There are several points during the year when donors expect to interact with a nonprofit they support
—the lead up to an event or the conclusion of a major project, for example—but choosing to only be in contact with your donor community during those special moments may be undercutting your efforts to deepen relationships with contributors who might be willing to offer more. If that’s the case, it may be time to create a “culture of fundraising” within your nonprofit.
What is a culture of fundraising?
A nonprofit’s team of employees is its best asset when it comes to engaging donors. Who could know your donor community better than those who were drawn to the mission in the first place? They understand the donor’s desire to help and have proven their dedication to reaching the goals of the nonprofit.
Developing a strong fundraising culture within your organization creates the mindset that guides every interaction your team has with donors and strengthens the commitment they have to your mission. While each nonprofit is different and each donor relationship has its own intricacies, there are three general phases that define the donor journey: cultivating, soliciting, and promoting stewardship, and in each phase, there is the opportunity to promote a strong fundraising culture.
The Cultivation Phase
When a relationship with a new donor or prospect begins, don’t hit them with a high-pressure request for a donation. During the cultivation stage, it’s best to focus on getting to know your donor (prospect), identify what brought them to your nonprofit, and plant the seed to grow the relationship. This takes a little bit of time and a whole lot of listening as you get to know them and their style of giving. Learn their reason for becoming active in your nonprofit as you share stories about the work you have completed, projects currently going on, and the future plans that will need funding.
Connect your work with their desire to become involved with your community by finding shared motivations. This is done either through one interaction, or several, but at each touchpoint, during the cultivation phase, your goal is to add another foundational building block that will increase their level of trust and engagement in your nonprofit. This is your time to welcome them, make them feel appreciated, and invite them to be a part of your community in a way they will feel most comfortable.
The Solicitation Phase
During the solicitation phase, good interactions can turn prospects or inactive donors into active contributors and deepen the relationship in the hope that they will become regular donors. Whether they choose to offer a monetary donation or contribute another way, such as volunteering, advocacy, etc., it is at this point when a prospect becomes a reliable, repeat supporter.
Interactions delivered during the solicitation phase come in many shapes and forms and through many different communication methods, like the phone, social media, direct mail, text message, etc. For special types of donors, such as major gift donors, potential planned giving donors, local businesses, and large corporations, in-person solicitations could be the most appropriate method and may require a dedicated ambassador to be the liaison when soliciting.
The Stewardship Phase
Once a donation has occurred it is time the donor journey has entered the stewardship phase. Your goal during this stage is to establish a relationship that is preset to respond to future appeals, with all communications taking place after the first gift has been received. Finding out the most effective style of messaging is important during the solicitation phase, as it will allow you to create messages in ways that will grab their attention, effectively explain the need, and motivate them to get involved.
Make sure communications sent out to donors in the stewardship phase are written in a way that will make them feel appreciated and that their contributions are vital to the mission. Touch on common motivations and try bringing them further into the community by offering a newsletter, making a personal call, or sending out an invitation to an event.
Getting your team involved
Now that you’ve divided your donors up into these generalized groups based on where they are in their donor journey, your team can utilize tactics that will most effectively bring them into your nonprofit’s fundraising culture.
Employ these ten engagement tactics to help your team member connect with and deepen your nonprofit’s donor relationships:
- Segmenting donors into groups that represent each phase of the engagement process can illuminate neglected donor groups and get them back on track to becoming more committed contributors. Use the information you’ve collected to design targeted fundraising efforts based on commonalities within each group.
- Hiring a donation engagement officer or designating a team member as the lead engagement officer will ensure your strategies and tactics will stay focused and trackable so you can make decisions based on what’s working and see where you need to improve your approach.
- Create an engagement plan that is flexible, with tactics that can be quickly swapped out or adjusted as new information comes to light, whether it’s from within your organization or from the donor. For example, there was a change in leadership in your nonprofit or a regular donor’s income has changed due to their retirement.
- Identify key points during your interactions with each donor where there is an opportunity to move them into the next phase in the donor journey. Retirements would be one such point, as many people become more active with nonprofits after they’ve moved on from their careers.
- Always be tech-ready for the communication, activity, and incoming contributions from your donors. That means offering an easy-to-use tool for donating, texting capability, funding records that are automatically updated, and the communication tools that will be employed during your outreach initiatives, such as consistently expanding your network on social media.
- Teach your team the importance of open-ended conversation to encourage your donors to be more forthcoming with information. This will induce a sense of trust, validate their involvement, and could answer the question of why they want to become involved in your community.
- Get your best callers on the phone and your best writers to craft targeted email messages and appeals. Make communications personal to separate you from other nonprofits and build authentic relationships based on a shared goal to strengthen the commitment of the donor.
- Connect with your donors regularly through a variety of social media networks and via text with a variety of messages. Create an integrated storyline through written messages, images, video, and memes to stay in front of your donors and keep them updated on the happenings of your nonprofit.
- Ask—then ask again. Your messages can be subjected to lost emails, overlooked social media posts, deleted texts, or a missed phone call. Send out multiple appeals through multiple channels according to a reasonable schedule.
- Analytics is a valuable asset to donor engagement strategies. The information gleaned from a good analytical report can point your team in the right direction to bring in better fundraising results. It can shine a light on which day is best to send out an appeal, which region of your city is home to your highest contributors and many more useful bits of information.
The best way to engage donors is to first engage your team through a solid fundraising culture.
Make it an integral characteristic of your nonprofit and you’ll find that every team member is focused on the same goal—bringing in more contributions from an ever-expanding donor base.