The Intelligent Fundraiser® Resources to Help You Work Smarter, Not Harder.
The Intelligent Fundraiser® Resources to Help You Work Smarter, Not Harder.
June 26, 2014 by
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5 Keys to Improving Your Relationships with Major Donors

We know that donor stewardship is about relationships. However, taking a deeper look at the perspectives of many nonprofit leaders reflects a definition of stewardship that’s contingent on the fulfillment of specific activities.

For instance, many nonprofit leaders believe they’re being “good stewards” by doing things like sending a thank-you, communicating through a newsletter, or delivering the annual report in a timely manner. Despite their best intentions, those activities can start to look more like completing a checklist than building a relationship.

So what does it take to actually build a relationship with your major donors if “checking off the boxes” isn’t working? It all begins and ends with the idea of stewardship. You need to see your relationships with donors as capital, just as much as you do their dollars. When you have that perspective, you’ll begin to learn why being good stewards of your donors is just as important as being good stewards of the resources they give.

A few weeks ago, we had the opportunity to share three steps to move first-time givers into major donors with the Nonprofit Marketing Guide. Without stewardship, none of those three steps work.

5 Keys to Improving Your Relationships with Donors

As with any other aspect of your nonprofit, you need to have a strategy for building relationships with your donors. Developing a strategy for integrated stewardship ultimately contributes to better donor retention.

The following five components are key to building a fluid relationship with donors from the first interaction:

  1. A Strategic Plan: Every nonprofit should have thoughtful and planned communications with an emotional connection.
  2. A Consistent Message: Every interaction with your donors should include a common inspirational message throughout.
  3. An Integrated Communications Plan: Today’s donors share a multitude of communication preferences. If you want to effectively connect with all of them, your strategy needs to anticipate cross-channel interactions.
  4.  A Congruent Approach: In order to communicate effectively, you need to learn how to leverage channel strengths by providing just the “right” amount of content. The way you build relationships through direct mail is different than the way you build relationships through social media.
  5.  An Intentional Effort: Finally, your donor-relations strategy needs to help you achieve your goals. You will only see results from your efforts if you learn how to drive donors toward stated goals.
3 steps to start improving your relationships with donors

If you’re ready to start building better relationships with donors, here are three things you can do:

  1. Examine every aspect of your stewardship strategy. Is each piece part of an overall integrated approach? Or do the pieces stand alone with little connection to the emotional story your donors experience as they get to know your organization?
  2. Invest in it. What?is stewardship if not marketing? Piggyback onto what your organization’s marketing department is doing and invest some of those dollars into donor retention. Be intentional about making the donor’s first stewardship interaction just as fabulous as the marketing that got them in the door in the first place.
  3.  Download In the Mind of a Donor. This free whitepaper has helped hundreds of nonprofit leaders understand the fundamental principles of effective donor relations. If you want to establish a framework for reducing the attrition rate of your donors, you can download it here.

Retaining existing donors costs significantly less money than attracting new ones. Developing a donor relationship strategy may not be easy, but it will make a bigger difference in your nonprofit’s bottom line than any other initiative.

Does your nonprofit’s donor-relations strategy include these five elements? How have they helped you reverse donor attrition?

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