5 Strategies for Building Long-Term Donor Relationships

Posted In Fundraising
Learn more about how to develop long-term relationships with your nonprofit's donors.

The donor journey is a lengthy process, ending with a donation, joining a membership program, volunteering, or getting involved in some other way before restarting again. The longer a donor stays with your nonprofit, the more times they’ll be able to complete this cycle, deepening their engagement with your nonprofit. These committed donors provide the support you need to spread awareness about your cause, generate excitement about your events, recruit volunteers, and of course, fund your mission.

However, most donors will need some incentive from your nonprofit to continue their donor journey. Vaguely knowing they’re contributing to a good cause alone isn’t enough for the majority of supporters. Donors want to see their support making a real difference, and nonprofits that want to improve donor retention will need to demonstrate impact and form long-lasting relationships with their supporters.

Here are five strategies to help your nonprofit increase your supporters’ value and build relationships that stand the test of time.

1. Personalize communication.

Few supporters are moved by a thank-you message that begins with “Dear valued donor.” It’s far easier to connect with a nonprofit that addresses you by name, acknowledges your past contributions, and tailors messages to your interests.

Personalization comes in several forms. The most straightforward method is adding personal information about a donor, such as their name and engagement history.

When recognizing a donor, you might thank them for their most recent gift and give an update on a campaign they recently supported. For example, a nonprofit dedicated to conservation might share updates on the population rates of endangered species a supporter donated to help protect. They could even go the extra mile by focusing on a specific animal, giving them a name, and sharing the progress the animal has made since the nonprofit started supporting them.

Personalization also includes adjusting the content you share based on supporters’ interests. For example, you might create an email list of supporters who live in your local area and send them messages about ongoing community projects they could easily join. In an email list for remote supporters, you would instead promote online opportunities and content.

2. Show appreciation.

At the end of the day, donors appreciate a heartfelt thank you. Plus, showing appreciation to your donors allows you to emphasize their gift’s impact, encouraging them to donate again in the future.

eCardWidget’s donor recognition guide outlines a few simple ways to meaningfully show appreciation to your donors:

  • Send an eCard. eCards are the natural evolution of email thank-you messages. Rather than plain text and an image or two, eCards recreate the experience of opening an artfully designed physical card. Some eCards even have interactive elements and animations that encourage donors to engage further.
  • Create a video. A written thank-you message is certainly meaningful, but hearing and seeing someone express their appreciation for your gift is a far more memorable experience for donors. Record short videos for donors that address them by name and share what their specific contribution will help your nonprofit accomplish.
  • Call them on the phone. You can’t meet every donor in person to thank them, but you can get in touch with many of them through a simple phone call. Assemble a team of your staff and volunteers to call donors to thank them for their gifts. Create a script that your callers can use to keep these conversations short but impactful.
  • Mail them a gift. Much like businesses send gifts to their customers to show appreciation, your nonprofit can mail small gifts to your donors. This strategy doesn’t need to break the bank, either, as gifts can range from magnets to branded t-shirts to tote bags.
  • Spotlight them on social media. Share photos and videos of particularly generous donors on your nonprofit’s social media pages so your entire community can recognize these donors’ contributions. Be sure that you have the donor’s permission before doing so, as some donors prefer private recognition rather than public.

How you show appreciation should vary based on how much a donor contributes. While every gift matters, you wouldn’t approach a donor who gave $5 the same way you would one who gave $5,000. Divide donors into tiers based on their level of giving and adjust your appreciation strategy accordingly for each group.

For example, you might send donors who give $5 or less a thank-you eCard. Mid-level donors might receive the eCard as well as a phone call. Recurring donors might receive a gift for their continued support. Lastly, major donors would receive a thank-you video and a social media shoutout to properly acknowledge their generosity.

3. Offer a variety of ways to get involved.

Build meaningful relationships with supporters by reaching out with more than just donation requests. While it’s important to ask for gifts on a routine basis, make sure you’re sharing a variety of ways to get involved, such as:

  • Events. Encourage supporters to learn more about your mission and meet other individuals who are invested in your cause by inviting them to attend one of your nonprofit’s events. This can be anything from a silent auction to your annual gala. Consider planning a few virtual or hybrid options, as well, to include people outside of your local area.
  • Matching gifts. 84% of donors are more likely to make a gift if they know their employer will match it. Inspire more support by sharing matching gift information, including how to determine eligibility and submit a matching gift request. Highlight the impact that matching gifts can have on your nonprofit, especially at no additional cost to donors themselves.
  • Volunteer opportunities. Allow your supporters to give more than just funds to your mission by providing opportunities for them to contribute their time and skills. Volunteers can lend a hand in setting up fundraising events, creating content for your social media posts, translating documents, and much more. Be sure to provide a variety of opportunities that appeal to different interests and talents.
  • Advocacy campaigns. Empower supporters to take a more active role in championing your nonprofit’s mission by asking them to help out with your advocacy efforts. Plan educational sessions and workshops to educate them on everything they need to know to promote your cause.
  • Peer-to-peer fundraisingThese campaigns raise funds while also encouraging supporters to discuss your cause with their friends and family. This process of sharing their personal connection to your organization can not only bring in new donors but also reinforce their own connections.

Ensure that your nonprofit is equipped with all the necessary tools and resources to offer these involvement opportunities.

For example, you might consider investing in matching gift software to maximize the funds you receive from those opportunities. Innovative features, such as matching gift auto-submission, can skyrocket your matching gift revenue by automatically submitting requests on donors’ behalf when they make a gift and enter their corporate email address. Other worthwhile tools to look into include peer-to-peer platforms and volunteer management software.

4. Demonstrate impact.

Donors continue to give to causes they feel are continuously making an impact. Assure supporters that all of their gifts, from their first donation to their most recent, have made a difference. You can do this by:

  • Sharing your beneficiaries’ stories. Many supporters give to nonprofits because they feel an emotional connection with its work. Provide a specific example of how donor support impacts your cause by sharing an impact story. This could be an interview, a video, or a story you crafted based on information your beneficiaries shared with you.
  • Using photographs. A picture is worth a thousand words, so help your supporters envision the difference your nonprofit is making. Capture photos of your beneficiaries, your volunteers at work, or anything else that will inspire your supporters.
  • Providing the data. While hard numbers are less persuasive than emotional stories, they’re still important for establishing transparency and demonstrating that you really are making a tangible difference. In outreach materials like your annual report, dedicate a section to data highlights as well as a full breakdown for those interested in the details.

Demonstrating impact is especially effective if you can communicate how specific campaigns and donations were used. For example, after an animal shelter’s year-end holiday fundraiser, they might share how much everyone who purchased a holiday eCard from them helped raise. The shelter can then highlight that they used these funds to help rescue dogs from spending the winter on the streets and finding them a new home. This example is emotionally touching, presents an opportunity to share photos, and could provide hard numbers about how much was raised and what it accomplished.

5. Note and act on donor lapse red flags.

To build lasting relationships, you need your donors to stick around. While nonprofits primarily focus on identifying donors who are ready to step up their relationship, it’s also important to realize when donors are at risk of lapsing and take steps to prevent it.

Of course, some donor lapse is inevitable, and nonprofits should focus their retention efforts strategically. For instance, NPOInfo’s charitable giving statics report highlights that only 20% of new donors give again after their first gift but 60% more likely to continue giving after their second gift.

Consider these tips to inform your retention strategy:

  • Focus on recurring donors. Recurring donors provide reliable support and have already made it over the hurdles of making a first and second gift. Also, they have the potential to increase their value the longer they give to your nonprofit. If they cut their relationship short, you can’t reach that higher level of reliable giving.
  • Leverage your donor database. Examine your data to identify behavior patterns that indicate a donor is at risk of lapsing. Analytics data can be especially helpful here. Has a donor not opened an email from your nonprofit in the past six months? Not participated in the last several events? Missed a recent monthly donation? Look at behavior from previously lapsed supporters to identify the indicators specific to your nonprofit’s donors.
  • Put together an action plan. This might include giving lapsed donors a personal phone call or reaching out with a unique “We miss you” email. If you can’t persuade a donor to start giving again, you can still use your outreach as an opportunity to ask them why they stopped engaging. You can then use this information to refine your re-engagement plan and prevent other donors from lapsing altogether.

Taking the time to reach out and demonstrate to donors that you care about their involvement goes a long way. Evaluate your action plan over time to identify ways you can improve your communications for better results moving forward.

Donors who stick with your nonprofit for years, or even decades, provide invaluable support. In exchange, all your nonprofit has to do is fulfill your mission, show appreciation, and build relationships with these supporters. Get started by analyzing your donor data to begin crafting your supporter cultivation strategy.

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