5 Rules for a Successful Donor Communications Program

Fundraising is all about relationships. In order to build a universe of regular donors to your non-profit, you need to have a scalable donor communications program in place.

Your communications program can use snail mail, e-mail, social media, your website, and other mass communications tactics to keep your donors informed about your work, inspire them with your mission, and ask them to invest in your organization.

Here are 5 rules for building a successful donor communications program for your non-profit:

1. Have a Plan

Far too many organizations carry out a “willy-nilly” communications program. Sure, they may send out an e-mail newsletter once per month on a regular basis, but their other letters, social media posts, blog entries, etc. are sent out whenever someone has a “great idea” or when the development staff needs to make a monthly quota.

The best way to run a successful donor communications program is to have a plan in place before you begin. Create a donor communications calendar that shows when each of your communications will take place, what the topic (or topics) of each communication will be, and who will be responsible for each item. Then, at the end of each year, analyze your donor communications to see where your plan and calendar can be improved for the following year.

2. Clearly Define the Purpose of Each Communication

Before sending out any donor communication, it is imperative that you define its purpose: is this a cultivation / stewardship communication, or is this an ask?

Most small and mid-sized non-profits try to mix purposes. That’s why you see so many donor newsletters that are 90% cultivation and recognition, but have a small, soft ask included. This is a huge mistake.

Cultivation pieces that have soft asks never raise as much as true “ask” communications, and vice versa. Unfortunately, though, in the minds of most donors, if you send out a newsletter than is 90% cultivation and 10% ask, it was an appeal… and thus you’ll need to wait before sending out a true appeal letter, unless you want your donors to feel overwhelmed.

The best strategy for your donor communications program is to make your cultivation pieces (like newsletters, e-newsletters, and annual appeals ) 100% cultivation – meaning NO asks. And then, make your fundraising appeals (letters, e-mails, etc.) 100% asks – meaning true, honest to goodness fundraising asks.

This will make your cultivation communications work better, and your ask communications more profitable.

3. Keep a Minimum 3:1 Ratio

Donors hate feeling like you are constantly asking for money. For this reason, I advise non-profits to send out a minimum of 3 non-ask / cultivation / stewardship communications for every 1 ask / appeal that they send out. This ratio is enough to make your donors feel like you are building a real relationship with them, while at the same time providing your organization enough ask opportunities to allow you to raise the money you need to meet your fundraising targets.

4. Cultivate through Every Ask Medium

Your non-profit should be cultivating donors through each and every medium where it is making asks. This means that if you are sending out snail mail fundraising letters, you should also be doing cultivation through the mail (e.g. donor newsletters, postcards, etc. that are mailed to your donors and prospects). Likewise, if you are doing in-person fundraising asks, you should also be doing in-person cultivation meetings.

Donors like it when you build relationships with them through the same mediums you are using to ask them for money. If you ask them for money during in-person meetings, but the only cultivation pieces they receive from you are e-mail newsletters, it create an imbalance that they notice. Cultivate and steward your donors through the same mediums you are using to make fundraising asks.

5. Make it Personal

Avoid the temptation to make your donor communications sterile and impersonal. Far too many non-profits fall into the trap of “corporate speak,” where e-mails, newsletters, etc. are written from the perspective of the organization, instead of any particular individual.

Your donors don’t want to build a relationship with your organization. They want to build a relationship with the people at your organization. Give them a chance to do that by being personal in your donor communications.

Send e-mails from people, not your organization. Include staff, donor, and client stories in your newsletters. Give people the chance to build true relationships with the people at your non-profit, and they will continue giving year after year.

Source: 5 Rules for a Successful Donor Communications Program