It’s July, the so-called slow season for fundraisers. Your donors are off enjoying their summer vacations, and you’re probably thrilled to have some extra time to do all of those things on your never-ending to-do list.
Before you get too excited to take a break from your donors, I’m here to remind you that we fundraisers should never take vacations from our donors. Fundraising is about relationships, and the best relationships involve a whole lot of communication. You can’t build a good relationship with someone if they only hear from you once or twice a year!
Think about your own giving. Which nonprofits are closest to your heart? And what makes those organizations so special to you? Do you give to organizations that keep you informed about what they’re working on, how their clients are being served and the good that they’re doing in the community, or do you give to organizations that only get in touch when they want something?
Most donors don’t appreciate hearing from fundraisers only when their organizations need money; your fiscal year and your fundraising goals don’t matter to your donors. But keeping donors up to date on what you’re working on isn’t always easy. Some missions lend themselves nicely to visuals, personal stories and updates, while others … don’t.
So what can fundraisers do to keep in touch with their donors regularly?
Know your donor.
First things first: You don’t only need to be in touch with your donors to talk about your organization. Take notes, pay attention to what your donor’s interests are and be in touch when you come across something that might be interesting to your donor.
Let’s say your donor mentioned they’re traveling to Ireland next month, and you just saw an article about a brand-new attraction opening in Dublin. Send it over! One of your donors may have shared with you that their son is graduating from college in the spring. Make a note on your calendar and remember to send a note of congratulations when graduation rolls around. Was your donor lamenting that they’ve never learned to speak French? Send them a French 101 book in the mail with a quick note of encouragement.
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Our role as fundraisers is to connect donors to causes they care about. It’s not to treat them like an ATM machine. The more you can do to build a genuine relationship with your donor, the closer your donor will feel to your organization and your cause.
Understand your programming.
Yes, you’re a fundraiser, not a front-line staff member, but you need to be able to speak knowledgeably about your organization’s work. Most often you’ll be the one talking with your donor, answering their questions and filling them in on the work that you do.
Take some time to really understand your programming. Sit in on classes, participate in workshops, jump in to serve meals, chat with clients in the waiting area, get to know the program staff. Schedule time each month to see your mission in action. Not only will it make you more prepared to discuss or answer questions about your work, it will give you some great firsthand stories to relay to your donors.
Share your impact.
Sometimes, this is the hardest part. If you provide after-school programming for elementary school children, you likely have endless photos of smiling faces and stories about the kids you’re helping. If you deliver food to families experiencing food insecurity, you can easily articulate the impact of your work by sharing statistics about how many meals you’ve served.
But not all nonprofits are created equal, and not all missions translate to visuals, stories or data so easily.
That’s when you need to think outside of the box. How can you demonstrate the impact of what your organization does if you can’t take photos of your clients, share their stories or easily track statistics? A shelter for women and children who have experienced abuse has some very good reasons for not sharing information about its clients. An organization providing therapy makes a positive impact on its client’s lives, but may struggle to track statistics that demonstrate that value.
Program staff are fantastic at expressing the gratitude that both they and their clients feel towards donors for making their program possible.
Maybe some of those clients would consider writing an anonymous, unsigned thank-you note to a donor who supported them. You could ask permission for artwork created by clients to be framed and gifted to a donor, or for it to be scanned and turned into a postcard or holiday card mailed to donors.
Do you have an event coming up that includes t-shirts or other branded merchandise? Why not ask clients to design the item that will be distributed to attendees. Do you give out scholarships? Perhaps you can secure permission to anonymously share the winning essay on your social media channels.
If clients are truly off-limits, think about how to include your board and staff. Program staff are fantastic at expressing the gratitude that both they and their clients feel towards donors for making their program possible. They’re obviously passionate about what they do to spend long hours working towards achieving your mission. Ask if you can film them talking about their work or if they’d consider writing a quick blog post that you can email to donors.
Board members could take 10 minutes at the end of each board meeting to write thank-you notes or make phone calls to donors. You, as the fundraiser, need to be really organized if you go this route: Make a list of donors who need to be thanked, assign each donor to a board member (and keep in mind any relationships that exist between the donors on the list and your board members), provide all of the necessary supplies, and distribute a template for what the note or phone call should convey to the donor. If possible, practice the phone call with your board ahead of time so they’re completely comfortable with the task at hand.
No matter what your mission, it’s incredibly important to plan touchpoints with your donors all year. Do not get in touch only when it’s time to ask for money. Send newsletters, updates, photos, stories — anything that would be interesting to your donors regularly. Plan in-person meetings or invite your donors to your organization’s internal events (as appropriate, of course). Ask donors about themselves, their lives, their passions, their reasons for supporting your organization.
And, of course, remember the golden rule of fundraising: If you want advice, ask for money. If you want money, ask for advice.-30-
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