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 have ever been moved by a thank you message that begins with “Dear valued donor.” In contrast, it’s far easier to form a connection with a nonprofit that addresses you by name, acknowledges your past contributions, and tailors their 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. For instance, when recognizing a donor, you might thank them for their most recent gift and give an update on a campaign that 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 or see the results of. 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. When you show appreciation to your donors, you not only increase the positive feelings supporters get when they give, but you also emphasize their gift’s impact.

One best practice is to set up an automatic thank-you email after supporters give. Automated messages can be efficient for sending donation receipts or a quick thank you. However, nonprofits looking to build relationships with donors should go a step further with their appreciation. eCardWidget’s donor recognition guide outlines a few simple ways to make your appreciation efforts more personal:

  • 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 a lot 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.

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.

3. Offer a variety of ways to get involved.

It’s difficult for a supporter to build a relationship with a nonprofit if communication is limited to donation requests. While it is important to request donations on a routine basis to increase supporters’ value, make sure you’re sharing a variety of ways to get involved, such as:

  • Events
  • Advocacy campaigns
  • Volunteer opportunities
  • Facility tours
  • Virtual fundraisers
  • Online classes

You can also get supporters involved in your nonprofit and a fundraiser at the same with a peer-to-peer campaign. These 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.

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.

For nonprofits, this means focusing on recurring donors who may be at risk of lapsing. After all, these donors provide reliable support and have already made it over the hurdles of making a first and second gift. Also, recurring donors 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.

Use your donor database to establish 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 past behavior from previously lapsed supporters to identify the indicators specific to your nonprofit for at-risk donors.

Put together an action plan for what to do when you determine a donor is at risk. This might include giving them 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 donating. This information can then be used to improve your re-engagement plan and prevent other donors from lapsing altogether.

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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