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5 free ways for your nonprofit to improve donor relations.

August 17, 2023
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When it comes to donor engagement, a little personaliztion goes a long way.

You might not realize it, but your donor database is bursting with potential. The potential to increase engagement, up awareness, and even raise more funds for your nonprofit organization. But (there’s always a but), it’s important to keep in mind that the key to unlocking that potential isn’t in as many generic, mass emails to as many donors as possible, it’s in giving each donor the time and attention they deserve. After all, they’re giving your nonprofit time and attention and money, returning the favour is the least you can do.

How? Well, that’s why we wrote this handy article. It doesn’t contain all the answers, but it is a great place to start and will hopefully inspire other ideas. Alternatively, you can check out this article on the best donor management softwares.

So, what’s in here exactly? A few tips on creating a personalized donor communication plan to improve your donor relations and keep them engaged with your cause. This doesn’t mean writing personal emails to every donor for every campaign. It’s more about tweaking which emails you send to which donors, how many campaign variations you run and, yes, a personal email, phone call or text every so often.

Okay, let’s take a look at a few free donor communication tips that will help your nonprofit retain donors by keeping them engaged.

1: Segment your nonprofit’s messaging for pre-defined groups of donors.

Not every donor that has chosen to support your nonprofit has done so for the same reason. Chances are, you can segment your donors into a few sub databases based on their motivation(s) for being drawn to the work your nonprofit is doing. On top of that, not every donor likes to communicate in the same way and they may not even live in the same part of the world as you.

With all that in mind, one of the best ways to understand what attracted a donor to your cause is to gather information about them and why they decided to dedicated their time/energy/money to helping your nonprofit in particular.

There are a few ways to find this information:

  • You can take a look at the available data you may already have to determine when a donor began giving. Consider things like: the campaigns they have donated to, their average donation amount, whether or not their donation was in memoriam, do they give regularly, always at the same time(s), etc.
  • If you do not have access to this data, you could begin gathering it by sending out surveys to donors to get more insight into their thought processes. Ask questions like:
  • How did you find out about [your nonprofit organization] in the first place.
  • Why did they decide to donate to [your nonprofit organization]?
  • Do they talk about [your nonprofit organization] with friends and family?
  • If you know certain donors prefer talking on the phone to chatting via email or text, you can reach out to them via phone and have a conversation to find out what aspects of your mission resonate with them, and about what convinced them to donate to your organization.
  • To make things easier for yourself in the future, you can even consider adding some optional questions to your donation forms. These questions should be designed to help you better understand your donors and give the impression that answering will strengthen their relationship with your nonprofit.

All this information will help you segment your donors and allow you to filter your contacts and send more personalized communications, rather than sending them material that may not be relevant to them and hoping to get traction.

2: Effective communication is a two-way street: Practice empathy and curiosity with your donors.

Ask not what your donors can do for you; ask what you can do for your donors. That’s how the saying goes, right? It’s not just a spin on a well-known John F. Kennedy quote, but also a pretty good mindset to have when considering personalizing your communication with nonprofit donors.

One of the best things that you can do to ensure that your donors will keep coming back to support your cause is to walk with them, not at them. Get to know them. Ask them why they chose your nonprofit. Share stories from other donors and the work you’re doing. Ask them what their needs are and, if your organization is in a position to provide it, offer your services to them. For example:

  • If your organization specializes in providing mental health resources, make sure your donors donors know how to reach out for help.
  • If your nonprofit shelters animals, make sure your donors know how they can help and what to do if they see an animal in need
  • If your nonprofit feeds students breakfast every morning, let your donors know how they can volunteer and how to sign up if it’s a service they need.

Being empathetic and curious enough to ask donors how you can help them s a great way to not only show donors that you care about them and are invested in supporting the entire network of people involved with your nonprofit organization.

3: Be transparent with donors about how your nonprofit works—the successes and failures.

Being honest and transparent with donors is a relatively simple solution that not a lot of nonprofit organizations take advantage of. People increasingly want (and expect) to know how their money is impacting the world around them, and your nonprofit donors are no different.

This approach will take some getting used to—it will probably require your nonprofit to make some changes and accept that there is always room for improvement. Yes, you will get a lot of feedback, keep an open mind. Transparency is a journey that will end with donors being more engaged and dedicated to your nonprofit.

What should you be transparent about?

  • Try to itemize some of the different expenses your organization has. For example, if your organization provides meals to those experiencing food insecurity, try to figure out how much one of those meals costs on average.
  • If you host a fundraising event, be open about the breakeven amount and why you’re hosting this event. (To thank donors, to attract new donors, for a specific cause, etc.)
  • Talk about your learnings along the way. There are always things you can improve on. Be honest and open about what they are.
  • Ask for help. If one of your learnings clearly showed you could have used a certain expertise, ask for help next time.

Informing donors with tangible indicators of their own personal impact will make them feel like they are making a measurable difference in the lives of others and help them understand how your nonprofit works and why it’s so important to continue giving.

4: Sharing stories with donors about your nonprofit will help build lasting relationships.

Stories are a powerful way to engage and inspire your donors and volunteers. They can demonstrate to donors the impact of their generosity, inspire them to volunteer, encourage them to share your nonprofit with people they know, and help donors feel connected to your nonprofit.

There are a few types of stories you can share:

  • Stories from individuals who have been helped by your organization.
  • Case studies or testimonials from team members, volunteers, businesses, etc.
  • Personal stories of why people decided to get involved with your nonprofit.
  • Stories from team members about the inner workings of your nonprofit. (Be honest and transparent!)

5: A little donor recognition goes a long way.

Having an attitude of gratitude can really go a long way! AKA: send thank-you letters for donations.

Thanking your donors personally will make them feel appreciated for the time/energy/money they have generously dedicated to helping your cause. These thank you messages can come in the form of a personal thank you letter from someone in your organization, or better yet, a thank you message from one of the recipients of your organization’s help.

Another step you can take to personalize your donor communications is to thank them publicly by giving them shout-outs on social media or in your newsletter. (Just ask for their permission first.)

  • Tagging donors in a thank you message on social media is a great way to get visibility for your organization beyond your own network, while opening up a larger conversation about charitable giving.
  • A newsletter shout-out can also make donors feel appreciated for their contribution while recognizing them as being part of the team that helps your nonprofit do more good!

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