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5 Steps to Strengthen Donor Relationships

Nurturing donor relationships is key to your nonprofit's success! Here are five easy ways to put your donors in the spotlight.

5 Steps to Strengthen Donor Relationships

Running a nonprofit is a pretty hefty job. As soon as you start looking for the answer to a question from your Board, your computer crashes and your staff panics. When you’re overwhelmed, it’s easy to lose sight of nurturing your donor relationships.

There are about 10 million nonprofits worldwide, which means your donors have plenty of organizations that would happily greet them with a warm hug.

If all they’re getting from you is a cold shoulder, that might just be an irresistible offer.

What’s the solution? Make donor relationship management part of the bread and butter of your daily to-do list. Here’s a list of five almost effortless, mostly free tips on how you can strengthen existing donor relationships.

1. Go old school.

Every day, have a few of your team members (and you!) spend about 15 to 30 minutes calling supporters who have recently engaged with your nonprofit. The key word is “engaged”—we’re not suggesting you talk to the people who donated or donated a lot.

Let’s call the person who volunteered to staff the food pantry or the person who dropped off bags of food. Let’s call the elderly widow who gives $10 a month without fail. Personally reaching out to donors shows them that they matter to you individually.

What to say? Anything that starts with gratitude for their support, in any form. It’s easy to have a quick call to thank them for supporting your nonprofit. You can talk a little about the mission and share a story if you have a good one.

Just don’t ask for a thing. The message of your call should be to acknowledge their support, thank them, and make the relationship a little more personal and a little less transactional.

Schedule this time and be disciplined about the calls. Your team can share results, providing valuable insight for your whole nonprofit. And as the list of donors you haven’t called shrinks, the dividends from those calls will start to grow.

2. Automate emails for consistency.

Keeping in touch with your audience is a terrific way to keep your nonprofit top of their minds. An easy way to set up a method of regular outreach is to create a newsletter, then automate it to be sent each week or month on a certain day and at a specific time….consistency is the secret sauce here.

Share photos, news of what your nonprofit is doing, a report on upcoming campaigns. Use the newsletter to hype people up about a massive end-of-year campaign or big nonprofit event you’re planning. You can make it personal, telling stories about your weekend or sharing pictures of your dog.

Add a poll question and report on the responses next week, or include a brainteaser and give the answer the following week. Share recipes or discount codes for a local water park. Give a big shoutout to a volunteer of the week or recognize a birthday you know about (because your nonprofit CRM told you).

There are a few goals here: 

  • One, you’re reminding supporters about the good your nonprofit is doing and why your mission matters, and you’re doing it weekly. 
  • Two, you’re connecting with them personally, so they’re invested in you and taking the donor relationship to a deeper level. 
  • Three, you’re strengthening the brand of your nonprofit. 
  • Four, post your newsletter to social media and ask your supporters to forward it to someone who might be interested. In this way, you’re also introducing your mission to new audiences.

Believe it or not, newsletter content is only half the battle: email automation ensures your newsletter or email will go out regularly, allowing supporters to count on it and look forward to it.


3. Segment your audience to personalize communications.

We often harp on how helpful technology is for nonprofits, because we sell technology for nonprofits. Is ours the best? We sure think so, and a lot of our clients agree. But is it the only option? Nope. There are plenty of good tech vendors who offer technology that will help your nonprofit grow.

One of the enormous benefits of a nonprofit CRM is that it will segment your donors.

I’m the mom of a college kid and a high school kid, and I don’t want to see promotional emails about diapers (yet!!) and baby formula. Getting content relevant to my life and interests instantly creates relationships with the companies providing the relevant content.

The same rule holds true for your nonprofit communications. If you segment your audience and can send an email with a cake GIF to anyone with a birthday in January, that’s personalized content. If you can segment your audience by geography, you can comment on the impending snowstorm or congratulate supporters of the winning Superbowl team. Send a thank-you email on the anniversary of someone’s first engagement with your nonprofit!

Segmenting your audience and sending personalized content to them is a surefire way to increase loyalty and strengthen your relationship.

4. Show your appreciation.

Saying thank you is hugely important and absolutely critical to any relationship. But what if you, so to speak, put your money where your mouth is?

Look to your community and consider what type of donor appreciation event would resonate. You can throw a pizza party or partner with the local hamburger joint to get a discount for your supporters. Host a luncheon in your offices or a wine-tasting picnic at a local park. Plan a bingo night or an afternoon of putt-putt. 

Record a video walking through your warehouse of donated food and thank people. If you are a conservation nonprofit, take a walk through the woods and record your gratitude for the people who support your mission. If your mission is the cure for a disease, interview someone who has benefitted from the treatments your nonprofit funded.

Craft a series of social media posts calling out board members, donors, and volunteers who have made a difference. Highlight them in a “superhero” section of your website. Note their names in your newsletter. 

5. Send them a gift.

You’re a nonprofit, for heaven’s sake, so you don’t have to spend the money to send anything more than a token, but universally, everyone loves a free gift. Do you have branded pens or notepads, t-shirts or water bottles? Send ‘em! Again, segment your donors, because you’re not going to send thousands of water bottles. 

But maybe you send a little thank-you package to anyone who donates more than $100. Or maybe you designate 12 buckets of gifts and send one to all the new donors in each month. A trip to the dollar store or an online party warehouse could supply you with fun items to send if you don’t have branded items.

Going back to the idea of partnering with someone local, see if a popular dinner or dessert spot will give supporters 10% off their bill if they mention the secret passphrase (which would be “XYZ charity loves its donors,” naturally!). Or have a sip and shop at a local boutique. You bring the wine and shoppers get a discount…many stores will jump at the idea of you bringing people to them.

If you don’t have branded swag, put it on your to-do list. Tshirts and pens and pads aren’t expensive in bulk and can help raise awareness in addition to being super giveaway gifts people love.

And Finally, Look in the Mirror!

When all else fails, or these ideas seem worn and unoriginal, look in the mirror. Think about someone who values you. What is it they do that makes you feel valued? Identify it, then translate it into donor relationship management.

I bet it looks a lot like this:

  1. They call you.
  2. They send you texts saying hi or sharing news.
  3. They tell you if they see a sale at your favorite store.
  4. They do nice things, unasked, just to show you they care.
  5. They might drop off a little gift or treat on your birthday.

See? You strengthen donor relationships by relying on the basic acts that strengthen all relationships, but you do them consistently, strategically, and you use technology to give you a bump in effectiveness

None of this will be hard for your team. In fact, it will be fun! The hardest part, though, is getting focused and committing to donor relationship management.

Once you make a plan, it won’t take too much time or effort, and it’s guaranteed to provide huge rewards in the long run.