Tips to Successful Fundraising: Put Donors First

Donors lay the framework for sustaining your nonprofit. You can’t do much of anything without them—they give your organization the strong foundation that it needs to build upon. But once you have a solid network of donors, how do you keep them?

Maeve Strathy is a Fundraising Strategist for Blakely and the creator of her own fundraising blog, What Gives Philanthropy. With ample experience under her belt, Strathy has figured out a key to successful donor retention strategies in the nonprofit sector.

“It’s, in a nutshell, about focusing on the needs of the donor before the needs of your organization,” Strathy said. That means that your decisions shouldn’t simply revolve around what’s most cost-effective. First and foremost, you should do what benefits your donors, Strathy said. Having a “put donors first” mindset will do a lot for your fundraisingthey’ll put you first, too.

With that in mind, Strathy shared some helpful tips with us on how to give donors priority when developing an effective retention strategy.

Add Some Personality

You should be having one-on-one communication with your donors as much as you can. Strathy said that nonprofits should make a point to call at least one donor every day. Personal touches with donor interactions are immensely worthwhile. It’s not only meaningful, but it does wonders for donor retention.

For major donors, you have to opportunity to get creative. Strathy explained an instance where she was working on thanking a major donor who didn’t like events. Instead, the team put together a scrapbook of different ways the donor had helped the organization. “It took time and resources, but it’s what the donor really wanted,” she said.

Embrace Complaints

One of your biggest donor obstacles is posed when donors are less than impressed with your organization. How do you overcome it? Do you pursue those dissatisfied donors, or do you move on and set your sights somewhere else?

Strathy had some great insight on how to handle dissatisfied donors. “You want to pay a lot of attention to those people who call you, even if it’s to complain,” she said. “They want to be acknowledged, heard and they want you to listen.”

Despite coming from a place of complaint, dissatisfied donors hold a lot of importance for you and your nonprofit. If one of your donors has had something bad happen to them and they make the effort to tell you about it, it shows how invested they are in your organization. So what’s the next step? Here are some of Strathy’s tips on managing discontent:

  1. Start out by listening; hear out their complaints.
  2. Make a point to apologize on behalf of your organization.
  3. Take this as an opportunity to further engage this donorfigure out what has gone wrong and consult them about how you can fix it.

Show Some Gratitude

You can never go wrong with showing a little gratitude. Make sure donors know how important they areyou can’t do your work without them. “Let your donors know how critical they are to your success,” Strathy said.

For Strathy, handwritten notes are one of the best ways for nonprofits to thank their donors. No matter their length, hand-written notes are a simple way to express sincere and authentic gratitude to your contributors.

“The key is to write for them,” Strathy said. When you’re writing thank-yous on behalf of an institution, it’s easy for your voice to end up sounding extra professional. Instead, Strathy advises to maintain personality in your writing. “Imagine writing your grandma a letter; you wouldn’t write it the same.” Being authentic goes a long way for donors. It forms more genuine connections with your audience, which will pave the way for longer-lasting donor relationships.

Originally published 3.31.16—Updated 10.13.17