Harvesting Good Donor Relations

November 15, 2017 - by Lynsey Gallagher

Donor cultivation is an essential part of any effective fundraising program.  We know that Meals on Wheels donors support, on average, 19 nonprofit organizations!  With such generous philanthropic behavior, you want to make sure that you have created the strongest relationship possible with your donors – so you stay at the top of their charitable giving list.

How do you do this?  Not surprisingly, it’s a lot like cultivating and maintaining a good friendship. 

Start the relationship right.  Every organization thanks donors for their gifts, but if you do it quickly, donors will be much more likely to remember you.  Send thank-you letters within 48 hours if possible – or a week at the most. And include a reply envelope in each acknowledgement – donors will often use it to make an additional gift.  New donors are especially excited about supporting you, so send new donor welcome material that provides more information about your organization and other ways to participate ­­­­­­– such as volunteer opportunities, and through your monthly donor program.  

Make every “Thank You” count.  Be sure to let donors know how their gift was used and how grateful you are.  Make sure your acknowledgment letter reflects the appeal to which the donor gave.  At higher levels, include a live signature and write a personal note, if possible.  (Smaller organizations can do this at all gift levels – which is terrific!)  To make it extra personal, hand address the envelope to help it stand out in the mail.

Respect your donors’ privacy.  Make sure you honor donors’ requests regarding mail frequency and privacy.  Also, offer your donors the chance to opt out of having their name exchanged.  Get back to your donors right away to let them know that their requests have been noted.   

Stay in touch.  Set up an annual communications calendar to include every contact you are making with donors.  Think about the sequence of appeals, newsletters, online communications, etc. from your donor’s point of view – to ensure that they work together.

Not every letter should include an ask.   Schedule at least one contact a year just to share information about your work – but not ask for money.  Tell your donors that they are important to you, and that’s why you are sharing special information with them.  And, of course, thank them for making your work possible! Cultivation postcards or survey mailings are great, inexpensive options for this type of communication.

Invite them to come visit!  Invite donors to events designed to show your work first-hand: a behind-the-scenes kitchen tour, for example, to deliver meals with a board or staff member, or a special holiday meal for your clients.  Most donors will probably decline to attend, but will be pleased to have been invited – and will feel closer to your organization as a result.

Following these strategies will help keep your donors with you for the long haul!