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There are few worse feelings for donors than being asked to give and give, again and again without ever getting some fresh air. I think we’ve all suffered through one of those long “are we they yet, are we there yet?” road trips. Now imagine that feeling, except instead you’re being asked to give your money, over and over. That could get old quick! You don’t necessarily want to make a hard ask every time you interact with your donors. You need to plan a donor communications lifecycle and prepare to connect with your donors year-round.

When developing a fundraising campaign, don’t think of sending a thank you email after a donation as the end of a financial transaction. Instead, think of it as the start of a new relationship between the donor and your organization!

Keeping in touch with your donors will help them develop a sense of loyalty and trust with your organization. Implementing the following strategies into your outreach with help donors understand that you see them as more than just a dollar sign.

1. Send a New Donor Welcome Package

In our last post, we explained how acquiring long-term donors is crucial to sustaining fundraising success. One way to convert more of your first-time donors into long-time ones is to welcome them to your organization properly.

You can send the elements of your welcome package to donors all at once to create a comprehensive packet. Another option is to send materials individually, so you can build a multi-touch strategy. Whether you decide on a welcome package or content pipeline, there are several things you will want to include in your outreach.

When you send welcome packages after a donor makes their first gift, be sure to acknowledge it specifically. Since this welcome package will be sent immediately following a donor’s first gift, you should aim to provide additional educational materials about your organization and mission. You want to explain the impact their donation made, while giving them the opportunity to get more involved. You should also include contact information for someone within your organization, so the new donor can reach out if they want to learn more. Any of the elements we discuss later in this post could be a great addition to a welcome package.

The goal is to show your new donors that you value them for more than just the money they can give. A welcome package or pipeline makes new donors feel like they are now part of a community.

2. Thank Donors for Specific Gifts

Donor Communication Lifecycle - A Personal Thank YouDon’t take the easy way out and send the same generic thank you to all your donors. You might save a few minutes now, but you will be leaving potentially thousands of dollars in donations on the table.

Your thank you needs to feel special. When donors feel like you took the time to acknowledge them specifically, they will know their donation made a difference and will be more inclined to contribute the next time you make an ask.

3. Inform Donors of Volunteer Opportunities

Let your donor base know that there are more ways to contribute to your nonprofit besides monetary gifts. Make sure they are aware of when an opportunity to volunteer with your organization is coming up.

Invite donors to participate in volunteer opportunities that relate to specific programs they are interested in. This shows that you are really paying attention to what is important to them and will allow you to continue building a strong relationship.

4. Send Event Invitations

This is similar to letting donors know about volunteer opportunities. Inviting your donors to engage with your organization in ways other than making a monetary gift shows them that they really are an essential part of your nonprofit. It also reminds them that you keep donors in mind when important events roll around.

While attendance is icing on the cake, it’s actually not about whether the donor attends or not. It really is the thought that counts in the broader context of relationship building and engagement. As long as you send them a personal invitation, the donor will feel valued, perhaps even humbled that you thought to invite them to your fancy gala!

5. Respond to Questions

You probably have a form on your website or a designated email address for people to reach out to you for more information and ask questions. Make sure that you are replying to these inquiries as quickly as possible! Good customer service is integral for any organization. You need to apply that same mindset to keeping your donors happy. Answering questions promptly shows donors that you value them as partners and appreciate their input.

Answering their questions is also a tremendous benefit to your organization. First of all, a donor or potential donor must have at least some level of interest in your organization to reach out to you. See if you can take their engagement to the next level.

What information can you gain from these questions? Are several donors asking for more information about a specific program? You may want to highlight that program in your next newsletter. Any information you can gather about donor preferences through their questions is valuable to your nonprofit.

6. Ask About Donor Preferences

We just got finished explaining how you can gain valuable information when donors ask questions. However, not all donors are going to reach out on their own. You can learn a lot about your donor base if you take the initiative to ask what’s important to them.

Consider sending out a donor preference survey via email. The questions you want to ask your donors will vary based on your organization’s needs. For example, if your last fundraising campaign was very successful, ask those who donated what moved them to give.

You can also glean more general information about your donors and their preferences. You can ask donors how often and on what day and times they prefer to receive emails. Do they like to receive a direct mailer, followed by an email? Or would they prefer you to just send an email to begin with? Maybe they prefer to only receive direct mail communications. Finding out more about your donors’ preferences will help you communicate with them on their terms.

7. Send Birthday or Holiday Cards

Remember, we want donors to feel like part of the community. What better way to add a human element to your communications pipeline than to send a personal birthday or holiday card to donors! This lets donors know that they are always on your mind and that you remember little things about them.

Instead of sending birthday cards, you can send donor anniversary cards. When the one-year anniversary of a donor’s first gift comes around, send a card or letter that thanks them for their commitment. You don’t need to include a hard ask.

Reminding donors that you still appreciate their gift from a year ago will motivate them to donate the next time you do make an ask.

Donor Communications Lifecycle8. Create Engagement Opportunities

Donor communications do not have to be a one-way street. You’ll spend a lot of time and energy planning your communications pipeline and coming up with new messages for your donors. Don’t forget to take the opportunity to give your donors a chance to share their message with you.

If you have a particularly strong presence on social media, many of your donors may already be engaging with you online. Try asking your followers to share a memorable experience they’ve had working with your organization. You can ask users to post photos that are relevant to your mission. Perhaps you can even run a contest where followers who engage and perform a specific action on your page are entered to win a small prize.

If you don’t have a huge following online, creating opportunities for engagement can help you get there. In order to gain a substantial following on social media, you need to post a lot of content. Why not have your donors and followers share their own stories to your page? This helps you create fresh, relevant content and will encourage others to engage, and hopefully give, as well.

9. Share Success Stories

This is one piece of advice that can apply to all the other items we’ve discussed earlier in this post.

Include the story of someone who has benefited from your organization’s work in your new donor welcome package. When thanking donors for specific gifts, provide real examples of how their contribution furthers your nonprofit’s goal. When you inform donors about upcoming events or volunteer opportunities, include a story from someone who participated last year.

Whether you are connecting with donors through emails, newsletters, appeals, or another medium, you can include a story. Providing a real-world example using anecdotes and other storytelling tactics will provide evidence that supports the message you are communicating to donors.

Donors also want to know exactly how their contribution is helping make a difference. In fact, a recent study by Abila found donors in all age groups surveyed (millennials, gen Xers, boomers, and matures) are more interested in receiving personalized impact reports after donating than any other form of follow-up.

The Donor Communications Lifecycle

When planning a communications pipeline, remember that you don’t want every piece to serve as an appeal. Stick to your regular appeal strategy. The nine subjects covered above are intended to serve as light touches. They remind your donors that they are part of a community and are always on your mind.

How would you feel if an organization sent you a birthday card that was accompanied by a donation reply card? You would probably think they really didn’t care about wishing you a happy birthday at all! You might even be offended that they saw your birthday as just another opportunity to solicit a donation.

The strategies discussed in this post will compliment your appeal strategy. They will help you maintain more consistent contact with donors and make them feel like part of the community. These strategies will keep your organization on donors’ minds, so they are more likely to give the next you do send an appeal.

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