5 Tips to Elevate Your Donor Outreach This Year

Donor Acquisition and Retention

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This is a guest post from Aly Sterling, founder of Aly Sterling Philanthropy. Aly’s expertise includes fundraising, strategic planning, search consultation and board leadership development for the well-positioned nonprofit. She is regularly sought for comment by trade and mainstream media, including the Chronicle of Philanthropy and U.S. News & World Report. She has contributed to publications of BoardSource and The Governance Institute, as well as the Toledo Chamber of Commerce and The Giving Institute.

As a nonprofit fundraising professional, you’re well aware that outreach is one of the cornerstones of a successful donor stewardship strategy. Donor outreach is what captures the attention of prospective donors while also engaging and ensuring the support of current donors. 

But, improving your outreach strategy is often easier said than done. If your organization has operated for many years, you may feel like you’ve tried a million different strategies but can’t seem to find the right groove.

If you relate to that, it’s time to mix up your donor outreach efforts with a few tried-and-true strategies that reach supporters where they are and strengthen relationships. When crafting your outreach campaign this year, your fundraising team should:

  1. Get to know your donors better.
  2. Offer multiple engagement opportunities.
  3. Create better appreciation letters. 
  4. Prove your gratitude by appealing to donor preferences.
  5. Consider bringing on a fundraising consultant. 

If you’re building your organization’s strategic plan for the upcoming year, this is a perfect opportunity to reevaluate your approach to donor outreach. You can start constructing the groundwork for better supporter relationships early on so that you can reach new heights during the peak fundraising season. Let’s get started. 

1. Get to know your donors better.

In this day and age, donors are pretty savvy when it comes to distinguishing authentic communications from generic mass messages. Sending outreach messages that begin with “Dear Supporter” doesn’t cut it anymore. To optimize your outreach strategy, you have to get to know your donors on a personal level. 

Luckily, there are a few different ways you can leverage data to craft personalized messages for both your prospects and donors. 

For starters, make sure your constituent relationship management (CRM) database is segmented to account for the giving history and interests of donors. This will make it easier to create customized communications for lapsed donors that reference their connections and previous contributions. They will know you’ve taken the time to research their past involvement and create a personalized message rather than a generic appeal. 

You can also use your CRM to determine the best way to get in touch with current donors. Your CRM has information on donors’ preferred names, communication platforms and donation channels. All of this information can be used to tailor your messages and modes of communication. 

Additionally, you can conduct prospect research to develop a better understanding of your prospects’ abilities and likelihood to give. According to ReCharity’s nonprofit fundraising strategy guide, prospect research is “the process of evaluating a potential donor’s financial capacity and affinity to give to your organization prior to contacting them with a donation ask.” 

Using a prospect research database, you can identify markers that tell you whether a prospect is more likely to give to your organization, such as:

  • Wealth indicators: Characteristics such as having major real estate holdings, owning stock, making political donations and working in a high-level career path are all indicators of a prospect’s wealth. These features demonstrate their capacity to give, allowing you to focus outreach on those who can contribute a larger gift.
  • Willingness indicators: These markers include a strong existing relationship with your nonprofit, general nonprofit involvement or engagement with similar organizations. For instance, if you discover a prospect is a regular donor to another similar organization, this indicates they’ll be more receptive to your ask since they’re already sympathetic to your cause. 

Using this information, you can craft fundraising asks that are more relevant and reasonable for each prospect. For instance, separate prospective major donors from the rest of your potential donor pool to request larger gift amounts and ensure you’re asking for the right amount from each prospect. 

Creating an outreach strategy that uses data wisely will help you meet your prospects and donors where they are and deliver relevant information that they’re more likely to engage with. 

2. Offer multiple engagement opportunities.

If you’ve always requested the same things from supporters, like always asking the same people to donate to your monthly giving program or year-end fundraiser, mix up your outreach to make things more interesting. Show prospects and donors that your organization is constantly evolving to meet their needs and preferences. 

For instance, you want to ensure supporters are aware of unique giving opportunities such as matching gift programs. Corporate matching gift programs are a form of corporate philanthropy in which businesses match donations that their employees make to eligible nonprofits. 

These programs are intriguing to supporters because they can maximize the impact of their single donation without having to contribute more themselves. Use your email newsletter or social media platforms to spread the word about matching gifts and encourage match-eligible donors to fill out the necessary forms to get their gifts matched. 

Also, your nonprofit likely has a few special fundraising opportunities on the calendar for this year. Tell your supporters about your upcoming virtual fundraisers, galas, peer-to-peer fundraising efforts or capital campaign efforts. Since your supporters already have a proven track record of engaging with your organization, it’s not a stretch to guess that many of them are willing to get involved in efforts other than the ones they’ve traditionally supported. 

To change things up even more, keep your supporters in the loop regarding the non-giving-related activities they can get involved with. These may include volunteering, contacting representatives or becoming an online advocate. This shows supporters that you value them for more than just their monetary contributions, and helps to strengthen their emotional connections to your organization. 

3. Create better appreciation letters. 

An important element of your outreach strategy is expressing appreciation for your supporters. Without an appreciation strategy in place, your donors may feel neglected and like their gifts don’t matter, and you could lose their support. 

Use this opportunity to learn how to write an effective thank you letter that’s personal and genuine. Craft your letters so that they’re:

  • Personal, but not overly sweet. Use the information in your CRM to address the letters with each supporter’s preferred name. Position your donors as the main characters whose contributions directly made a difference within their community. Be warm and gracious without going overboard. 
  • Specific. Tell donors exactly what their contributions fund. Describe a specific story of the person, program, or project that benefited from your donors’ gifts. This makes your mission feel more tangible and real to supporters and helps reaffirm their commitment to the cause.
  • Short and to the point. Respect your donors’ time by keeping your thank-you letters brief. Also, don’t use your initial thank-you messages to immediately ask for another donation—this could be seen as too pushy. 

Use communication platforms such as email and social media to highlight your donors virtually. For your major donors, be sure to schedule a personal phone call, video chat or in-person meeting to personally thank them for their support. Use these same guidelines to construct the tone and content of your thank-you call or meeting. 

4. Prove your gratitude by appealing to donor preferences.

Practice gratitude by not just telling your donors you appreciate them, but showing them through your actions. By proving that you’re truly listening to donors and actively incorporating their preferences, you can reinforce your commitment to them. 

In fact, there are two strategies you can adopt right now to prove your appreciation through actions: providing convenient donation opportunities and keeping donor information secure. 

When it comes to making the donation process as convenient as possible, it’s crucial to de-hassle the experience for donors. In practice, this means: 

  • Providing multiple payment options so donors can use the method that’s most convenient for them, whether it’s a check, cash, credit or debit card. 
  • Offering a mobile donation platform so donors can give whenever the mood strikes without having to pull out their laptop or desktop to do so. 

Additionally, you can prove your commitment to donors by ensuring a secure donation process. You can reassure donors that their data will be protected by:

  • Using an integrated payment processor that is payment card industry (PCI) compliant to keep donor information secure and safe from fraud.
  • Monitoring donations for abnormal behavior, such as refund requests or unusually gigantic donations—these can indicate fraud has occurred. 

By balancing convenience and security, you can present a donation process that’s both easily accessible and built to withstand any attempted breaches. These actions prove to donors that you’re willing to incorporate their preferences and go the extra mile to keep their personal information safe. 

5. Consider bringing on a fundraising consultant. 

Perhaps you feel like you’ve exhausted your options when it comes to donor outreach. You’ve tried everything you can think of, but nothing seems to increase your fundraising numbers or improve your response rates. If you relate to these statements, this may be a great opportunity to bring a fundraising consultant on board. 

Aly Sterling’s fundraising consultant hiring guide explains that consulting firms offer:

  • Fundraising guidance, including assessments, feasibility studies and capital campaign management. Consultants can help diagnose your organization’s issues and craft a strategy that builds stronger donor relationships, ultimately helping you raise more.
  • Strategic planning tactics, such as launching stakeholder surveys, organizing board retreats and planning campaigns. These measures help align your goals with a concrete action plan. 
  • Leadership training, such as evaluating board members, developing work plans, and implementing best practices. A consultant can help build strong leaders and board members whose leadership and influence can help reinvigorate your donor outreach strategy from the top down. 

Fundraising consultants have the experience and knowledge to figure out the best way to reach your target audience and foster those relationships to last long term. As you research consultants, be sure to find a firm that specializes in or has experience with similar organizations—this gives you access to highly specific, relevant advice.

Above all, remember that donor outreach should be a two-way street. There’s often a major focus on what you’re communicating to your target audience—whether you’re asking them for a donation, thanking them for their support or informing them about additional activities—and not as much focus on what your donors are telling you

You can identify donor preferences from a variety of sources. Prospect research databases and your nonprofit CRM are a good place to start, but you can also determine donors’ opinions through direct surveys and one-on-one conversations. Taking their feedback into account is a great first step toward fostering stronger relationships. 

Looking for additional resources to take your outreach strategy to the next level? Check out these articles:

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