Scaling donor relationships works at any nonprofit.

Nonprofit Strategies for Scaling Donor Relationships At Any Size

Mckenna Bailey

One constant you’ll find across every organization, no matter what kind, is the problem of scale. The habits and the processes that helped you in the beginning are suddenly making challenges worse. New challenges you couldn’t anticipate start popping up, demanding action. It’s a cycle that can be as exciting as it is frustrating.

One thing that remains a challenge for nonprofits is donor relationships. Specifically, how can you scale donor relationships, in an authentic way, as you grow into a multi-million dollar nonprofit?

It’s a question that we hear constantly, so we thought we would do our best to offer some ideas. Here are 10 ways you can scale donor relationships, whether  you’re a small nonprofit or a large one. If you have ideas, or strategies that have helped you, please let us know on Twitter. We want to get this conversation going.

Scaling Donor Relationships for Small Nonprofits

Skip to Strategies for Large Nonprofits

Small nonprofits, in our opinion, have the advantage in scaling donor relationships. A smaller donor base will likely be more engaged, and thus, more excited to give you feedback on the creative ideas you try. As you try different strategies, make sure to keep a report on successes, challenges and ideas for next time.

1. Automate Donor Engagements

First and foremost, make sure that your team is free from any tasks that could be disguised as “quick”. This means sending welcome emails, thank you emails, follow up calls or other outreach efforts. When you have 5 people to call, it’s easy for one person to do in an afternoon. As you scale, donor phone calls can transform into one person’s full-time job.

Instead, identify a few high-volume tasks that are simple enough to happen automatically. Obviously, sending thanks to a big gift donor wouldn’t be a task that you’d want to automate. It doesn’t happen that often, and it should be highly-personalized. But, you could automate your social profiles to follow back every new follower, as a way to grow your community and show thanks for being interested.

Ask your team what takes up the majority of their time during the day, and decide which ones you can automate. With more free time, you can put your effort towards meeting new potential donors and building awareness for your nonprofit.

2. Host A Group Meetup

Donor relationships don’t always need to involve your team, directly. Donors also enjoy meeting other people who give to your cause because they see it as their cause as well. Donors who meet through your nonprofit have an immediate, personal connection and often become fast friends.

To keep your network of donors connected, but not require extra time from your team, host group meetups to encourage connections. You can hold monthly meetings in your specific community, or you can host live chats online. We suggest a mix of informal and formal meetups. For example, if one week you have a presentation to share, make the next week a storyteller night, where people share together.

Your goal will be to encourage people to connect without you. Give them volunteer ideas or books to read together so that they can build a stronger connection to your cause, without needing extra attention from your team.

As an added bonus, platforms like YouTube will turn your livestreams into hosted videos on your profile. You can then send these videos to your entire email list to entice them to join the next meetup or make them feel part of your conversation, even if they weren’t there. All this is free and the level of effort required of your team stays about the same as your donor base grows.

3. Publish a State of the Nonprofit

Some donors don’t require heavy engagement. These folks want to know that you’re making progress towards your goal, but aren’t likely to attend meetups. This group is still important, as it will only get bigger as you grow, and you want to be sure they stay passionate in their own way.

Try connecting with these people through a State of the Nonprofit report during the summer. Include stories from your employees, progress data and goals you’re hoping to reach by the end of the year. If you have the resources, add visual elements that make the whole story come to life and remind people why they love your nonprofit in the first place. Try to make each section personal and relatable, not too numbers-driven. You want people to feel like they’re reading the story of your work, not evaluating your performance.

Although this project can be labor-intensive upfront, it’s the kind of communications that can be a powerful reminder to your donors of the kind of impact they’re making on the world. We  also suggest developing 2 or 3 templates that you can rotate between so that your team is not starting from scratch every year.

As your donor base grows, you can use a State of the Nonprofit report as a direct mail communication and deliver it electronically. Repurpose the sections of your report on your different marketing channels to get multiple integrated engagements without making your team do more work.

4. Survey Your Donor Base

A perfect way to know how to stay connected to your donor base as they grow is to simply ask them. Make a habit of sending a survey out once a year to try to understand who your donors are, what they’re interested in and how often they want to hear from you. To make it more fun for your donors, throw questions in the survey that are simply about their interests.

You can also take this census and turn it into an infographic to give back to your donors. Show them interesting trends you find in the survey. For example, maybe you find out that most donors who give to your nonprofit own two dogs. Now you have a fun topic of conversation to bring up at your next meetup that not only solidifies their connection to this community, but does so in a way that isn’t reliant upon your team’s communications efforts.

A survey will also illuminate which donor relationship strategies you can leave behind as you scale up. Even if other nonprofits swear this donor relationship strategy is essential to success, if your donors are telling you it doesn’t matter to them, give it up. Spend your time (and money) doing things that reaches the biggest portion of your donor base, in the most powerful way.

5. Segment Your Donor Types

Segmenting your donor types is a habit that could seem premature for a small nonprofit, but it will save you an incredible amount of time as you start to scale. Start to identify who in your donor base needs high engagement and who doesn’t. Make lists of donors who have given for years, and those that are brand new. Segment by location or social influence. How you differentiate donors isn’t as important as why.

As you learn what each segment responds to, you’ll be able to create programs and engagement sequences that can maintain donor relationships. With the right foundation, you’ll be able to scale donor relationships no matter how quickly you grow. You’ll know exactly what it takes to get a second donation from someone. You’ll know how many touch points are necessary before a donor increases their giving amount. Most importantly, you can apply what you learned as a small nonprofit to every new donor you earn as a large nonprofit.

Scaling Donor Relationships at Large Nonprofits

Scaling donor relationships as a large nonprofit requires a different approach than for smaller nonprofits, but is no less complex. Because large nonprofits manage relationships with a large variety of people, it can be nearly impossible to find the right strategy that works for everyone. If you find yourself struggling to connect to your newest donors, here are some ways to build a connection that won’t require a total upheaval of your current process.

Donor relationships are all about value.

1. Change Your Conference Schedule

Large nonprofits often use conferences as a way to meet donors across the country. It’s a way to connect with your most enthusiastic donors and meet potential new donors. Unfortunately, because we’re all creatures of habit, we attend the same conferences year after year. While you are likely making your existing relationships stronger, you’re probably not scaling your network.

We suggest rotating your conference schedule every year to include a mix of established events and smaller ones. Send different employees to each conference so you can get face-to-face with as many passionate donors as possible. By doing this, you are meeting and connecting with different people every year without spending any more money or changing your strategy. Everyone wins.

2. Establish a Video Program

Video content creates meaningful engagement with donors whether just one person watches or one million see it. If you’re looking for a quick win that can scale all your donor relationships, start a video program for your nonprofit.

Create videos that highlight a day in your office. Focus on videos from out in the field or recaps of annual events. Better yet, create a video welcome series that shows off all the best parts of your nonprofit community. With a library of different video series, you can send your donors through different engagement campaigns without creating any new content. With the right workflows, your new donors could engage with your nonprofit a dozen times before any of your team members have a new task to complete. By that time, they are primed to be a loyal, dedicated donor and your development team’s job is much easier.

3. Diversify Your Impact

A common problem nonprofits face with their longtime donors is maintaining a high level of interest. Without new initiatives or progress to rally behind, donors’ generosity tends to level off. Their connection to your nonprofit can also suffer. To combat this, and maintain a high-quality relationship with all your donors as you grow, try introducing new opportunities for giving.

If your nonprofit does relief effort, introduce a new program where you can sponsor children from affected areas the year after the disaster. If you build wells, offer an initiative where donors can provide sustainable water bottles to those communities. Or, try something as simple as selling t-shirts and other merchandise. New initiatives, much like a State of the Nonprofit for small nonprofits, will require effort, but it will likely provide the best results. Longtime donors will be reinvigorated and re-engaged and you will have created a new path to scale donor relationships over time.

4. Refresh Your Donor Data Management Process

Sometimes, the solution to scaling donor relationships isn’t in adding something new, but rather, optimizing something that already exists. If you’ve been using the same data management system for a decade, it’s probably been a while since you assessed whether it’s providing you the value you need.

If you notice a higher percentage of new donors dropping out of your network, or you can’t seem to maintain donor relationships past a certain number of people, it may be time to reconsider the tools you use. A different suite of tools might be exactly what your team needs to execute their creative ideas to scale donor relationships. With new capabilities will come new opportunities and accomplishments.

5. Create a Donor Advisory Board

Finally, try creating a donor advisory board to work closely with your team on all things donor relationships. We’re firm believers in talking directly to the source when it comes to understanding your donor base, so this is definitely one of our favorite strategies.

Whenever you’re considering hosting a new event, introducing a new initiative or changing up your engagement processes, your donor advisory board can give you meaningful feedback that represents your target audience. Forget algorithms or nonprofit trends, you can ask the people directly how they want your relationship to go. Efficiency and transparency like that is something a tool could never provide.

Tell Us Your Strategies for Scaling Donor Relationships

These are some ideas we’ve seen work in other organizations, but we want to know what has worked for you! Find us on LinkedIn or Facebook and tell us about your favorite donor relationship strategies. We’d love to create a brainstorm space to help nonprofits large and small!

Donor relationships are all about value.

Responsive Fundraising: The Blueprint for Engaging Modern Donors

Traditional fundraising strategies no longer work. This blueprint explains why today's donor expects more, and how nonprofits are shifting to responsive fundraising.

Get the Blueprint