How Nonprofits Can Maximize Relationships With Their Constituency

Communication is key. You’ve heard it before, and you’re surely going to hear it again. And while it may be glaringly obvious and overused, there is a reason you’ve heard this didactic little phrase from every teacher, manager or counselor you’ve ever had. Communication is undeniably important. It isn’t just a key; it’s the master key. It unlocks every door, behind which are donor and staff retention, increased fundraising, engaged volunteers and so much more. Let’s get our hands on that key.

Treat your donors and volunteers like customers.

If you talk to any for-profit business leader, they will likely say that customer service is a top priority, if not the top priority, for their business. This line of thinking should not be exclusive to for-profit business models. Nonprofits have customers, too, and it’s important that we keep them satisfied. The customers of your nonprofit are your constituents: your donors, your volunteers and anyone else directly affected by your work. They’re all buying into your mission, or, in business terms, your product. So keep your constituents happy by creating open lines of communication. Check up on them, and let them know you’re always available to talk or answer questions. Unhappy customers will take their business elsewhere. Philanthropists won’t stop giving; they’ll just find somewhere else to give. It’s up to you to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Don’t be condescending.

We’ve all been treated like a Kindergartener in conversation, and it isn’t fun. More often than not, we don’t mean to be rude or condescending. We’re so caught up in doing what we love that we forget to meet people where they’re at. Don’t assume that someone knows all about your organization, even if they’re a donor or volunteer.

If you’re interacting with someone who knows nothing about your work, try putting yourself in their shoes. How would you want to be talked to if you were learning about an organization for the first time? Try to put your organization’s work in simple and relatable terms. Don’t use any confusing jargon or insider language used by you and your staff. Assume they know nothing, and go from there. Remember: it’s better to climb from the ground than fall from the ladder.

Create an elevator pitch.

Your constituents include potential donors and volunteers, too. And while a lot of them may hear about your organization through your website or fundraising campaigns, it’s imperative that you’re able to verbally communicate your mission. Enter: the elevator pitch. An elevator pitch is a 30-60 second spiel which succinctly captures your organization’s purpose. Be specific, be confident, and, most importantly, be quick—after all, the average adult attention span is about eight seconds.

The best elevator pitches are easy to memorize and recite. It’s important not to sound robotic, but if every member of your organization has a stellar elevator pitch, word of mouth will be your best friend. Plus, if someone is particularly impressed by your elevator pitch, they’re more likely to share it with their peers. It’s like nonprofit gossip, which is, of course, the best kind of gossip.

It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day operations of your organization and forget the importance of communication. Just take a step back and imagine you’re on the outside looking in. Communicate clearly, succinctly and with humility. Remember that the customer (your donors and volunteers) is always right. Communication is key, and if you remember these helpful tips, just imagine all the doors you can open.

  • Thank you for the words of wisdom, I couldn’t agree more. I teach all of my NPO coaching clients to create an elevator pitch and the results are remarkable. One thing I would add, is try to make your communication to your constituency more about them and less about you. The more you can describe the outcomes available to your donor, the more likely they are to invest in what your NPO does.