Nonprofit Basics: Cultivating your Donors

 

My husband and I love to donate to charitable organizations. Seriously. We do it because we believe in giving back. We like to support organizations that do good. One organization has just gotten its last donation from us. There are ways to cultivate donors, and there are ways to drive them away.

Fundraising is a huge part of any nonprofit organization, whether it is a church, a theatre, public television, or a helath care organization. As board chair of two nonprofits and board member of three others, I am used to asking for money. We also support several other organizations whose missions we believe in and whom we know do a great job meeting their objectives.   With so many organizations competing for donations, how do you attract and keep your supporters?

  1. Reach out and touch. Remember the old AT&T commercial where they advised us to “reach out and touch”? There is so much to be said for this. Chances are good that you have a prostpective donor list, and chances are even better that you run into these people on a fairly regular basis. If not, there’s always the phone. Let your donors know that you’re there and that you care. You might consider keeping a spreadsheet with the donors’ birthdays, anniversaries, and any other key information, then use that when you’re on the phone to trigger conversation.
  2. Celebrate your successes. Donors want to know your organization is making a difference. Unless you are public broadcasting and have a constant presence, it is important that you have SMART objectives and you let your donors know when objectives are met.   The Mercer University Children’s Choir offers free concerts several times each year to allow families and donors the opportunity to see the progress. They also maintain an active Facebook page where donors can follow the choir and its upcoming events. There are lots of opportunities to see their successes.
  3. Thank your donors. People want to be recognized for their contributions. Piedmont Players is a nonprofit community theatre company in Salisbury, North Carolina, and they have a substantial playbill for each of their performances. The playbill recognizes donors at all levels, as well as corporate sponsors. They’ve grown to the point where they have two buildings, one for the mainstage and one for children’s theatre.   Though strictly voluteer, this community theatre has become a destination for central North Carolina.
  4. Personalize your invitations. Mass mailings are often overlooked and sometimes get lost in the mail and mailing services are not always reliable.   Remember you are inviting people because you want them to donate and to continue to support your organization. The small amount of time it takes to include a personal note is one that can really pay off. The Atlanta Opera is excellent at this. When phone calls are used instead of written notes, they are personal and always begin with a greeting
  5. Be direct in your ask. You donated $300 last year; can we put you down for $500 this year? “Could I put you done for $1000?” This gives the donor the option to offer a different amount. I received a letter from an organization that I had promised to support, which read, “We’re trying to do our budget so how much are you going to give?” To be perfectly honest, I was a little startled by the tone of this letter from someone who had not engaged me at all. It was a local organization and a phone call would have made that important connection that is more likely to result in a higher donation. When they followed up with an invoice for the agreed amount, my view of the contribution went from donation to the dreaded bill.
  6. Value and nurture your relationships with donors. A local nonprofit recently had an anniversary celebration and posted photos on their Facebook page, but many of the donors responded that had no idea the event was taking place. The administrator siad that they had used a mailing service and were sorry that some people might not have received their invitation. She said that they couldn’t afford to post it online as an event, because of their budget, so they were sorry if donors/subscribers didn’t know about it.   This response did nothing to appease supporters who should have been invited.

Most people who donate to nonprofit organizations begin the year with an idea of how much they will donate and what causes are meaningful to them. A carefully constructed plan to cultivate the existing donors can go far in promoting donor loyalty. With so many organizations competing for donors’ generosity, your organization cannot afford to overlook these important development opportunities.

 

 

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