Special to the Philanthropy Journal
By Noah Barnett, Director of Research and Insights at Virtuous
More than 75% of donors will give to a single nonprofit only once. That’s a sobering statistic when you consider that nonprofits today are increasingly reliant on individual donor contributions vs. foundational grants. Fostering loyalty with donors is paramount to long-term sustainability. Further, donors want to feel continually connected to your cause. That connection is why they gave in the first place. Nonprofits that consistently feed that connection, in the right way, are much more likely to realize greater generosity.
The key to combating diminishing engagement lies in how you communicate with your donor community. If you’re finding it difficult to foster giving at a sustainable level, I challenge you to think about donor engagement differently than you have in the past.
Here’s how to engage donors in a way that will connect them more deeply with your cause, and when the time is right for them to give, they think of your organization first.
Give them a personalized experience
Historically, the way nonprofits have communicated with the majority of their donors has disconnected them from the cause. The traditional approach to fundraising focuses on the needs of the nonprofit (funding, volunteerism, advocacy) and fails to recognize how the act of generosity actually functions. The approach to everyday donors is in stark contrast with how nonprofits engage with their major donors. Writers of big checks get highly personalized experiences that aim to keep them connected to the WHY behind their generosity.
Guess what? Today’s average, individual donors expect a high degree of personalized treatment, too, even if they’re giving as little as $25 per month. You can thank for-profit consumer marketing for this shift. Your donors have gotten used to highly personalized experiences every time they go online. In fact, they assume it will happen, making for a jarring experience when nonprofits fail to personalize their communication.
What if I told you that by adjusting the frequency and style of communication in the first 60 days after an initial donation, you could drastically boost long-term giving? The primary reason most donors only give one time to a single nonprofit is because the organization doesn’t follow up in the right way, right away. Gratitude is the center of generosity, so thanking them a few times in a way that connects to why they gave to your cause in the first place provides a significant impact.
If you have email marketing capabilities in place, you can set up a sequence of “thank you” emails that share stories of the good their gift did. The emails can invite them to engage with your organization on social media, attend events, volunteer, and share videos that inspire advocacy. The “ask” doesn’t always have to be for more money (more on that below). In fact, in those first few months, the asks should be about engaging with you and becoming part of your cause. When the time is right, you can ask for a monetary gift and you’re far more likely to get it.
Let the data guide you
Personalization is the engine that increases donor engagement. It’s worth the time to study available data on your donor base to learn about why and how they gave to you once before. For example, if you’ve been capturing donor data, you might know who gave a gift in someone else’s name, or for a specific person. This would inform you that your cause was very personal to them, and your communication to them should reflect that.
It also helps to know how they gave. Did they give once at the holidays? At a time that celebrates an anniversary of something? Were they a recurring donor who stopped? Did they click a “donate” call-to-action on social media, mail a check, go directly to your website, or give through text? The way in which they chose to give previously tells you how they’re more likely to give in the future. Think of it this way: Don’t ask the person who mails checks and isn’t on social media to go to your Facebook page to make a donation. And don’t leave your twenty-something stranded when they want to give by forcing them to write a check: they don’t even have a checkbook.
In order to truly personalize communication with donors, you need to understand them thoroughly. There is no shortage of tools available to help you gather and analyze both publicly available data, as well as data on how they engage with your organization. With these combined insights, you can learn a great deal about inactive donors, tailor communication to them in a very personalized way, and recommend opportunities for giving that fit where they are in their donor journey.
Here’s an example of how to put this into action: Reach out to a list of inactive donors with light touches (inspiring stories to remind them how they helped, updates on your organization, etc.). In each of these communications, include a survey question or two. Ask them about what prompted them to make their first donation, why they feel connected to your cause, and what other causes they like. As you collect data, further personalize your communication.
The more data you gather, the more you personalize your outreach, the more your donors will engage and give back.
It’s all about timing
If someone hasn’t given in a while, reaching out just to ask them for money, with the same generic message you deliver to everyone else in your donor community, isn’t going to be very effective. Asks should be donor-centric, timed correctly to where they are, and should help them see how they are part of your cause, and not just a resource for you.
The idea is to get back into the mindshare of disengaged donors by helping them say a bunch of smaller “yeses” vs. one big “yes.” It’s much easier for them to get inspired to share a cool video on Instagram, or read one of your blog posts, than to take out their wallet and write another check.
You can keep up this series of light touches over the course of many months with marketing automation. Once donors become reengaged, you can start to ask them to give. It’s critical that you watch and measure their engagement along the way. Are they opening your emails? Are they sharing your Facebook posts? Are they watching your videos? If you have a donor engagement platform, this type of data gathering and reporting will happen organically. As stated already, let the data guide you. Save your big ask for the right time, and you’re far more likely to see it fulfilled.
Your inactive donors are an essential audience to engage as you seek to grow giving and achieve sustainability. You don’t have to disregard donors who only gave once, or haven’t given in a long time. They can be warmed up again with personalized engagement, delivered at the right time, with the right ask. It’s worth the investment of resources and time to reconnect these donors to your cause.
Noah Barnett is the Director of Research and Insights at Virtuous, your nonprofit’s CRM, Communications, and Giving Platform designed to help you grow giving and create a personalized donor experience at scale. Previously, Noah spent ten years in fundraising and marketing leadership roles at CauseVox, World Help, HubSpot, and The Adventure Project. He knows firsthand the challenges nonprofits face and is passionate about equipping them with the resources and insights they need to rally people around their cause.