Your donor communications are an integral part of your fundraising program. Things like newsletters, annual reports, holiday cards and e-mail updates form the backbone of your donor cultivation and stewardship efforts.
Far too often, nonprofit communications programs are built haphazardly, without putting a real system in place for communicating with donors and prospects over the long term. Don’t make this mistake! The way you talk with your donors will have a direct impact on your relationship with them, and on their willingness to give to your organization.
Here are three simple guidelines for success as you build a nonprofit communications system for your organization:
#1: Separate Asks and Non-Asks
When you communicate with your donors, don’t mix messages. Let your asks be asks and your non-asks be non-asks. Many nonprofits include asks in their cultivation and donor stewardship mailings, doing things like putting a donation envelope in with their newsletters or asking for donations in the cover letter that goes out with their annual reports. Doing so will result in fewer gifts and a weaker relationship with your supporters.
When you mix messages, you make your communications weaker. When you send out an ask as part of your annual report package, or along with your monthly newsletter, it is a very weak ask. Because you are not laser-focused on building a case for why the recipient should donate (and then asking them to do so), an ask that is part of a cultivation mailing will underperform a stand-alone ask.
By the same token, because the donor sees the ask (or the envelope), he or she will see the mailing as a fundraising piece, and you will lose the benefit of sending a communication that is 100%-focused on cultivation and relationship-building. Thus, you’ll raise less money than if you had sent a stand-alone fundraising appeal but won’t reap the benefits of sending a stand-alone cultivation piece. It’s a lose / lose proposition.
When building out your nonprofit communications program, send out asks that are true asks, and cultivation mailings that are focused solely on relationship-building. In the end, both will be stronger.
#2: Cultivate and Ask Through the Same Mediums
Another key rule for your nonprofit communications is to try to cultivate your donors through the same mediums you use to ask them for money, and vice versa. I have found that if you are asking for money through postal mail, but not sending non-ask / cultivation pieces through postal mail, your return will be less. This is because your donors will start to see letters and mailings from you as just asks, rather than as a part of an overall relationship with your organization.
The same is true for e-mail and every other ask mechanism available to your organization. If you are sending out e-mail newsletters, be sure to send out e-mail appeal letters as well. If you are asking your major donors for money in-person, you should also be meeting with them in-person to steward them, without making an ask.
#3: Create a Nonprofit Communications Calendar
When it comes to donor communications, most organizations fall at one of two extremes: either they never communicate with their donors (except to send an annual appeal letter), or they are communicating with their donors too much (often through e-mail blasts). Both situations arise when nonprofits don’t have a comprehensive communications calendar guiding their efforts.
Every organization should create a calendar to guide their nonprofit communications efforts. This calendar should detail all of the mass communications that donors will receive each year, including both ask and non-ask mailings and e-mails. Creating a calendar for your donor communications program will ensure that your donors get the right mix of cultivation and asks each year in a way that makes sense for your organization. To learn more about how to create a calendar for your organization, read The Power of a Donor Communications Calendar.
Photo Credit: Dom Pates