As a professional fundraiser at a growing nonprofit, you likely understand that maintaining a positive reputation and valuing your donor relationships are key components to maximizing success. Simply investing in the wrong tool or sending the wrong email to someone can risk your organization’s standing with a particular donor and cause them not to give again.

With COVID-19 putting a pause on in-person engagements and events, your nonprofit has to work even harder to ensure that nothing slips through the cracks. Fundraising and building relationships from home are now the new norm. Many of your supporters are likely facing hardships of their own and might not be in the best financial position to even make a gift. Overall, your strategies should be shifted to accommodate this.

Navigating this new normal can be a challenge, even for well-developed nonprofit organizations. Relationships are delicate while there’s a bigger focus on virtual fundraising than ever before. A foundation of reliable tools and best practices could prevent you from making long-lasting mistakes.

From optimizing your nonprofit payment process to providing tips on donor communications, this guide will explore tips for preventing the following common mistakes that organizations can make:

  1. Choosing insecure tools
  2. Prioritizing profit over relationships
  3. Focusing on one-time donations
  4. Not showing donor appreciation

Fundraising thrives with dependable and long-lasting relationships. After all, retaining your donors is both more cost-effective and beneficial than acquiring new ones later on. Ready to learn more? Let’s begin. 

1. Choosing insecure tools

Online giving is continually rising in popularity, growing 12.1% throughout 2019. These days, more than half of donors worldwide prefer to pay online, so ensuring your online donation process is optimized and backed by the best tools is crucial. A big mistake would be investing in an insecure tool. 

This is especially true for your nonprofit payment processor. Not every payment tool is the same, and the one you choose can either increase your fundraising or halt it. 

For instance, many organizations use large aggregators like PayPal due to its convenience. However, this can actually cause more problems down the road. While PayPal appears to be an easy and cheap choice, it can also lead to data breaches due to the shared merchant account and other scams.

According to iATS Payments’ article on online fraud protection, it’s recommended that you become familiar with common scams in order to be prepared and prevent them in the future. Here are a couple you should know:

  • ACH Fraud. Your online givers are likely contributing through ACH Debit or Credit. While this is a convenient way to give, scammers have also taken advantage of it. Through phishing or database hacking, scammers can steal a donor’s bank account routing number and make a substantial donation to your nonprofit. Then, they’ll request a refund from both you and the bank where the funds were stolen from. This way, the scammer receives both refunds, and your donors’ finances are compromised.
  • Donation form fraud. While making your donation forms as easy to fill out as possible is convenient and motivates supporters to complete their gift. It also makes the form easy for scammers to manipulate. They simply use online donation forms to test out various stolen credit card numbers, and if one works, they make a large donation and then request a refund.  

Over 92% of donors say it is very important that organizations protect supporter information, so be sure to become familiar with the above scams. You don’t want to risk your relationship and paint your organization in an untrustworthy light. It’s hard to bounce back from this type of reputation.

Now, with a global pandemic putting additional strain on economic conditions and your donors’ finances, maintaining positive relationships with them is more critical than ever. A dedicated, secure payment processing tool is key to securing their trust and their financial support.

When looking for a dedicated payment solution for your online fundraising needs, consider looking for the following:

  • PCI compliance/certification
  • Portable data/exportation capabilities
  • 24/7 security assistance
  • Experience with nonprofits and fundraising

Starting with a secure nonprofit payment processing tool is crucial to develop a fully integrated fundraising system and optimize your internal operations. This way, you know your donors’ data is safe, as well as your relationships with them.

2. Prioritizing profit over relationships

A huge mistake many nonprofit organizations and fundraising leaders make is prioritizing profit and revenue over their relationships with donors.

Yes, financial gifts are likely the primary way your organization conducts actual change and affects your mission. However, placing profit as your main goal can cause you to raise less than if relationship-building was your objective. While reaching out to only solicit donations might get you a lot of one-time donors, it’s unlikely that they’ll give again.

According to Qgiv, donor retention is the key to nonprofit success and provides the foundation for bigger campaigns and increased fundraising revenue. In fact, donor retention is both more cost-effective and beneficial than acquiring new ones. The donors who support you for a long time are also candidates to make large impacts, possibly giving a major gift or planned gift down the line. 

In order to prioritize your donor relationships, consider rethinking your present engagement strategy, especially in light of current events. Your donors are likely not in the best financial position currently, and continuing to send them your regular fundraising asks is not recommended.

Instead, check-in with donors without any fundraising ask, whether via email, phone call, or video chat. This way, you allow your supporters to convey their current communication preferences as well as any other relevant information they want to share. 

It’s often found that your passionate supporters still want to help, even if they can’t financially give. A good idea is to provide non-monetary ways to give. For instance, send your donors volunteer opportunities or requests for in-kind donations. Fundraising trends come and go, but donor relationships should always be a top priority. 

3. Focusing on one-time donations

Focusing on one-time donations is an easy way for nonprofits to feel like they’re raising a lot of money and accomplishing their mission. However, one-time contributions should not be the goal for your fundraising campaigns. 

As you host more campaigns and events, these one-time gifts begin to lose value due to the cost of acquiring new donors and of other fundraising efforts.

Instead, start prioritizing recurring giving. A focus on recurring giving sets the foundation for long-term success and donor retention. Consider even creating a dedicated recurring giving program. All you need to do is invite some of your supporters, and then continue to engage with them each month (or some other time increment) to remind them of their pledged support and to let them know of their impact. 

By implementing a recurring gifts program, you can receive the following benefits:

  • Consistent support for your organization, helping you better plan future campaigns and predict revenue. Monthly giving programs’ retention rates only get stronger over time.
  • More money over time, as according to Network for Good’s donation data, the average recurring donor will give 42% more than one-time donors over a whole year.
  • Engagements with younger donors, as they might not be able to give a large gift at once. In fact, 52% of millennials are more interested in monthly giving than other ways of support.
  • Increased lifetime value! According to fundraising expert Dr. Adrian Sargeant, a 10% improvement of donor retention can result in a 200% increase for donor lifetime value.

Additionally, offering recurring giving options can be more financially-beneficial for your donors. With the economy being so turbulent, some of your supporters will likely rather give smaller amounts each month instead of one large gift. This can even result in a larger donation over time than what was originally intended! In the end, if you’re not offering supporters recurring gift options, you’re likely missing out on donations.

4. Not showing donor appreciation

No matter what kind of organization you are or the type of supporters you have, a huge mistake is not showing donor appreciation. After all, your donors are the most important players for your mission. 

With a global pandemic causing many unprecedented disruptions to not only your nonprofit but also your donors’ lives, showing donor appreciation is more imperative than ever. 

In order to make sure your donors know how much their support means during this time and for future efforts, consider these best practices:

  • Automate all thank you emails to be sent as soon as a gift is made. 
  • Consider making a phone call for your most passionate supporters.
  • If you recently hosted a large campaign, host a celebratory event (in-person or virtual) where you invite those donors as a token of appreciation.
  • Along with an appreciation email, make sure to send additional updates on their gifts’ impact and your overall campaign. In fact, one of the common reasons that donors don’t give again is because they don’t know how their previous donations were used.

Ensuring that your first donors receive thank you letters also kick starts your relationship with them and sets you up for future engagements. If you’re having trouble with coming up with the perfect way to thank your donors, check out this resource of fundraising appreciation letters organized by different organization types.

Fundraising is tricky, even without a global pandemic causing you to pivot strategies and putting a strain on donor relationships. No matter what, a good school of thought is to always put your donors as a priority, whether it’s to protect their information or build better relationships with them. 

Hopefully, this guide has helped you understand the key mistakes to avoid and helps you set up the foundation for organization and fundraising growth. Good luck!