Research-Based New Year’s Resolutions for Donor Communications
It’s time to look ahead and set goals for next year. Have you thought about your donors and how you can communicate with them better?
We have research-based lessons to show you how. Many of them are easy to implement, but get set aside when things are busy. With our collaborators at Goodwin Simon Strategic Research, we spent a year researching donors’ preferences, what communications motivate them, how to craft the perfect appeal, and more. While the research was focused on Long Island, there are broadly applicable lessons that will help you strengthen your relationship with your donors next year.
When your donors first gave to you, there was a spark — a genuine connection that motivated them to make a gift, perhaps more than once. But like any relationship, it’s easy to take for granted and the spark you initially had starts to dim.
When my fellow strategists and I work with clients, donors are often an audience with whom they want to communicate. Often, I see nonprofits focused on looking for new donors to court. While attracting new donors is important, you shouldn’t forget your existing ones.
This year, I want you to resolve to rekindle that initial spark with your donors. To create that genuine sense of connection — before you both decide to go looking elsewhere.
Resolve to get to know your donors more deeply.
Think about the strong relationships in your life. One reason those relationships are strong is because both people feel like the other really “gets” them. Our research dug deep into understanding what motivates donors on Long Island: why they make donations, what makes their community special to them, their political and religious beliefs, and more. Really knowing your donors can help you better connect with them in your communications.
Have you surveyed your donors lately? Or talked to a handful by phone or in person to learn more about why they support your organization? We learned that Long Island donors want to keep their community a great place to raise a family. As a result, local grassroots organizations worked to make a connection between their work and keeping Long Island a family-friendly place. Showing an interest in getting to know your donors better — and refining your messaging and communications based on what you learn — is a sure way to keep the spark alive.
Resolve to always show gratitude.
We recruited a mystery donor (like a mystery shopper, but for nonprofits) to make gifts to various organizations. Nearly half of the organizations never sent a thank-you note, electronically or in print. Many organizations sent an electronic receipt that only had details about the transaction amount and date, much like an ATM receipt, leaving donors feeling unappreciated.
A crucial way to show better gratitude is to say thank you quickly and consistently. Send a personalized thank-you note by mail or email shortly after receiving a gift. That’s the minimum, but you can go farther. Make them feel like the hero they are: Tell them what outcomes are possible because of their generosity. Donors who feel appreciated are more likely to be repeat donors.
Resolve to show donors just how important they are.
It’s one thing to say you appreciate someone, but sparks turn into flames when you show a donor how valuable they are. Our research tested variations in messaging, collateral and fundraising appeals; stories made all three more effective. The best stories highlighted a need or problem and how your organization’s solution, possible only because of your donors, helped to overcome that challenge.
Even if you only have a small amount of time or space, you can show donors how important they are by featuring stories about the people your organization serves. Here is a short micro-story that effectively does the job:
“My boss made me work 12 hours a day without overtime and would humiliate me. I didn’t know my options. Your support helped me and other workers in the cleaning business start our own cooperative. Now we’re the owners and the employees, and we can take better care of ourselves and our families. My life has changed so much.”
Resolve to be a giver, not just a taker.
One of the top reasons donors stop giving, according to our research, is they receive way too many asks for money. They also cite a lack of transparency about finances and where donations go. The spark in the relationship dulls when the donor feels like it’s one-sided.
The answer is that your organization needs to do a little more giving. I know, you’re hard at work making change — that’s where you give! But relationships are about give and take. When you take a donor’s money, give them the satisfaction of knowing how their money is making an impact. Give them news about your issue, an opportunity to share ideas, or non-monetary ways to support your cause — like an invitation to a (non-fundraising) event or a way to take action.
Want to learn more from our research on Long Island donors? Our friends at the Hagedorn Foundation asked us to create a guide for their grantees and said we could share it far and wide with other organizations. Download the research findings (PDF)
You can also learn more about how this research applies to you. Check out How Donors Decide: Lessons From a Year of Exploring Donor Attitudes on Long Island in Grassroots Fundraising Journal.
Here’s to a 2017 with strong donor relationships and positive social change.
Image: flickr/Patrik Nygren CC BY-SA 2.0, edited from original