How to Fan the Flames of Donor Loyalty in 2016 and Beyond

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Nobody likes a break-up. But relationships, including the ones you have with your donors, don’t survive well on autopilot. Even the best, most natural relationships require time, attention and a little TLC in order to grow and thrive beyond the initial honeymoon stage.

In other words, you may be great at wooing and winning over donors. But if you don’t cultivate a relationship with them that lasts beyond their first gift, you may find yourself with a revolving door on your donor database.

You can go to great lengths to perfect your ask and craft impactful appeal letters, but when it comes right down to it, relationship building is the essence of fundraising. Good relationships are going to keep people around for the long haul and secure repeat donations. Here’s the good news: Every member of your team knows how to build relationships—with friends, co-workers and family members. The magic happens when you transfer good relationship-building skills over to your prospects and donors.

I know you know this, but sometimes it just needs to be said again: Your donors are not ATM machines. And fundraising is more than just making a pitch and collecting money. Donors resent just being treated like walking checkbooks; most want to be partners in your mission. You’re looking at a new year with new opportunities to grow and nurture great donor relationships—now’s the perfect time to switch your focus from their bank accounts to building better rapport.

Here’s your pathway to better donor relationships in 2016.

Stay in Touch

I can’t emphasize how important this is. Did you know that most donors read half or less of the communications you send? Not because they don’t care. They’re just simply busy. Or they get distracted. That’s why it’s crucial that you stay on your donors’ radar and keep communication lines open. Emails are effective, but don’t stop there. Handwritten notes are unexpected, so may make a bigger impact. Direct mail is tactile and can’t be deleted with a click. A quick phone call could leave a lasting impression and draw someone in who doesn’t feel connected yet. Explore all avenues of communication, and then get creative and personable. Remember—you’re the driver of your donor relationships. They won’t last without your investment.

Talk to Donors About What They Care About

Don’t let your nonprofit be that annoying guy at a party—the one who only talks about himself. Many nonprofits don’t talk to their donors often enough, and when they do, they tend to talk too much about themselves rather than the people they’re serving or the donors themselves.

Here’s the thing: Your donor cares more about who you’re impacting and how her gift is helping than she cares about your organization’s new facility or your methods. Tell stories, yes, but keep them focused on what’s important to her. How are lives being changed and her dollars being used? She wants to know she’s making a difference. So talk to her about that. Look at your last year’s newsletters and communications. How did you do in keeping the conversation donor-centric? If your organization seems to be the star of the show in most of your communication, think about changing that this year.

Ask for Advice—Really

What most of us want to do is cut to the chase and ask for money—any other extraneous chitchat can feel like a waste of time or unnecessary conversation. But asking donors for input and feedback, or discussing their priorities, interests and values isn’t beating around the bush; it’s building a relationship.

Think about the way you communicate with your closest friends and family members. It’s a two-way street, right? Back and forth. There’s conversation and interaction. That’s what you want your donor relationships to ultimately look like. But you’re unlikely to get that far if you immediately pitch them for money. It’s okay to take time to get to know them and what they’re passionate about. In fact, it’s preferable if you want them to stick around beyond one gift.

Go Beyond “Thank You”

Of course, you want to show gratitude (and if you haven’t been, that’s the first place to start). But don’t stop there. You can do better than sending a templated thank-you note or a receipt for their tax records. Get more personal and tell your donors exactly how their gifts will make a difference and who it will impact.

Here’s where I want to put in a plug for great storytelling. Sharing stories about changed lives is such an important part of relationship building. This creates an emotional connection for your donors, which is much stronger than just a financial connection. Show your donors how their gifts made a difference. Don’t tell them that your program was successful or how many people you helped; show them one person and tell them how their gift helped that individual. Do you see the difference? Telling is reporting facts and figures. Showing is drawing your donor into the story of someone who needed their help and creating an emotional connection to your cause. The latter will go a lot farther in securing donor loyalty.

And remember: Never ask for more money in the same breath that you use to say thanks.

Don’t Wait Too Long to Ask Again

What is the number one reason that donors give again? Because they’re asked to. Don’t be afraid to remind them that the continued support of loyal donors is what makes the biggest impact and changes lives. As long as you’re talking about the issues they care about and keeping your communication focused on what matters to them, asking them for continued support will become a natural part of your relationship. They may not always respond with a yes, but that’s okay—when you view donors as partners, not pocketbooks, you’ll naturally interact with them in a way that moves beyond the financial aspect, and they’ll sense that. So today’s “no” may very well become next month’s “yes,” simply because you’ve fostered a relationship with them that keeps them interested, engaged and connected.

Building donor relationships is about so much more than making an ask, but if you can manage to create healthy, long-term relationships, making an ask will be a natural and expected part of them. For both of you.

donor loyalty

Randy Hawthorne

As the former Executive Director and Editor for Nonprofit Hub and a Professional Certified Marketer, Randy shares his passions of marketing and education with nonprofits to help them implement marketing and organizational leadership principles so they can grow their organizations. Randy lends his marketing and organizational leadership expertise to a number of nonprofits in his community. Outside the office, Randy works with high school and college students and mentors young professionals to develop their leadership and entrepreneurial skills.

January 19, 2016

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