Confession: I love calling donors on the phone.
Let’s be clear: I’m not signing up to work in telefundraising. What I like are the calls that are about building donor relationships: the thank you calls, the “can I get your advice?” calls, and the “I’d like to invite you to an event” calls.
It has come to my attention that not all of you feel the same way.
A lot of fundraising professionals would rather fill out forty grant applications than make a single phone call. If they had to pick, they’d meet with a hundred program officers, and ask a dozen people for major gifts, before they’d start dialing.
That’s okay, you can still build an effective donor communication strategy without the phone. In fact, you shouldn’t rely solely on the phone to reach out and touch your donors. These days, you can build donor relationships through multiple channels, more than ever before.
Once upon a time, our interactions with organizations were not so personal. We didn’t expect the person who processed our catalog mail-orders to remember our names, and we certainly didn’t know theirs. Likewise, many donors didn’t get too intimate with the people behind the nonprofits they supported. They got letters, wrote checks, popped them in the mail, and that was that.
It’s a different world. Automation, CRMs, and algorithms have made it possible for everything to be personalized, from our newsfeeds to our online shopping carts. Consequently, we all expect personalization, and donors are no different.
In addition to personalization, more and more, donors want to have a relationship with the organizations they support. They want more inside information, education, and inspiration. They want to be part of a community, and they want to know they’re making a difference.
How do you give them all of that? By building donor relationships with your donor communications strategy.
A donor communications strategy is simply the plan you put in place for communicating with your donors. A good one will provide your donors with information about your work, inspiration to get involved, and a solid understanding of why they matter.
Every successful donor communications strategy includes:
There are many ways to build donor relationships without the dreaded phone, each with its own strengths and advantages.
Email is an essential part of any good donor communications strategy. You’re probably already using it–but are you getting results? To get the most out of email, make sure your messages are:
Use data merges to insert personal details into your emails, like people’s names, gift amounts, or years with your organization. If your emails to a ten-year donor start with “Dear Friend,” you’re in trouble.
Email is very convenient, but it can be a little cold. Unlike the phone, it doesn’t give the personal touch of a human voice talking to you. Knowing someone is taking the time to call is meaningful, so make up for it by warming up your emails with details about their last donation, the last time you talked to them, or their specific interests.
If a donor emails you, hurray! They’re engaged and interested in your organization. Make sure you reply promptly and thoughtfully, directly answering any questions they’ve asked, referencing their history or other engagement with your organization, and, of course, using their name!
Your larger email strategy should also be responsive: to trends. As you look at your email data, you’ll see the subjects that resonate with donors, which links they click, and what they respond to. Give them more of the things they’re engaging with, and less of the things they’re ignoring.
Email is a good tool for soliciting donations, but it’s a great tool for storytelling. You can write stories, share pictures, or embed videos in a message you deliver straight to your supporters’ inboxes. Make sure the stories you tell are positive and inspiring. If you’re sending consistently negative messaging, people will not be excited to open your emails.
Segment your donors to target your messages to the people who most want to hear them. Create lists based on demographics, event attendance, donor interests and more, to ensure that each message you send is relevant to the donor who receives it.
Wait a second, robots? That’s right. Nonprofits are starting to use chatbots to take on some communication tasks. You’ve probably already seen it in action on Facebook, where nonprofits and businesses use chatbots to answer common questions via Facebook Messenger.
Chatbots aren’t a replacement for a live person, but they’re an excellent supplement. They allow nonprofits to be responsive 24/7. If a donor wants to ask a quick question at 2 AM, a chatbot can provide a friendly and informative experience. Using staff to acheive that level of responsiveness would be very time-consuming and expensive, but chatbots make it affordable and simple.
A chatbot can give your donors a personalized experience. It can identify repeat visitors to your site, respond to specific inputs, and give a more pleasant “human” feel to donors’ interactions with your organization, without drawing on staff time or effort. You can use fun responses, like GIFs or pictures, to give your chatbot personality. At the end of the interaction, the donor will feel more like they talked to someone than if they just read your website to look for information.
Text messaging holds a ton of potential for nonprofits. Approximately 96% of Americans have a cellphone, and 81% have smartphones. Unlike email, text messages are almost always opened and have a very high response rate.
Nonprofits can use text messaging to:
Face-to-face communication is a powerful thing, so don’t underestimate it when you’re building donor relationships. While technological advances make it easy to implement a donor communication strategy using video and text, real-life is still important.
When you meet with a donor in person, the conversation may flow more naturally, unimpeded by technical issues. You can read body language, share the experience of being in the room together, and allow for more quiet and contemplation before speaking. Instead of being yet another face on a screen, you’re a real person to your donor.
In-person meetings are often a part of major gift solicitation, but they don’t only have to be about asking. Consider:
Video is a powerful storytelling tool, because it allows watchers to engage with content with more than one of their senses. It’s a great way to show multiple perspectives easily, and it’s readily engaging.
Videos can be used to:
Use live streaming video platforms like Facebook Live, Instagram, or Periscope to bring your donors into the room, wherever you may be. Nonprofits can take donors out into the field, show them exclusive interviews with staff and clients, host a Q&A, or go behind the scenes at events.
Live streaming is a good option to share real-life experiences with your donors, without the logistical headache of bringing them all along with you. It may be impossible to bring 200 people into a classroom or museum exhibit, but it’s a breeze with video.
This one is little labor-intensive, but to really impress your donors send them a hand-written card or letter. Your message doesn’t have to be long or involved, but a little note in the mailbox from a real person will certainly brighten their day and stick out in their memory. Stock up on blank cards and send your donors your well wishes to mark birthdays, anniversaries with your organization, or an extra thank you note.
If handwriting letters feels like too much to add to your busy schedule, enlist your board members to get more involved with fundraising or invite clients to write a note, if appropriate.
You can hang up on phone calls, and still communicate effectively with your donors. Share your inspiring and impact-focused messages on all the new channels, and some of the old ones, and you’ll have many opportunities to connect.
To learn more about creating communications that donors love, check out 5 Steps To Personalize Your Donor Communications.
Traditional fundraising strategies no longer work. This blueprint explains why today's donor expects more, and how nonprofits are shifting to responsive fundraising.