This post was originally published on Funding for Good.

In order for any organization or project to be truly successful, it is critical to have buy-in from the community.

Generous civic groups, businesses, individuals, and foundations are the cornerstone of any healthy and sustainable nonprofit. Keeping those generous donors engaged is one of major keys to nonprofit development.

Many of us in the nonprofit world tend to “chase after a donor” in a time of crisis. We creatively search for ways to bump into them, start a conversation, or schedule that “ask.”

Sadly, once the money is in the bank, we tend to bury ourselves in the day to day tasks forgetting all about those key donors until the next time money is needed in the bank.

Today I want to focus on donor retention. Here at Funding for Good we like to refer to the donor relationship process as “donor dating.”

Imagine that you just met your “perfect match.”  You went out of your way to get introduced, build some trust, and finally got that first date. It went well. More likely than not you shared some personal information, learned some new things about each other, someone paid the bill, and you set up a time to go out for the second date.

Now imagine that a week goes by and you get a random thank you text or call but then there is silence. You begin to question the connection, the motives, and the future of the relationship. If you are really interested in a relationship you work to build communication, you establish times to connect, and you share your needs and joys.

How is this any different than “donor development?”

These generous individuals shouldn’t ever be treated like an open wallet or free meal. These donors are looking to invest, to partner, and to celebrate the impact their dollars help create.

Most development experts agree that nonprofits should make at least seven donor touches per year at a bare minimum. While general mailings can definitely be considered in that seven touch count, it is important to maintain the personal connection.

The tips below are designed to stimulate your brainstorming efforts. So pull out that pen and see how you can build sincere and partnership-based relationships with the donors who generously support your organization:

  • Personal phone calls – Consider dividing up your top donor list by giving levels or by the programs/projects they support. Pick up the phone and give them a call at the beginning of the year to wish them a Happy New Year and to let them know what they can expect to see from your organization in the next 12 months. Later in the year, ask a board member or the director of the program that the donor is most interested in supporting, to pick up the phone to say “thank you” again and share current successes and opportunities for engagement.
  • Handwritten thank you notes – Pen and paper should never go out of style. A random note in the mail with a photo of a program/person their dollars have impacted can brighten any donor’s day.
  • Recognize important dates or personal milestones – We might not know the birthday, anniversary, or retirement date of every donor off the top of our head; but social media is bringing that information to our newsfeed each morning. Make a point to follow donors on their social media pages (I say that in the most non-creepy of ways!) If you see they are celebrating, drop them a quick message to do the same!
  • Ask what events are of specific interest to your donor and how they would like to be notified – This will allow you to connect with donors in more meaningful ways and prevent them from getting an information overload from your organization.
  • Find out how donors wish to be recognized and respect their preferences –  Be intentional and ask how you can show appreciation for their generosity. Some donors, especially foundations and businesses, appreciate a little PR. Others prefer to remain anonymous or prefer to give in honor or memory of someone special. Your job is to make those things happen in a timely manner.
  • Give back – An invitation to lunch or coffee or a small token of appreciation are great ways to make sure giving isn’t all one sided. Any time you see an opportunity to return the favor, be sure to offer.

At the end of the day nonprofits should view “donor dating” as a relationship building process that leads to long-term and meaningful partnership, not as a monetary exchange. 

Join Mandy Pearce, Owner of Funding For Good, Inc. for a deeper dive into building lasting relationships with foundation staff, during our April 18 digital classroom, Stewardship Success: 3 Strategies to Getting Foundation Staff Buy-in.

About the Author(s)

Amanda Pearce Owner Funding for Good, Inc.


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