Nonprofits face a unique challenge: understanding exactly who their target audience is. In an industry like retail, for example, a main driver for a product purchase is a need. That for-profit company isn’t consumed by how to link their customer’s money to a cause. Things are much more complicated at a nonprofit. You have to understand the nuances of why a person would give to figure out how to increase donations.
You’re asked to prove that everything you do meets your donors individual why. You’ve got to be transparent about your entire operation. And then, after all that, you have to figure out how to make sure that donor doesn’t fall into the 75% of donors who will never give a second time.
It is grueling work, but it isn’t impossible. In fact, there is a simple shift your team can make in order to increase donations and improve donor retention. And the good news is, it’s something you’re already great at.
Jennifer MCrea and Jeffrey C. Walker wrote in their book The Generosity Network, “Practically all the existing books are strictly transactional in their orientation. They treat fundraising as a branch of salesmanship. The goal: to close the deal…and get a check from the donor…True generosity is rooted in relatedness.
Relationships and personal connections are at the root of most first-time donations. Your donors support your cause because you’re working in an area they believe in or have been personally affected by. They identify with you, and through giving, they’ve joined your cause. But you can’t rely on that personal connection alone to motivate them to make a second donation. That second gift happens when you can expand a donor’s personal connection to include relationships with people at your nonprofit and the work you’re doing.
By switching your perspective from simply landing the next donation to nurturing human connections, you have the opportunity to sweep people up into a contagious movement of generosity. With a much stronger connection, it’s easier to motivate donors into their second, third and even fifteenth donation.
Now that you’ve made a shift in perspective, from donation collection to relational connection, you might be wondering what that looks like in your day-to-day operations. We’re glad you asked. Here are 5 easy ways to connect to donors right now.
Not literally, of course. But remember, as McCrea and Walker suggested, many nonprofits treat donations as a transaction much like for-profit businesses. And it makes sense. Your team is working overtime just to keep everything going. Sometimes that tunnel vision is the only way to survive. To really work towards growth, though, you need to change the way you treat each donation. Keep in mind how personal it is for each and every donor, then try to reciprocate that personal connection with new information and initiatives they may not have known about.
One way to accomplish this is by creating an email welcome series. Take advantage of the time when they are fully connected to your cause and give them the details of your story. Introduce them to your journey as an organization thus far and share your hopes for the future. Show them the people behind the organization and tell their stories. Donors will respond with much more passion and enthusiasm when they see how important they are to you.
Although nonprofit work comes with a unique set of challenges, there are also advantages that other organizations dream of having. For example, you have an engaged community of people with a passion for your mission. Leverage that as often as possible. This makes you a hub for a community, allowing you to facilitate connections between donors, separately from the connection they have with you.
You might want to throw a community event, or better yet, ask them to host their own. Use your social networks to ask your followers which kinds of events they’d like to attend. Introduce donors to their neighbors who also believe in your mission. Give them purpose and connection in their immediate community and you will see donors turn into advocates for your nonprofit.
Above, we mentioned transparency as an integral part of nonprofit success. Understand that transparency includes more than financial reporting. To make it meaningful to your donors, it should be an invitation for your donors to see behind the scenes at your nonprofit.
This might mean more frequent content like newsletters or video clips that explore your daily challenges and celebrations.You might find that your donors want informal posts that read like journals from the people doing the work of your nonprofit. Opening up in these unexpected ways will build a stronger connection to your donors.
Don’t be afraid to use this content to ask your donors for more than just money. If you’ve created that meaningful relational connection, they will be more than willing to donate their ideas, time and resources when you’re struggling to find the. But they can only help you if you stay open and communicate freely.
As McCrae notes, “Resources like time, creativity, networks, ideas, passion and money. These resources are ours to leverage. They are abundant and available right now to be put into use for our work in the world. Unfortunately, they can get stuck and stalled, in large part, because of the barriers we erect around them.”
Another easy trap to fall into is sending the same message to your donor over and over again. We assume that people will only read communication about the exact thing they initially showed interest in. The logic makes sense, but it’s also a factor in why donors aren’t giving more money or time to your nonprofit. You haven’t given them more opportunities to connect to your cause. You haven’t nurtured their interests or given them a new goal to drive towards.
Avoid boring your donors by sending them content and messages around a variety of topics related to your organization’s work. If they originally donated to your initiative that delivered sustainable water bottles to those who lacked access to clean water, get them excited about building a well in that community next. Introduce them to all the aspects of your nonprofit and how they can make a difference then let them decide how they want to give in the future.
The final step to making a relational connection to each of your donors is to listen to them. The strongest relationships are built through two-way communication. If you provide a way for your donors to participate beyond financial giving, you add a new layer of appreciation. When you listen to their ideas and passions, donors feel like a part of the team. Their bond grows stronger. You remove the fear that their gift is merely a transaction to your nonprofit.
Of course, you can rely on email responses for this, but get creative if you can. Host video conferences with people who are interested in the same thing, or live in the same area to meet with your team virtually. Designate a few team members who can give donors a call just to listen. Schedule a meet-up in different areas just to get to know each other. The more effort you put into reminding them of the human connection you share, the tighter bond they will feel towards your nonprofit.
You don’t have to do all of this at once. Think of each of these tips as stepping stones to your future state in which every donor is driven by the relationship they have with someone on your team. Take your time to build the right workflows, leverage the right tools, and connect with the right groups of people. If you spend the time up front to create pathways to better relationships, especially with the help of software that allows you to manage donor relationships, you can avoid unnecessary work down the road.
Traditional fundraising strategies no longer work. This blueprint explains why today's donor expects more, and how nonprofits are shifting to responsive fundraising.