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  • How to Develop Your Donor Relationships: 4 Best Practices

If you help run a nonprofit or another charitable organization, you know how important your donors are. Donors are not only essential to drive specific campaigns to success, but for general support as well. Having active, positive relationships with your donors ensures you have a better chance of bringing awareness to your nonprofit’s mission and gather resources in order to help your community.

Your relationships and engagements with your donors should be a top priority, especially if you’re reviewing best strategies and you want to increase fundraising. It is easier to retain existing donors than attract new ones.

Your donor relationships are some of the most important ones your nonprofit will ever have. Don’t miss out on these opportunities! Nonprofits are concerned with donor engagement and retention more than ever. Work on developing those relationships and make sure your donors think about you when they’re feeling charitable.

handshake showing donor relationship

1. Optimize Your Donor Communication

Let’s start with the basics. Getting to know your donors doesn’t stop after you learn their names and how much they want to give to your cause. You should have a donor database which effectively compiles pertinent information for you. This way, your fundraising team has accurate donor data readily available before they send off any emails or other messages to donors.

Personalizing your communications is extremely important, and can go a long way. If anything, just adding the donor’s name to your nonprofit’s communications can reduce the risk of them deleting it because they assume it is junk that does not apply to them.

Don’t waste your fundraising team’s time by having them send emails with content that’s not applicable or even likely to catch the receiver’s attention. This makes your nonprofit look unprofessional and spammy, while also slightly annoying your supporters with communications they just don’t care about.

Donor retention tends to be more important than donor acquisition. Work on improving your already established communications with existing donors rather than continuing to reach out to new ones. Keep these certain metrics in mind when considering how to personalize a message:

      • Recent donations. Keeping track of when your donors donate and how much they donate is an important metric that your donor database should have. This way, you can personally thank those donors, and even let them know how their contribution has helped. Donors will love knowing what you did with their donation and it is a great way to engage them while keeping up a positive relationship. Send photos from a successful fundraiser or include a personal story of the impact. Additionally, tracking this metric prevents you from looking ungrateful by accidentally asking a donor for more too soon after they’ve just given.
      • Type of donations. How each donor donates can also be a key way to personalize communications. For example, if a donor has opted in to become a recurring donor, you can tailor some of your communications to them. This lets donors know that you recognize their contribution and appreciate them.

Personalizing your communications can be done with a capable donor database. Read on to learn how you can further target your donor communications and even increase fundraising.

Also read: 8 Tips to Improve Your Fundraising Report

2. Host Events to Engage Your Donors

Donors, while being your nonprofit’s supporters, are also your mini fundraisers. After participating in an engaging and rewarding fundraising event, donors will tell others with simple word of mouth about your cause as well as post on social media!

To get your donors excited about a new fundraiser, ask your donors or review your donor data analytics to find out what kind of events they’d want to get involved with. It can be a waste of time to host an event if most of your donors wouldn’t be interested in attending. Planning events your donors actually care about encourages them to not only participate, but to tell their own friends and family about them, too.

It’s common for donors to get excited about fundraisers which they can actively participate in. For example, events hosted as part of broader peer-to-peer or crowdfunding campaigns engage your donors and supporters by encouraging them to share the fundraiser with their own networks. By posting their own personalized peer-to-peer donation page or the general crowdfunding donation on social media, donors are supporting your nonprofit while also spreading the word to others.

Keep up your donor relationships by involving them in events they are actively interested in and can engage with in positive ways.

3. Show Donor Appreciation

This is always one consistent simple way which helps develop donor relationships—saying thank you!

Sending a thank you email shows your donors that you appreciate their support, whether it was a physical gift or their personal time. Each and every donor and volunteer has made a difference and should be thanked properly.

By not acknowledging a donor’s gift, you are risking them feeling unappreciated and like their donation was not important. This risks them turning to another nonprofit which actively reminds them that their donation goes to a meaningful cause.

There are methods beyond sending a quick email which can show donors and volunteers that their support is invaluable. What are ways your nonprofit can show your appreciation?

      • Thank you emails and letters. Depending on your donor’s preference, you should always send some sort of thank you email or even a physical letter. This should be done right after a donation is made and highlight the exact amount given and what it is going to be used for. This is also a great opportunity to highlight other opportunities like corporate matching gifts.
      • T-shirts and other branded merchandise. One thing people will always appreciate is a free t-shirt. Shirts or some other form of merchandise can show donors and volunteers that you genuinely appreciate their help. Creating a nonprofit t shirt is easier to design and order than one might think, so it can be a convenient way to give back. Plus, your nonprofit brand can gain some positive exposure if your supporters wear merch.
      • Shoutouts in nonprofit newsletters. Your nonprofit should be releasing some sort of monthly or other consistent newsletter wrapping up recent accomplishments and announcing upcoming fundraising events. People support your nonprofit because they believe in your cause, so make sure you have some sort of medium to talk about how you’re impacting the mission. Give shoutouts to high impact donors in order to further show appreciation.
      • Thank you events. If a recent fundraiser raised an incredible amount of money and surpassed expectations, hosting an event to thank your supporters and nonprofit staff is a great way to show your appreciation. You can also use this event as a platform to personally thank the key people involved.

Your donors already give so much to you, whether it is a physical gift or just their time. Make sure you step back and remember to give back to them as well. If you’re still lost, other thank you gift ideas can be found here.

Also read: Boost Year End Giving: 19 Tips for Your Holiday Party!

4. Leverage Prospect Research

Developing donor relationships doesn’t just mean improving them—it also helps your nonprofit fundraising team gather more data points and engagement metrics in order to identify donors and others in the community who may be able to make a high impact for your cause. This is called prospect research. By partaking in prospect research strategies, you can highlight those who might become major donors, as well as make the ask in a respectable way.

Most of your nonprofit revenue likely comes from a relatively small segment of your donors. This means that gifts from major donors make up a large portion of your success. Make sure your donor database is accurate and up-to-date and look into prospect research tools that can screen for:

      • Wealth indicators consisting of real estate ownership, business affiliations, and stock ownership.
      • Philanthropic indicators consisting of past donations to your nonprofit and others, a personal relationship to your cause, and political giving.

Not every prospect research tool is equipped to evaluate both wealth metrics as well as philanthropic acts. However, tools with a more comprehensive scope are heavily encouraged.

This way you can better judge your donors’ giving affinity (how likely they are to be charitable) and giving capacity (if they have the means to be charitable). Donors with high giving affinity and high giving capacity have a better likelihood of becoming major donors, so don’t miss out. If you want to learn more, check out Donor Search’s donor’s affinity to give.

Finding the best donor prospects within your database depends on your existing relationships with your supporters. Make sure you take the right steps to ensure that your relationship development is on the right track and is purely positive. Additionally, the more you engage with your donors, the better your prospect research tool can evaluate them. That way, after you do identify potential major donors, you already have a solid donor relationship which you can then work off of.

As a nonprofit, working to better your donor relationships is never going to be a waste of time. Consider these 4 best practices and watch your nonprofit support grow and even raise fundraising revenue at the same time. Good luck!

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About the author:

Sarah Tedesco is the Executive Vice President of DonorSearch, a prospect research and wealth screening company that focuses on proven philanthropy. Sarah is responsible for managing the production and customer support department concerning client contract fulfillment, increasing retention rate and customer satisfaction. She collaborates with other team members on a variety of issues including sales, marketing and product development ideas.

Sarah Tedesco

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