor retention by over 20%

Bloomerang_Ann Green Nonprofit_Calling First-Time Donors

As you can see, increasing the first-time donor retention rate is an effective first step to take in increasing your overall donor retention. You’re lucky to have such incredible supporters for your cause. Show them that gratitude and kick off your relationships right!

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3. Focus on engagement. 

Nonprofits have a bad habit of treating their donors like ATMs. When you need funding for something, your donors are there to support you. Well, that’s not quite right. Your donors are happy to help support your organization when they feel engaged and connected to your cause. 

Therefore, it’s important that nonprofits focus their attention on enhancing the engagement of and experience given to your donors. After all, they’ve already given to your cause, signaling that they want to be involved. 

Focus on engaging your supporters by: 

  • Showing them they’re partners in your mission. Give your supporters an opportunity to provide input on your organization’s activities through feedback and potential (virtual) meetings. This is especially important for your major donors. It shows them they’re true partners. After all, without their generous contributions, your philanthropic activities wouldn’t be possible. 
  • Tracking supporter engagement activities. Keeping track of supporters’ engagement can help your organization see when donors are in danger of lapsing so you can prevent that from happening. It also shows the types of activities your supporters are interested in so you can personalize outreach for further involvement. For example, if a donor has attended all of your events throughout the last year, you might send a personalized invitation to your next one because you know they enjoy that type of activity. 
  • Communicating with them frequently. Frequent communication is the key to staying at the forefront of your donors’ minds. Make sure to strike the perfect balance between contacting them frequently and not overloading their inboxes. Every communication you send should include helpful information so you’re not just sending messages solely for the sake of staying in contact. 

If you’re not sure how to incorporate additional engagement activities into your fundraising strategy, a nonprofit consultant may be able to help you refine your strategy. To find a consultant who is a good fit with your nonprofit, check out listings of top firms from trusted organizations. For instance, you may reference Bloomerang’s consultant directory or Aly Sterling Philanthropy’s list of top consultants.

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4. Stay transparent with supporters. 

Your supporters appreciate transparency. Not only do they want to know your organization is using their contributions wisely, they also want to help truly further your mission about which you and your supporters are both passionate. 

This means you should be transparent with your supporters about the successful strategies you try as well as those that aren’t successful. When you run into troubles or setbacks, communicate these, but be sure to also provide context. For instance, if you have a negative return on a fundraising campaign, explain what went wrong and how you’ll remedy the situation going forward. 

You can use resources such as email, your tax forms, your website, and newsletters to communicate ongoing updates and campaigns with your supporters. Our favorite method for summarizing and synthesizing your financial and philanthropic information to supporters is through your annual report

Your annual report should be used to support a larger fundraising strategy while honestly communicating status and progress to supporters. 

Some of the important elements to include in your nonprofit annual report are: 

  • Financial data. Provide a graph or a visual that makes it easy for supporters to see how much of your funding went towards philanthropic initiatives, overhead expenses, and fundraising costs. 
  • Projects completed. Tell your supporters about your wins from last year. Show them the impact of their support by explaining the projects and programs you were able to implement together. 
  • Donor appreciation. Consider giving a shout-out to your top supporters in your annual report. This shows these individuals how much they mean to your cause and can drive others to give more in hopes of being featured next year. 

In addition to your annual report this year, you may consider sending a report to supporters about the impact the pandemic has had on your organization. What were the disruptions it caused? Then, be sure to explain how you’ll get back on track, as well as how supporters can help with this process. 

Transparency instills a sense of trust with your supporters. If they think you’re being dishonest in any way, they won’t trust you and will likely stop giving. Building trust through transparent communication is key to building more effective relationships with supporters. 

Donor retention stems from building strong relationships with your supporters. This is especially important during difficult times such as these. Focus your time now on building relationships and improving donor retention so when things go back to normal, your organization will come out on top. Good luck!

 Jay Love, Co-Founder and current Chief Relationship Officer at Bloomerang

Jay has served this sector for 33 years and is considered the most well-known senior statesman whose advice is sought constantly.

Prior to Bloomerang, he was the CEO and Co-Founder of eTapestry for 11 years, which at the time was the leading SaaS technology company serving the charity sector. Jay and his team grew the company to more than 10,000 nonprofit clients, charting a decade of record growth.

He is a graduate of Butler University with a B.S. in Business Administration. Over the years, he has given more than 2,500 speeches around the world for the charity sector and is often the voice of new technology for fundraisers.

How to do a Better Job of Donor Engagement

1411805770_c4776a4e8a_wDonor engagement is always important, and it’s especially important right now. Your inclination may be to do less when you actually should be doing more.

Donor Communications: Now is the time for MORE communications, not less

I’d put your more formal newsletter on hold right now and send short updates instead. This will help you stay in touch more often. Aim for once a week, if you can, or every other week. I’ve been advocating for shorter, more frequent updates for a while and now is a good time to start doing this.

In the best of times, nonprofit organizations don’t do a very good job with their donor engagement. Both by not communicating enough and/or sending something that’s uninspiring.

The fact that you have a donor newsletter doesn’t mean you’re engaging with people. Most newsletters are boring and organization-centered. Often they contain articles that don’t interest your donors. That needs to change.

Here are a few ways to do a better job with your donor engagement – both now and in the future.

Relevance rules

Your updates must be relevant to the current COVID-19 situation. Otherwise, it’s beyond clueless. Try to send updates in which you aren’t asking for donations. You can still do fundraising in separate messages. In fact, you should still be fundraising. Share success stories if you can.

HOW TO BE RELEVANT NOW (AND WHAT NOT TO SAY)

Some organizations are sharing their 2019 annual reports. Doing this now emphasizes how quickly an annual report becomes out of date. If you had sent it in January or February, it would have been more relevant. 

Perhaps your annual report was already in the works, so if you feel you must share it now, you have to reference the current situation.

Should we send our scheduled appeal/newsletter/annual report in the midst of COVID-19?

Remember that an annual report is for your donors, and do you think your donors are that interested in what you did last year?

Your donors are interested in what you’re doing NOW. 

Being donor-centered is key

After all, it’s donor engagement, not organizational engagement. Think about what your donors want to hear. Most likely it’s how you’re making difference for the people/community you serve during this time of crisis. Let your donors know how they’re helping you with this.

I realize nonprofits have gone to great lengths to change the way they do things. That’s great, but don’t brag about your organization. Maybe you run a community dinner every Thursday and now you have to serve boxed to-go meals. Instead of patting yourself on the back explaining how you were able to pull this off, say something like – Thanks to donors like you, we are able to continue providing much-needed healthy dinners to people in the community.

Focus on your mission

Why you’re doing something is more important than how or what. If your homeless shelter has to take on extra measures to keep it clean, emphasize the importance of the health and safety of your clients, many of whom are at greater risk of getting COVID-19. You want to continue to provide them with a safe place where they will be treated with dignity and respect.

If you decide to do your usual monthly e-newsletter, don’t give it the subject line April Newsletter. A better subject line would be – Find out how you’re helping families continue to put food on the table.

All stories/articles should pertain to the current situation. You can thank your major funders, in fact, you should thank all your donors, but bring your focus back to your mission. 

Find ways to stay in touch

It shouldn’t be that hard to find something to share. Remember, shorter is better. Maybe just one subject consisting of a few paragraphs. Your donors don’t want something that’s going to require too much attention. You could also go the visual route by including a photo or video.

An organization that works with immigrants and refugees had a group of people make masks for health care workers and posted a picture of the colorful masks they made.

Museums are offering virtual tours. Some theatres are showing videos of performances. If you’re an environmental organization, you could share nature photos or videos. If you work with animals, pictures of our furry friends are always welcome.

You could send an advocacy alert. These are a great way to engage without asking for a donation. One organization is asking people to contact their federal legislators to make it easier for people to get food stamps, which would reduce the burden on food banks.

Maybe you could use some volunteer help. In my last post, I mentioned getting volunteers to help with thank you calls or personalized emails. Perhaps you have other projects for virtual volunteers. Give a shout-out to any volunteers who are helping you right now.

This is a good time to revise your communications calendar to help you plan ways to stay in touch during this time.

HEARTBEATS AND REMARKABLES OF NONPROFIT COMMUNICATIONS

Use the right channels

Most likely you’ll communicate by email and social media. Monitor what channels your donors are using. If only a handful of people are on Instagram, don’t use it much. Pay attention to their engagement and track open rates, click-throughs, likes, comments, etc. Of course, people may miss your electronic messages, which is one of the reasons you should communicate regularly.

Send something by mail if you can. You could also use the phone if you’ve established a connection with people that way. Maybe they gave a donation to help you get laptops for your tutoring programs. You can let them know that the kids and their tutors are meeting via Zoom so they can continue their weekly reading time.

Be sure to keep your website up to date, too. It needs to address the current situation on your home page, donation page, and other sections that include updates.

Pay attention to your donor retention 

Good donor engagement often leads to good donor retention. As the economy worsens, it will be harder for some people to give this year, but hopefully, they’ll give again when they can.

They may give less or cut back on organizations they donate to. Don’t let yours be one of them. They might decide between the organization that sends handwritten notes or the one that just blasts generic fundraising appeals.

The need for nonprofits will grow for a while. You’ll need your donors and keeping them engaged will help you get through the tough times ahead.

Donor Preservation in the Pandemic

Stay safe, wear a mask when you’re out in public, be well, and practice random or not so random acts of kindness as much as possible.

7 Tips to Improve Nonprofit Donor Communication

As a nonprofit, communicating with your supporters is crucial to establishing lifelong donor relationships. Find out how you can make every message count.

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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:

  1. Personalize your messages.
  2. Encourage interaction.
  3. Segment your audience.
  4. Focus on the donor.
  5. Schedule communications.
  6. Manage donor data.
  7. Report and track metrics.

Ready to get started? Let’s jump in.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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. 

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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.

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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. 

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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.