How to Choose The Best Donor Communications Strategy for Your Organization: Part I

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Building strong relationships with donors is important because donors provide the crucial funds that let nonprofit organizations pursue their missions. Earning donors is competitive, and retaining them requires an equally dedicated approach.

But there’s good news to consider: nonprofits can work with their marketing and communications teams (whether in-house or agency partners) to design creative, purposeful donor communications strategies that stand out. By creating engaging strategies, organizations can improve their donor retention rates.

In this post, we’ll cover why donor communications strategies are important and the key to choosing the best strategies. Then, in part two next week, we’ll share what to do next to develop effective strategies for your organization.

Why are donor communications important?

For a nonprofit organization, donor communications serve many important purposes. Donor communications:

  • Express gratitude for donations.
  • Show donors why their participation is important.
  • Raise awareness about the organization’s impact.
  • Maintain positive sentiment among donors.
  • Build ongoing relationships that encourage ongoing involvement.

Retaining donors is crucial because existing donors are already part of your audience, already care about your cause, and already want to participate. By keeping those relationships strong, your organization preserves the investment put into getting those donors to give the first time.

Most nonprofit organizations do not have time or money to waste. In the past year, donor retention decreased. According to the Fundraising Effectiveness Project’s Quarterly Fundraising Report, the number of donors who gave for the first time in 2021 and gave again in 2022 dropped 24.7%.

Strategic donor communications allow you to build ongoing relationships to get the awareness and funds that will help advocate for your cause and your continued work.

What’s the key to choosing donor communications strategies?

The number one thing is to understand who your donors are.

Because nonprofit organizations often have limited resources, they aren’t able to evaluate their donor experience from the donor’s point of view. They put out a bunch of messages and hope something sticks: ten emails asking for donations, advertisements all over the web and social media, and repeated phone calls.

This is a big problem. When you do this, donors tune you out. Instead, you need to have a deliberate strategy to maintain relationships with your donors — a strategy that understands your donors.

You need to find out who your donors are. By examining your donors, you can identify patterns that allow you to choose strategies that align with their preferences and resonate with them. This keeps them engaged and ready to donate again in the future.

How do you find out who your donors are?

In our practice, we interview the organization’s leadership, their development team, and their frontline staff, asking:

  • Who are they talking to?
  • What are donors saying?
  • Who attended recent events?
  • Why did they attend?
  • What drove them to donate?
  • Why did they choose your organization?

We also collect existing data, including from social media, donor databases, and analytics from current marketing and communications. All this combines to paint a picture of an organization’s donors: their locations, genders, ages, participation levels, concerns, and values.

With this data, we segment donors into different audiences and build personas. When organizations do this, they might find out that, for example, Donor Persona A prefers social media over email, or that Donor Persona B wants to know exactly how their gift was spent.

Next Steps

After you take the time to create donor personas, you’ll start noticing ways to improve your communications program. Maybe there’s a strategy that’s misaligned with one of your donor personas. Or, you might discover an opportunity for a new strategy that will resonate with a key segment of your donors.

For example, we know that phone calls are the most powerful form of donor communication. But phone campaigns require a lot of investment per donor compared to email or social media campaigns. Based on the personas you identify, you can create strategies to complement your phone campaigns and improve the success of each call. Let’s say that you identify one of your donor personas as young professionals. Because younger audiences prefer text messages (which have an open rate that eclipses the open rate for emails!), your organization could implement a two-way text message campaign for those targeted donors.

Understanding your donors allows you to develop strategies that make your donors feel valued, help them understand the impact their donations have, and preserve positive sentiment.

Next week, in part two, we’ll share how to use your donor personas and provide suggestions for designing effective donor communications strategies for your organization. See you then!


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