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By DonorSearch

Are you raising funds for a nonprofit organization? You’re in a noble line of work. Nonprofit fundraising is a people-oriented field. When you raise funds, you are helping donors realize their dream of making a difference in the lives of other people. Then why, as you get more successful, does it feel harder and harder to know your donors? It’s a paradox. At the start, you knew everybody who gave, some of them personally. Now, your organization may have hundreds or thousands of loyal supporters. They can’t all be your friends…but you still have to know them. Your fundraising depends on it! Here are five instances when knowing your donors is vital: 1. When You’re Asking for Money 2. When You’re Staying in Touch 3. When You’re Writing a Newsletter 4. When You’re Collecting Stories to Share 5. When the Donor Calls Let’s start with the most important tip…

1. When You’re Asking for Money

As I write this, we are approaching the end of the calendar year, when many nonprofit organizations receive most of their support from donors. It’s crucial to get your appeal letter right. But one size does not fit all. If you are sending the same letter to all your donors, you’re leaving money on the table. Think about it. If you give money to an organization and they don’t even know who you are, how likely are you to give again? So, your nonprofit needs to know at least:
  • Whether you’re asking a donor to renew their gift or a prospect to give for the first time
  • If they’re a donor, when and how much they gave before
  • What interests them about your organization’s work (because if they care about the housing you build, and you ask them to support the childcare you offer, they may wonder who you think you’re talking to!)
Ideally, you would also have some sense of the donor’s capacity to give. If you know all these things, you can segment your list and send different letters to donors than to prospects, tell stories about the work the donor cares about the most, thank them for their previous gift, and ask them for an amount they can afford to give if they care enough to do so. And you will make more money for your good cause!

2. When You’re Staying in Touch

Why do two out of three first-time donors to your organization never make a second gift? Jay Love of Bloomerang lists five reasons:
  1. Thought the charity did not need them: 5%
  2. No information on how monies were used: 8%
  3. No memory of supporting: 9%
  4. Never thanked for donating: 13%
  5. Poor service or communication: 18%
Knowing your donors helps you know what to say in the thank-you letter you send within 48 hours of receiving the initial gift. It helps your board members know what to say when they call donors to thank them. And it will help you every time you “touch” them in any way throughout the year.

3. When You’re Writing a Newsletter

Beyond being thanked, donors want to hear how their donations made a difference. That’s the reason for publishing a nonprofit newsletter: to tell them. If you know your donors well, you can decide whether it makes sense to send a print newsletter, an e-newsletter, or both, or send print to some people and email to others. If you know what they care about, you can send newsletters on particular topics to the people who want to read them. Or, at the least, you can make sure your newsletters include items that will appeal to the various audiences you’ll find among your donors. Don’t make anyone feel left out!

4. When You’re Collecting Stories to Share

The absolute best way to let donors know they made a difference is by telling a story of success, in your newsletter, in your email, and wherever you can. And the best way to convince donors and prospects know there’s a problem they can solve is by telling a story about one person, in trouble, who needs their help. It’s a lot easier to do if you already have a story bank: a collection of tales you can tell, ready at hand. But which stories will appeal to your audience? The better you know the donors and prospects on your list, the easier it will be to recognize a narrative that will captivate them and make them want to know more (and give, to ensure a happy ending!)

5. When the Donor Calls

So, let’s imagine that you have taken all these steps, and you’re on the way to creating a genuine relationship with the donor. You’ve successfully appealed to them. You’ve thanked them. You’ve communicated with them and captured their imagination with a story. In fact, you’ve made such a connection with your donor that she calls up your nonprofit. She has a question about an article in the newsletter, or she has a color printer to donate to your office…or, she wants to know how to include your organization in her will. Will you know immediately who she is? Remember, you don’t carry all the donor information in your head any more—there is just too much of it! But if you have recorded all your donor research and all your past interactions with the donor in a good database, you can call it up with a few clicks of the mouse. Before you know it, you’ll be talking with the donor like old friends. It feels good to know your donors, and sometimes, it really pays off.
This blog post was brought in collaboration with Dennis Fischman of Communicate! Consulting. Thanks to Dennis  for the contribution!   At Communicate! Consulting, Dennis helps nonprofits win loyal friends. Passionate about social change, he left a senior management position that had grown more and more technical so he could help nonprofit organizations tell their stories in person, in writing, and through social media.  Dennis has been the “Development Director by the hour” for small nonprofit organizations.
5 Times It Really Pays to Know Your Donors