Your organization’s mission is the foundation upon which you build every part of your nonprofit. At its core is a consortium of individuals working towards a common outcome; cultivating and strengthening this community is critical to the growth of serving your cause.
Anytime you bring a new donor into the fold is cause for celebration — they’ve never before had such a wide range of nonprofits vying for their support. But making the leap from a donor who is engaged only around major campaigns during the course of the year to one who’s engaged year-round? That is what nonprofits (yours included) aspire to.
This month we offer some ideas on how to get your donors down the path of involving them 365 days a year.
MAKE SURE YOU’RE GETTING THE FUNDAMENTALS RIGHT
Before you start thinking about sustaining engagement over a calendar year, ask yourself, ‘Am I doing the obvious things first?’:
- Are your donors being thanked for their gifts, regardless of the size?
- How quickly are you thanking them?
- Are you thanking AND welcoming first-time donors?
- Are you taking an active interest in them? (One easy way to show interest….follow them or their organizations on social media. You’d be surprised at how much they appreciate the gesture.)
- Are you properly segmenting your donor base by key characteristics — the first step in properly personalizing your communications to donors?
Abila Inc., a leading provider of software and services to nonprofits, recently conducted a donor engagement study that brought some interesting feedback regarding donor opinions on personalization from nonprofits:
CREATE A RELATIONSHIP THAT BENEFITS BOTH YOUR CAUSE AND THE DONOR
To successfully engage donors, you need to have donors with the capacity to want to be involved — either organically or with a little friendly convincing. Posture your communications with them as a way they can help with the lifting to make a bigger impact than ever before.
Like any personal relationship, a worthwhile one requires constant attention and effort. Think of the important relationships in your life; you respect the ones you love, you appreciate how they enhance your life and ease your troubles, and you’d do anything to reciprocate what they’ve given you. That’s the exact same perspective you should have towards your donor community. Your goal should be an honest, mutually-beneficial relationship….one that motivates donors to become more personally invested in your outcomes. And with that level of personal investment, care to guess the natural next step from a donor? That’s right — more frequent (and oftentimes higher-level) giving!
NOT EVERY COMMUNICATION HAS TO BE A SALES PITCH
Make an intentional decision to rally your donors around your mission — not just through fundraising but through a series of communications and actions that appeal to your donors. There are many creative directions you can take this:
- A ‘Welcome to Our Family’ donor orientation-onboarding program
- A donor advisory committee
- Sending them monthly impact reports
- Hosting in-person or virtual open houses or coffee hours
- Networking events where your donors can meet each other and discuss partnership opportunities that may benefit them both
- Send surveys every now and again, soliciting feedback on what your donors think about your organization and its programs
- If you ever feel the need to focus-group, make sure your donors have a strong presence at that table.
Perhaps appeal to the environmentally-conscious in your donor community by calling out any sustainable practices that you employ in your work (going paperless, saving energy, recycling, etc.). Or perhaps a challenge (2014’s Ice Bucket Challenge boosted ALS Association annual funding by 187%) to raise awareness, money or volunteerism could be appropriate for your organization. Or think of something EVERYONE loves and build a campaign around it. One of our United Way clients had much success with a Cutest Pet Contest as a Workplace Giving campaign.
Don’t fall victim to today’s ‘I need it now’ culture of instant gratification. Sustainable donor engagement is a slow, living, breathing process of personal nurturing and commitment — of them to your cause, and of you to them. A loyal donor community does not just happen; it takes years to mold, shape and care for.
NO MATTER WHAT TIME OF YEAR — NEVER STOP THANKING YOUR DONORS
Put your ‘donor’ hat on (something we always say should be a cornerstone) and think about how you’d like to be treated by family, friends, colleagues, your employer….and add the nonprofits you support to that list. Not many gestures are as meaningful as saying a simple ‘thank you.’ And so many ways to say it — a short phone call, a handwritten note, a quick email or video message (homemade or professionally-produced — as long as it’s authentic). Remember the impact of personalization here, as these are great opportunities to add a sentiment about a donor’s favorite hobby, a family member, etc. Like in any relationship, showing your earnest appreciation for them will make them feel even better about their gift, and it will buoy trust and loyalty — going a long way towards achieving that top-tier nonprofit-donor dynamic.
Furthermore, think of fitting actions executable throughout the year that revolve around your donor. Maybe a special ‘Donor Spotlight’ profile and recognition piece in your newsletter-email campaign series, and other tiered benefits for support levels. This may be a place you can upsell donors with branded and tiered Memberships with benefits such as exclusive newsletters and events, VIP experiences to your public events, networking occasions (mentioned earlier in this blog), and tasteful gifts and mementos.
DON’T WAIT TO MAKE A SUSTAINING ASK TO FIRST-TIME DONORS
The optimal time to ask for another donation is immediately after a first gift. A follow-up ask such as this is a natural extension of a strong donor stewardship philosophy — while your cause is still top-of-mind with your donor. Chances are they’re still smiling about the difference their donation has made for those you serve. Send a personalized sustaining support ask within three (3) weeks of the initial gift….but after you thank them for their initial gift, focus the content on THEM; ask them to tell you a little about themselves, why your work is important to them, and what part of your organization they would like to hear about. They may respond with a touching story from their lives that makes your cause so near and dear to them. People love sharing stories about themselves; it’s part of any successful relationship. Give them a chance to do just that.
Never forget to think like a donor, and remember….their support isn’t about you, but rather what VALUE you’re getting from their support.
SOCIAL MEDIA CAN HELP YOU DECIDE WHERE TO TAKE YOUR CONTENT
Social media is an easy and inexpensive way to stay engaged with not only your donor community, but those in the periphery who may be interested in supporting as well. Use content that you upload onto your social media platforms to help steer the direction of your overall communication. In fact, you can set up automated emails to donors within hours of mentions they’ve made on social media — which only helps drive home their importance to you.
Another way to leverage social media to extend engagement: create a special group/room/chat where members can engage in dialogue, consume news that you put out, and create new avenues of involvement.
Lastly, don’t be afraid to ASK YOUR DONORS for their counsel on how they want to engage. Solicit their thoughts, opinions and advice. Hearing it straight from the horse’s mouth will alleviate the problems that come along with guessing or incorrect assumptions.