Nonprofit Growth Begins with Giving to Your Donors

Mckenna Bailey

As we head toward the final quarter of 2019, nonprofits are focusing on all things growth. Professionals from marketing, development and fundraising are doing everything they can to ask donors to give more. 

Some of it works. Traditional major donor outreach, mass-blasts at the end of the year, Giving Tuesday campaigns — these are reliable sources of generosity. But they are not enough. Nonprofits of all kinds are finding that the fundraising tactics of the past are yielding less and less over time, particularly from the individual donor. 

The truth is, pushing yourself and your team to send more generic messages asking for more money isn’t effective. It brings your donors and staff to the edge of burnout without inspiring the kind of generosity and commitment you need from your donors to achieve the levels of growth you want. 

Consider, instead, starting with generosity. Be generous to your donors before asking for money by providing a complete experience. Here’s how.

A Note on Outdated Nonprofit Growth Strategies

Before we get into the strategies, we want to clarify what we mean by outdated nonprofit growth strategies. We don’t mean analog communications or mail. In fact, face-to-face conversations and direct mail can be incredibly effective when done correctly. Rather, we’re referring to underutilizing the data that you have about your donors to inform your communication strategies. 

Your donor base is constantly giving you information about what they like, what they’re moved by and the ways they like to engage with your organization. To not use that information is to ignore the most important factor in your growth. While your nonprofit might have grown without data-driven strategies in the past, that game works less and less effectively today with contemporary donors. 

The Generosity-Based Nonprofit Growth Plan

To inspire generosity from the modern donor, all nonprofit growth plans need 4 main elements. The strategies, tactics and campaigns your organization uses will be unique to your size and growth goals. However, to make any of them effective in today’s world, you need a comprehensive understanding of these factors. 

Start with Why

At a high level, marketing, development and fundraising teams all know their “why”. They want to bring in more donors to raise more money. That isn’t enough nuance to produce long-term growth for your nonprofit. Instead, each project, initiative and strategy needs a “why”. Your “why” should speak to the deep underlying good you are accomplishing in the world. A good “why” isn’t about your organization or your current fundraising needs. It speaks to the impact your donors want to see in the world

For example, traditional donor segmentation can be a smart strategy that produces higher engagement, conversions and overall experience. But only if you know how one group is different from the next and the “why” that motivates each segment. Simple segmentation by frequency or amount of donations alone isn’t enough to inspire modern donors. Your communication should invite donors to be a part of a movement bigger than themselves. Your segmentation should be based on the specific impact and deep motivation that each group of donors desires

As you’re creating a nonprofit communication strategy, make sure every initiative has two elements. 1) a single purpose and 2) a well-defined expected outcome. This approach will give your donors clarity about how their giving is making a real dent in the world. If you don’t have both, or if you have two or three purposes/outcomes, skip that campaign. Put your effort into the strategies that have a clear vision. 

Understand How to Stay Relevant to Your Donors

Most of your growth initiatives will involve creating new communications. You’ll need messaging targeted towards donors’ interests and motivations. In other words, you need every communication to be as personalized and hyper-relevant as possible. But, here’s the part that many nonprofits don’t understand: your donor base is the only one who can decide what is relevant to them. 

Generic messages at the end of the year that speak to tax benefits or an urgent need to meet budget aren’t relevant to most donors. Great donors need want to hear about their specific impact, not your institution. The good news is that donors are happy to tell you about the impact they would like to see in the world. If you’re not sure about the most relevant impact to communicate just ask your donors. Call and ask, send surveys, or test different messages in your marketing. You’ll be surprised about how much your donors 

As you prepare for your end of year campaigns, start with empathy for each of your donor segments. Try to understand what they’ve experienced from your nonprofit, what drove them to give most recently and what they’ve heard about your organization lately. Consider what what their friends and family care about and how that might affect their decision to give. And then create the messaging that is most relevant to them. 

The work you do up front to create a meaningful message — one that is relevant to what they’re curious and passionate about — will create inspired generosity and loyalty that will directly impact your growth. 

Provide Valuable Resources to Education Donors Before Asking

Technology has put terabytes of information at the fingertips of your donors, any time and anywhere. Our culture is one that celebrates being “in the know” and sharing that information with people who share your interests. It’s the driving force behind viral stories online. And it is no different for your donor base. Modern donors want to feel empowered with information and they value being educated on your cause.

Providing downloadable ebooks, video stories and printed primers on your cause are all ways to provide value to donors before asking for a gift. It is a subtle gesture that shows potential donors that you prioritize transparency and want your donor base to be part of your organization, not just a source of revenue. When your nonprofit is generous in helping educate donors you’ll create more loyal, sacrificial donors who are excited to share your cause with friends.

Use an Integrated Approach to Donor Engagement

As with relevant messaging, integrated marketing and fundraising efforts are important to growing your nonprofit. While a single direct mail or email donation request might have received a good response on their own, it’s when they work together that you’ll see growth numbers that move your fundraising to the next level. The best nonprofits are able to create a single conversation and unified message across all of their channels. This “one conversation, multiple channels” approach inevitably creates more memorable messages and improved results.

The added benefit of integrated marketing and fundraising campaigns is you can distill the value of each engagement into the most important message. Before, you might have included all the major highlights of the past year in a single email, including photos, videos and requests for generosity. And then you’d say the same thing all over again in a direct mail piece. And then you’d say the same thing once more in a speech at your end-of-year gala. Even the most engaged donors are going to find the repetition uninteresting. 

Now, you have the nonprofit tools you need to create a comprehensive plan that sends a variety of messages through a mix of channels at different times. Now you can mail a letter featuring a personal story from one of your volunteers in the mail, post a collage of photos on social media and email a video where you highlight a completed project with a link asking for your donors to give. The variety keeps your donor’s attention and ensures that they don’t miss all of your most important points if they didn’t see your email in their inbox, or accidentally threw your mailer away. 

Respond to What Donors are Telling You

Finally, the single most important nonprofit growth strategy: respond to what your donors are telling you. Listening to your donors and then responding based on what you learn may be the single most important tactic to increase giving. Use the metrics in your reporting tools to measure response to specific messages, take notes at in-person events and keep an eye on the year-over-year trends that you see to shift your strategies to be more meaningful to your donors. 

Collect emails, social comments and personal phone calls as data points for what your donors want to see from your nonprofit. And then, respond accordingly. Don’t let any action, question or comment from your donor base go unacknowledged. In the age of personalized brand experiences, donors expect that you are listening to them and have the information they need to continue to support your nonprofit. 

This means setting up automation workflows that help guide each donors journey. Will limited staff there’s no way most teams to maintain this type of real-time, personal touch at scale. A good automation strategy “listens” for donor signals (clicks, web visits, form fills, responses to a particular campaign) and responds in real-time. Each person’s actions will trigger a unique follow-up.

Your team will also need to regularly pull reports and be transparent about your successes and your failures. Trust is one of the primary drivers of modern donors. And building trust requires both transparency and responsiveness from your organization. You’ll have to convince your stakeholders to let you take chances on new ideas and leverage different resources to see better results. Ultimately, it means dedicating yourself to creating great donor experiences. It means giving value to your donors before you start asking for generosity from them. And that is the secret to nonprofit growth in the modern world.

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