Maintaining Long-Term Donor Relationships: 5 Tips

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Attracting new donors to your cause is hard. While marketing campaigns are a core part of every nonprofit’s donor outreach strategy, they are both time-consuming and expensive. This is why it’s so important for nonprofits to steward and retain the donors that they’ve already gained, making the most of their marketing investments. 

Converting new supporters into recurring donors helps your nonprofit establish more reliable revenue streams and can lead to increased support as the relationship progresses. While some new donors may make large initial contributions, many of them will need to develop a connection with your nonprofit over time before more significantly investing in your cause.

Fortunately, your nonprofit can lay the groundwork for and continue to maintain these relationships with the right donor cultivation strategies.

To help your nonprofit build donor relationships that will last for many years to come, consider implementing these tips:

  1. Personalize communication. 
  2. Show your appreciation. 
  3. Offer multiple engagement opportunities. 
  4. Use prospect research tools. 
  5. Track interactions. 

Donors offer their support for a wide range of reasons, but many of them want similar things out of their relationship with nonprofits. With the right appreciation and engagement strategies, donor data tracking, and donor management tools, you can make informed decisions about each of your supporters throughout their entire donor journey, helping to facilitate fulfilling, lifelong relationships. Let’s get started. 

1. Personalize communication.

Messages that greet your supporters with “Dear Donor” feel impersonal and do little to demonstrate your nonprofit’s investment in that donor relationship. By contrast, personalizing your messages encourages increased engagement and can help supporters feel more connected to your organization. 

Of course, your nonprofit likely doesn’t have the time or resources to individually write and send unique messages to all of your supporters. Fortunately, there are messaging tools your nonprofit can use to automate several key communication processes. 

For instance, CharityEngine’s guide to nonprofit CRMs highlights how CRM solutions with a communication component can allow nonprofits to stay in touch with donors and closely monitor relationships by connecting outreach responses to individual donor profiles. Specifically, CharityEngine recommends looking for a CRM that provides custom communication tools for:

  • Email campaigns. Email is the most popular nonprofit communication tool and has a high customization potential. Create message templates and then use your CRM to populate them with personalized information about your supporters, including their name, references to their past engagements, how long they’ve supported your nonprofit, and more. 
  • Direct mail marketing. Direct mail may be slower than online communication, but it can feel more meaningful. Use your messaging tools to create personalized letters just like you would an email, then send them to supporters, giving them a physical reminder of your nonprofit to hang on to. 
  • Automated messages. Certain actions should result in automatic emails to your supporters. This includes event registrations, volunteer sign-ups, and, most importantly, donations. Make sure these messages are personalized to address supporters by name. You can also get even more personal with your donation messages by creating unique emails for different types of donors, such as recurring donors and major donors. 

By using all of these methods, you can connect with donors on multiple channels, maximizing engagement potential. Receiving personalized messages on several different platforms will make your nonprofit more memorable to supporters, helping to build up brand recognition, and convince new supporters to stick around and current supporters to continue giving.

2. Show your appreciation. 

One of the simplest but most effective ways to build strong relationships with donors is to show your appreciation. Regularly saying “thank you” helps your donors feel acknowledged and lets them know that their gifts are making a difference. 

You can show your appreciation in a number of ways, including:

  • Thank-you emails. A thank-you email delivered immediately after a donation both confirms that the donation was received and allows your nonprofit to establish connections with donors quickly. 
  • Handwritten letters. Signed and handwritten letters feel more impactful than automated emails. Recruit your volunteers to hand-write letters, then ask board members or your fundraising leaders to sign them. 
  • Phone calls. For larger donations, it may be more appropriate to show your appreciation through a phone call than an email alone. These conversations don’t need to be long but should be conducted within 24 hours of when the donation was made. 
  • Donor appreciation events. Invite your donors to get together and celebrate their connection to your cause. This can help build a community around your nonprofit, leading to continued engagement and long-term support. 
  • Donor spotlights. Highlight specific donors’ contributions with spotlights on your website, social media, newsletter, or other channels. Just make sure you get your donors’ permission first!
  • Donor walls. For your major donors, it can be a wise investment to make a more permanent gesture of appreciation. Donor walls are monuments to your donors that celebrate them by listing their names on a long-lasting wall display. 

Consider implementing a few or all of these strategies. After all, while some donors stop giving due to a lack of appreciation, it’s near-impossible to ever say “thank you” too much, especially if each gesture is personalized to your generous supporters.

3. Offer multiple engagement opportunities.

Supporters feel connected to nonprofits that they can engage with on multiple levels. If you only ever reach out to your supporters to ask for donations, the focus of your relationships will start to become more about constant monetary transactions and less about your cause. 

Diversify your supporter engagements by providing them with a variety of ways to get involved outside of donating, such as:

  • Advocacy campaigns. Advocacy campaigns help your nonprofit advance your mission while also giving supporters a new way to get involved. Provide your supporters with educational materials about your campaign, encourage them to spread the word to friends and family, and even inspire them to reach out to their elected officials. 
  • Events. In-person, hybrid, and virtual events are opportunities to get your supporters together and engage them in fun activities related to your mission. These events can be fundraisers, such as auctions and galas, or just casual community get-togethers to foster closer support relationships and allow them to support your cause at no extra cost. 
  • Volunteering. Some supporters may also be interested in donating a few hours of their week to your nonprofit, as well. Offer donors a variety of volunteer opportunities so they can find a role that fits with their interests. Plus, some of your donors may be eligible for volunteer grants, helping your nonprofit earn even more without forcing your supporters to reach back into their wallets. 

Offering a wide range of engagement opportunities will allow your nonprofit to keep all of your supporters connected to your cause. For example, a formal gala will likely be highly appealing to a small group of major donors, but a causal 5K event can be just as effective at helping your nonprofit connect with different supporter segments, such as local donors in your community.

4. Use prospect research tools.

While your nonprofit should strive to build relationships with all donors, some of your supporters may be worth an extra investment. These supporters can be converted into becoming recurring donors, planned donors, and even major donors with a dedicated cultivation effort. 

You can identify these donors with prospecting researching tools. Double the Donation’s prospect research guide explains that there are two major data points to collect when using prospect research tools:

  • Philanthropic indicators. Philanthropic indicators show how likely your supporters are to give. They include information such as previous donations to both your nonprofit and other charitable organizations, as well as advocacy and volunteer work. 
  • Wealth indicators. Wealth indicators can help you determine a supporter’s capacity to give. Property ownership, political contributions, and business relationships are all wealth indicators and can help you personalize your fundraising strategy. For example, if you have several donors with connections to the same business, you may be able to pitch an employee engagement program to that business.

You can collect this information in a number of ways. For example, your donation forms can provide basic insight into your donors, such as their names and addresses. This information can be used in combination with prospect research tools to discover if any wealth or philanthropic indicators apply to your supporters.

5. Track interactions.

Long-term donor relationships can span decades, making it vital that your nonprofit has a method for tracking interactions and donor data. Your donor management tools should allow you to document each touch point you make with supporters on their donor journey, enabling you to ask for increased support at the most opportune moment. 

Your CRM can be used to record a variety of information about your donors, including key data such as:

  • Event attendance. Some supporters may be more interested in specific event types than others. For example, your athletic supporters may consistently participate in 5Ks, walk-a-thons, and other outdoors activities, while your supporters who live outside of your community may exclusively attend virtual events. 
  • Campaigns supported. Take note of which fundraisers your supporters have participated in. Some donors may support fundraisers for specific initiatives while others might prefer different campaign types, such as peer-to-peer or event fundraisers. With this information, you can send targeted messages about upcoming campaigns that will appeal to specific donors. 
  • Retention risks. You can maintain strong donor relationships by looking for retention risks and intervening before their support lapses. Retention risks include recurring donors missing a contribution, donors not engaging with several emails in a row, and supporters unsubscribing from your newsletter. 

For your most important major donors, be sure to make note of smaller interactions you take in your relationship. In your donor profiles, make note of phone calls, conversations at events, email exchanges, and other details that can help you determine how invested they are in your cause. Then, once you have a solid relationship established, you can begin planning your fundraising appeal.

Donor relationships should be at the core of your nonprofit’s fundraising strategy. By maintaining strong relationships, you can retain donors for years, earning consistent fundraising support and setting your nonprofit up to earn more substantial donations down the line. 

Make an effort to connect with donors on multiple levels with gestures of appreciation and engagement opportunities. Then, use your donor management tools to record these interactions so your team can take a data-driven approach to supporter relationships. 

Author Philip Schmitz – CEO & Founder

Philip Schmitz is the CEO and founder of cloud-services leader BIS Global, creators of the CharityEngine fundraising & communications technology platform. Founded in 1999, Phil has managed the vision and strategy for BIS’s suite of integrated business applications & hosting tools used by more than 400 businesses & non-profits.

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