Written By: Aly Sterling - Jul 16, 2019
Blog6 min read

Top 4 Strategies to Build Relationships With Your Donors

As a nonprofit professional, you are well aware of the obstacles you face in creating donor relationships. There are so many factors that contribute to donor satisfaction and involvement and it is all too easy for donors to quit their involvement with your organization.

To combat losing donors and avoid struggling to reach your goals, your development team needs to devote considerable effort to cultivating relationships with supporters and continually stewarding them for donations.

A healthy donor relationship is primarily built on trust and respect. Your donors are aware that your organization supports an amazing cause and that by helping you, they are contributing to the social good. But this knowledge alone is not enough to guarantee a stable, long-term donor relationship.

This post will walk you through the top 4 strategies for building healthy donor relationships:

  1. Understand your donor population.
  2. Create a donor-centric fundraising strategy.
  3. Focus on donor retention.
  4. Maintain consistent communication.

Don’t let donor stewardship be a source of stress for your development team. Just follow these strategies and you will be set up nicely for success in the long-term. Let’s dive in and get you ready to cultivate your donor relationships!

1. Understand your donor population.

Just like no two nonprofits are exactly alike, no two donors are the same. Donors should be treated as individuals, with their own preferences and interests. The characteristics of your donor population will greatly alter your appeal strategy.

With the help of an expert consultant, carefully examine your donor data to gain a deeper understanding of your donors and how you should go about cultivating long-lasting relationships. In order to do this, you must collect data. Here are the three main categories of data you should be concerned with:

  • Basic demographics. Know more about who is donating to your organization by collecting basic demographic information. This may include age, gender, profession or university, region, marital status, parental status. These will not only help your organization know what strategies may appeal to your audience, but it will also help you seek out future donors based on your understanding of your existing donor population. Don’t forget to segment your donors based on this information to better see patterns and trends.
  • Wealth markers. Examining wealth markers will provide your nonprofit with information regarding your major donors’ net worth and giving capacity. These markers include stock ownership, business affiliations and real estate investment. With this information, you will be able to properly steward major gift donors and better personalize your approach to each person.
  • Philanthropic indicators. The most important aspect of your donor population, philanthropic indicators will inform your nonprofit about a person’s affinity toward charitable giving as well as your organization. Learn more about why your donors feel passionate about your organization by looking at their giving history or by asking them directly.

To learn more about how you can use donor data to gain insights about your donors and develop meaningful relationships with them, check out the DonorSearch guide to donor analytics.


2. Create a donor-centric fundraising strategy.

One of the most common mistakes made by nonprofits in their fundraising strategies is a lack of focus on donors. It is not enough to know your donors—you need to put this information to use in a carefully crafted donor-centric fundraising strategy.

Unfortunately, too many nonprofits create their strategies with the singular goal of meeting organizational financial goals. They overlook their donors’ role in the process and miss opportunities to build in meaningful ways to engage and meet donors’ interests and needs. Organizational priorities are certainly a major driver of strategy, however, your donors are key partners in this effort. At the end of the day, your approach must appeal to them and earn their support.

Creating a donor-centric fundraising strategy can involve a lot of components, including screening your donors for potentially useful philanthropic indicators and wealth data (as described earlier).

Philanthropic and wealth indicators look at important indicators of net worth as well as philanthropic tendencies so you can see an individual’s ability and willingness to give. This is important because it can help you determine realistic asks for major gifts that will appeal to donors — not turn them off.

However, there is much more to consider than simply the results of donor screening. Your team should evaluate the successes and obstacles encountered in previous fundraising strategies. Only then can you have a comprehensive view of what works for your specific organization and contemplate its future fundraising goals with the donors’ engagement levels in mind.

If your organization is unsure where to start with a fundraising strategy, hire a fundraising consultant to help facilitate the process and overcome any obstacles your team may encounter.


3. Focus on donor retention.

Donor retention strategies are easy to overlook as nonprofits seek out more and more donors to expand their donor network. However, if you are serious about cultivating long-term donors and major gifts, you should devote time and resources to donor retention techniques.

Because donors like to be seen and appreciated, they are much more likely to stick around and contribute repeatedly to your organization if they feel like their donation makes a difference and is noticed. Show your appreciation for donors by:

  • Using the donor’s name and personal details in appeals. This tip may seem fairly intuitive, but many nonprofits still use form letters without bothering to fill in personal details about the donor. The most important aspect is the inclusion of their name, but this should not be where the personalization ends. Include a portion in your appeal letter that expresses your thanks for their previous donation to “X” campaign and what you were able to do with the money. This personalization may take some extra time, but the results will justify the use of resources.
  • Saying thank you. Your nonprofit is sustained by the generosity of donors and you would be surprised how far simply saying thank you can go toward developing donor loyalty. Charitable individuals have many options for giving. Thanking donors for their impact will set you apart from the rest and endear your organization to them. Whether you share your gratitude in person or via a letter or email, take the time every time a person gives.
  • Engaging donors on their terms. Nowadays, most people begin their engagement with nonprofits via the Internet, especially through your nonprofit’s website and social media platforms. This provides multiple options for your organization to recognize your donors’ support. Consider creating a webpage dedicated to donor spotlights and thanking your donors for all they have helped you accomplish. You can also use your donors’ favorite social media platforms to spread the word of your appreciation in a very visible space.

Your donors’ interaction should not end after their initial donation. Rather, this is when your organization should begin to continually steward their loyalty, and, by extension, the amount they give to your mission.


4. Maintain consistent communication.

Like all good and lasting relationships, donor relationships are built on consistent, open communication. This is especially true when it comes to major or mid-tier donors. Consistent communication is key to ensuring your donors always feel appreciated and in-the-know about your organization.

This is especially true true for special initiatives such as capital campaigns. Supporters donate to campaigns because they believe in the cause and want to make an impact.

Consistent and clear communication leading up to a fundraising campaign, during the campaign and after the campaign ends can create donors for life.

Consider communicating via:

  • Email
  • Phone calls
  • Direct mail
  • In-person visits
  • Social media

Leading up to campaigns, your organization can communicate your goals and vision for the future. Donors will appreciate the information and will feel as though they are an integral part of the effort. Their increased personal investment in your organization will encourage them to continue their involvement.

During your campaign, be sure to specify ways for individuals to be involved. This may include donations, volunteering, attending events and spreading awareness on their own social media pages. Donors don’t intuitively know what you need and when you need it, and they have their own busy lives. Providing ways to get involved throughout your fundraising campaign will spur many donors into action and help develop strong relationships.

After your campaign ends, make sure to follow up with this energized group of supporters. Show them how their donations continue to make a difference and provide them with new ways to get involved. You don’t want to allow any of your donors to forget about your organization.

Remaining at the forefront of their minds will certainly contribute to their lasting involvement in your organization.


 

Donor relationships don’t end after a donation is made. Quite the opposite is true, in fact. Donors must be continuously stewarded to build strong, long-lasting relationships that will be better for your nonprofit.

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About Aly Sterling

Long before Aly Sterling founded her eponymous consulting firm, she was solving the unique yet similar problems encountered by nonprofit organizations.Her decision to start her own business in 2007 was driven by her belief in leadership as the single most important factor in organizational success, and her determination to work with multiple causes at one time to scale societal change.Aly’s expertise includes fundraising, strategic planning, search consultation and board leadership development for the well-positioned nonprofit. She is regularly sought for comment by trade and mainstream media, including the Chronicle of Philanthropy and U.S. News & World Report. She has contributed to publications of BoardSource and The Governance Institute, as well as the Toledo Chamber of Commerce and The Giving Institute.