Growing Givers: Donor Cultivation Strategies From The Experts

Donor Acquisition and Retention

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Several weeks ago, I had the privilege of sitting in on a workshop by Chris Doyle and Randy Brewer from the Brewer Direct Marketing group. I’ve never worked with the company, but I can say that they offered some really fantastic strategies for retaining donors and keeping them connected long after they make their gift. Here are some gems from that presentation:

1. Communicate regularly

When you work with donors, it’s easy to think that you’re the only nonprofit with which they have a relationship. That’s not true! Your donors are being flooded with appeals, e-mails, social media posts, and newsletters from multiple organizations. Neglecting them may lose you may lose you a donor that might never come back, but they’ll easily move onto another charity. If you’re not talking to your donors, someone else is… so keep in touch.

2. Don’t shake things up

How do your donors want to communicate with you? If they respond well to direct mail, keep sending them appeals and newsletters through the mail. If they consistently respond to e-mails but don’t really react to direct mail campaigns, save yourself some postage and stick to e-mail. Chris and Randy caution against trying to shake up communication styles for established donors — saving some money by switching to all-digital marketing or (heaven forbid) trying to switch a ton of fundraising efforts to social media will come back to haunt you. Figure out how your donors want to communicate, then stick to it.

3. You are not your target audience

This kind of goes hand-in-hand with the previous point, but I’d never heard the sentiment phrased so succinctly. When you’re communicating with your donors, don’t think about how you’d want a nonprofit to speak to you — think about how your donors want to be addressed. The moment you became a nonprofit employee, you stopped seeing the world through a donor’s eyes. You see the world through a fundraiser’s eyes! You might want to know about a nonprofit’s 990, their various campaigns and strategies, or the giant check they received from a corporate sponsor. Your donors, on the other hand, probably don’t care. They want to know about the people you help, the stories your beneficiaries can tell, and how their donation is changing the world. Give your donors what they want, not what you want.

4. Donor retention is fine, but donor cultivation is better

There’s one fundamental difference between donor retention and donor cultivation. Donor retention emphasizes keeping your donors involved the same way they are now. Donor cultivation emphasizes keeping your donors coming back more frequently or encouraging them to make larger gifts. Donor retention could result in a donor making the same $20 gift every quarter for the rest of their life. And that’s fine! Successful donor cultivation would result in that donor making a larger gift or making that gift more frequently. There are all kinds of ways to cultivate donors, but the basic goal is this: you invest time and effort into your donor, your donor makes a bigger investment in your organization, which leads to more time and effort invested into the donor. It’s a beautiful cycle… and it’s much more fun than merely keeping your donors around.

Donor cultivation is one of the most efficient ways to raise money for your nonprofit. These starting-points are a good way to get started!

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