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Updated: May 24, 2023

Having been a nonprofit leader, I understand all too well the day-to-day chaos that can ensue in even the most organized organizations.

Too many goals. Too much to do. Too little time. Too few resources.

That’s why, as a recovering nonprofit leader, I coach my clients to focus on the “low-hanging fruit.” You know, the sweet morsels that take little time, and little or no money, but yield the best results.

So as you're performing your mid-year assessment this summer, I recommend casting a prudent glance over one area where a little investment yields a big return.

Donor Relations.

Sadly, I’ve seen too many good nonprofits fail time and time again when it comes to stewarding their supporters. The lackluster acknowledgment email. The same old tired thank you note. The overuse of “we” instead of “you.”

Worst of all, no thank you whatsoever.

Yes. You read that right.

There are organizations who NEVER. THANK. THEIR. DONORS.

It hurts my fundraiser heart to even write those words. But it happens. Every single day.

I implore you to not be that nonprofit. Don’t be so focused on landing the gift that you forget to love on the giver.

Donor love is your friend. And you need to start today. It doesn’t have to be complicated or costly. It just has to be authentic and heartfelt.

If you don’t know where to start, here’s some tips.

  • Assess Your Assets: Who is going to champion your donor relation efforts? How much time can you dedicate to a donor relations program each month? Are there volunteers that can help? Do you have budget monies for cards, postage, and other needed items? How many donors do you have mailing addresses for? How many do you have emails for? Once you answer these questions, you can develop a plan of adoration.

  • Tweak The Thank You: If your thank you letter starts with “Dear Friend, Thank you for your gift of $XX on XX/XX/XX,” it’s past time to freshen it up. Personalize the letter with the donor’s name. Start with a warm and fuzzy intro followed by the amount line, then a story of how their donation is already making a difference. Handsign the letter. Make it warm, make it personal. Imagine the donor is a favorite aunt or uncle and write like you would to them.

  • Spruce Up Your Social: Share your successes that were made possible through donations on social media. Thank and tag businesses that give. Show the work you are doing every day and thank your donors for being the ones to make it happen. Host LIVE Facebook sessions where you show what goes on behind the scenes because of donations. Basically, shower your social media feeds with lots of gratitude!

  • Start Small: Beyond your thank you letter/email (that should be promptly sent to EVERY. SINGLE. DONOR. Yes. Even the person who gave you $5!) you can up your donor love game by adding one donor touch point per quarter. And it doesn’t have to be costly. The touch point can be an email sending holiday wishes (think Valentine’s or maybe a day related to your mission!) or even a personal phone call. Again, focus on a genuine, heartfelt message showing the donor how they are making a difference.

  • Focus on the First: If you can’t do anything else, you ABSOLUTELY should focus on first-time donors. Tons of research for many years has shown that most organizations lose an average of 70% of donors after their first gift! But just like in any business, keeping a customer is much less costly than acquiring a new one, so make sure your customer (the donor) is receiving the best service possible (timely, thoughtful gratitude). Build a first-time donor “nurture series” where you love them up 2-4 times over the course of 2-3 months.

  • Trash the Thasking: The cycle for donor love should be ask-thank-report. You ask for a gift. You thank the donor for their gift. You report back how their gift made a difference. Rinse and repeat. Don’t mix it up. Don’t thank and also ask (also known as thasking) in the same communication. Your donors are not ATMs so don’t treat them like one.

Again, start simple, start small, but start. And start TODAY. I can personally vouch that showering donors with love works. I saw it increase my former organization’s bottom line by 300+%. But it’s not an overnight pay-off. It’s a long-game play.

Basically, think of stewardship like a marriage: Your organization is partnered with your donors, and throughout the year you share special moments, just like a couple! Holidays. Anniversaries. Birthdays. “Thinking of you” texts. “We appreciate you” phone calls. Shower them with a little attention, and it will make the partnership that much sweeter!

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