When I talk with clients about fundraising growth strategies, donor retention and donor relations tend to be at the top of the strategy list. After all, it costs more money to acquire new donors than to retain current donors. And one of the areas that can give non-profits the biggest bang for their buck is donor communications. Creating a stellar and consistent donor communications plan can foster community and loyal donor relationships
It is important to me that my clients build a community of loyal donors who love the organization and hopefully sustain the work for years to come.
So, when I map out a retention strategy donor stewardship is a part of that, but I also look at the bigger picture of donor communication. In the bigger picture of our work — philanthropy — relationship building and providing communication that connects donors with their impact, are key.
Whether you work with annual giving donors or major donors, consider putting together a donor communications plan that further integrates relationship building into your fundraising program. Let’s talk about how you can do this through the 5 elements of a stellar donor communications plan that builds donor loyalty.
WHY COMMUNICATING WITH YOUR DONOR IS A MUST
For several years now, there has been a lot of donor research published that very clearly tells us that after making a gift, donors want to know how their gift was used, what the impact was and other opportunities to be involved in meaningful ways with the cause.
So how do we put this information into practice for the benefit of our relationships with donors? The answer is staying in touch with donors in between appeals and not making an additional ask. This usually looks like communication that is purely informational, educational and interesting. By providing donors with this kind of communication you are building up their familiarity with your non-profit while gaining their trust, which in turn improves their loyalty over time.
But as George Bernard Shaw once said, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” I’ve found that many non-profits think they’ve communicated with donors, but it hasn’t quite hit the mark. Creating a donor communications plan that complements your fund development activities is the easiest way to begin communicating more consistently with contributors.
5 Elements of a Stellar Donor Communications Plan that Builds Loyalty
5 ELEMENTS OF A STELLAR DONOR COMMUNICATION PLAN
As you think about putting together your communications plan, there are a few things to keep in mind. Here are the 5 components of a stellar donor communications plan.
1. Post-Gift Follow Up
When you start mapping out a donor communications plan, the easiest place to start is with post-gift follow up. This is the stewardship and communication that happens after a donor makes a gift. This could include a thank you letter, tax receipt, new donor welcome packet, and/or phone call. What matters is that you (and your team) know exactly what gets sent to which donors and when.
Once you know what is getting sent to donors, review your current materials and identify ways you can improve them.
As an example, you will find the following Thank You Email Template created by Donor Perfect and a sample of the email campaign.
2. Seasonal Communication
The next piece of your plan is to map out seasonal communication. These are the communication heartbeats that help your organization stay in touch with donors through meaningful updates. This could include newsletters, gratitude reports, handwritten notes, phone calls, and so on.
In the plans I create, I aim to have at least one seasonal donor communication per quarter. Be sure to factor in when you’re sending out asks so that everything is spaced out.
Following there’s an example of a gratitude report sent out by the IWK Foundation as part of their seasonal communication plan with their donors.
3. Meaningful Content
You’ve identified the high level pieces of your donor communications plan. Next, you need to map out meaningful content for your communications. The best donor communications plans have clear messaging and outline what types of content to share with donors. Of course I’m biased, but stories really do make for meaningful content in donor communications.
Here’s a video that will walk you through how to tell effective stories in fundraising and donor communications.
4. Be Mindful of the Narrative You’re Crafting
Since we’re on the topic of content, one thing to be mindful of as you build your donor communications plan is the narrative you’re crafting over time. This is different than stories. Narrative is the product of the stories, messages, and other content you share with donors. What does the sum of those parts tell donors? It’s not something we think about, but it’s worth reflecting on the whole to make sure you’re consistent and on message in the way you want to be.
If you want to dig deeper into how to create your non-profit’s narrative, check this video where I outline four steps you can take to create your narrative.
Ready for a deeper time into narrative and non-profit storytelling? Join me inside The Storytelling Non-Profit Master Class.
5. Budget Is Key For Your Donor Communications Plan
How you communicate matters as much as what you say. As you build out your plan, you need to know how you’ll share this content with donors. Start by thinking about whether your donors have a preference for digital or offline communication. Consider your organization’s budget, time and resources to execute different types of communications. You may have aspirations of making an Oscar-worthy thank you video, but your budget may have other plans.
FROM PLAN TO IMPLEMENTATION
Getting your plan down on paper certainly increases your chances for a successful year of donor communications. As you begin to implement your donor communications plan, there are ample opportunities to assess and modify your plan to continue to meet your donors’ needs.
Develop a few metrics to look at on a regular basis. This could include things like response rates or open rates. Notice changes over time and look at variables that may have had an impact on its success.
Another way to assess the success and effectiveness of your communications is to simply ask your donors what they think! This could be in one-off phone calls that you make or you could create an annual survey to get their feedback. Since your goal is to create great communications that they love, there really is no better way to get feedback to hone your efforts.
It is important to strategically plan a Donor Communication Plan in order to build a long-lasting and loyal relationship with your contributors and your cause. Make sure that your Donor Communication Plan involves the donor by asking them their opinion and set some metrics to your campaign.
You’ll create a Stellar Donor Communication Plan if you take into account these 5 tips:
1. Post-Gift Follow Up
2. Seasonal Communication
3. Meaningful Content
4. Be Mindful of The Narrative You’re Crafting
5. Mediums that Work for Your Organization and Your Donors