Your donors are the most important asset your non-profit has. Without your donors, you can’t pay for programs, you can’t offer services, you can’t keep the lights on. That’s why building great donor relationships is so important… without your donors, you don’t have a non-profit!
If your non-profit focuses on building strong donor relationships, then your fundraising program will succeed. You’ll turn more of the prospects you meet into first-time givers, and you’ll turn more first-time givers into lifelong supporters. It’s that simple.
Here are the 5 best ways to build better donor relationships for your non-profit:
#1: Communicate with Your Donors Often
It’s nearly impossible to over-communicate with your donors, as long as you are sending lots of non-ask communications. If you want to build great donor relationships, you need to be communicating with your donors frequently. At a minimum, you should be sending out 3 non-ask communications for every ask you make. Many non-profits do much more.
Your e-mail newsletter should be the backbone of your donor communication system. Beyond that, you have a menu of choices: snail mail newsletters, your annual report, stewardship reports, social media messages, website updates, phone calls, donor visits… pick a few to focus on, and communicate with your donors often!
#2: Listen to Your Donors
It’s hard to build great donor relationships if you’re doing all of the talking. If you want your donors to feel like an integral part of your team, you need to listen to them as well. This means that when you call or visit your donors, you should be asking lots of questions and letting them talk. When sending out e-mails and newsletters, be sure to include surveys, polls, and questionnaires. Let your supporters know you value what they think.
When it comes to your major donors, one of the best things you can do is ask them for their advice. Just because you ask for advice doesn’t mean you have to follow it. But by asking your major donors for advice (over the phone, Zoom, or in-person) you show that you appreciate them for more than just their wallets.
#3: Ask for More Than Just Money
Speaking of appreciating your donors for more than just their wallets, be sure that you are asking your donors for more than just money. Nothing builds donor relationships faster than having your donors involved with your non-profit in lots of different ways.
In addition to the aforementioned advice, you can also ask your donors to volunteer, or to serve on a committee, or to be part of a social media team that shares and likes your social media posts. Be creative… there are hundreds of ways your supporters can be involved with your non-profit!
#4: Recognize Your Donors
People don’t like to admit it, but everybody likes to be recognized for the good that they do. Scratch that itch by offering your donors plenty of thanks and recognition for their support.
Donor recognition can take many forms: you can thank donors in your e-mail and snail mail newsletters, in your annual reports, at your events, on a donor wall, and in your press releases. Be sure to always get your donors’ permission before you recognize them publicly. Recognizing your supporters helps build strong donor relationships by showing your donors that you value everything they do for you.
#5: Pick Up the Phone
One of the most underutilized tools in the fundraising world is the telephone. In my experience, most fundraisers prefer to e-mail or write donors… and when it comes to personal contact, they think about donor visits before they think about picking up the phone and calling supporters.
Phone calls are a great way to build strong donor relationships because they add a personal touch without requiring your donor to get dressed up, serve you coffee, or do any of the other things they do during an in person visit (or a Zoom call). Call your donors without asking them for a gift. Instead, give them an update on your work, ask how they are doing, and thank them for their continued support. Sure, you can and should make asks during donor calls, but be sure you’re also calling your donors just to cultivate and steward them.
Building Donor Relationships Requires Consistency
One final point: building great donor relationships requires consistency. If you send out an e-mail newsletter here and there and call some donors every once and awhile, that’s not going to build the kind of lifelong relationships with your donors that you’re hoping for. Instead, commit to building donor cultivation and stewardship programs that are consistent and donor-focused, and your donors will stick with you for the long haul.