Creating a Donor Communications Plan to Woo Your Supporters: Part 1

Blowing hearts to people

How do you show donors you love them?

You want to be the favorite child, don’t you?

Did you know that half of donors give 2/3rds of their annual giving to a single charity. That’s why you want to become the “favorite.” Wouldn’t it be terrific if your donors adopted you and thought of you as a member of their family?

Truly, that’s how important you want to become to your supporters. But it won’t happen just because you’re a “good cause.” There are oodles of great causes out there.  Oodles.  It will happen only when you show your donors you (1) know them and (2) love them. And then, when the time is right,  if you (3) also give them meaningful opportunities to do things that make them feel good.

So you can’t just be thinking fundraising, fundraising, fundraising.

You must be thinking communicating, listening and relationship-building.

Nonprofit marketing communications guru, Kivi Leroux Miller, recently shared 5 ways to make this happen in an interview with fundraising expert Gail Perry. I’m summarizing, plus adding my own thoughts, to give you these 5 steps to woo your donors with a communications strategy. [In Part 2 I’ll offer 9 key nonprofit marketing communications tools you can use to effectively put these strategies into action].


1. Learn who your donors are. Why do they give to you? What do they care about? This is an obvious strategy yet I’m betting you don’t do this systematically, or enough. So stop a minute.

Take out a piece of paper and jot down what you do now to learn more about your supporters. Do you do an annual survey? Do you ask for in-person feedback at events? Do you randomly call folks and ask them if they’ll help you out by answering a few questions? Do you use online research? Do you join online discussion groups (e.g., on LinkedIn or Google+ or Yahoo)? Do you dialogue with folks using a blog and/or social media?  Now take out another piece of paper and write down what else you could do to learn more about folks.

2. Create communications that are relevant to your donors’ lives. Content that’s useful, interesting, compelling and meaningful. Take a minute to think.

What do you do now to show folks the impact of their giving. What “gifts” do you give them of content that may be helpful to them? Or content that may be cool enough, or so urgently compelling, they’d want to share it? How much of what you share is about you vs. about your supporters and what’s important to them?

3. Keep building trust. Are you sharing information over time that continues to build your credibility with folks? Do you use testimonials from others they respect, or just toot your own horn? Are you respectful of them as human beings, and not just as wallets or ATMs? Can they trust that you care about them? Show donor partners you: (1) seek to know and understand them on a deeply personal level; (2) can be relied upon to be completely trustworthy as stewards of their investment, and (3) will always seek to partner honestly and effectively with them to assure a win/win for all involved parties.

4. Keep building a relationship that leads to loyalty and trust. Are you loving folks, thanking folks, listening to folks, courting folks and generally doing all those nice things you’d do were you building a relationship with a friend or family member?

5. Now you can ask! But when you do, make it compelling… timely… relevant… make it key into feelings folks naturally have about being helpful at this time of year or in this type of situation.   Why do donors give? Well… Think a minute about December. That’s the time most nonprofits see huge spikes in giving. Or think about a natural disaster. The same thing happens. Spikey. What’s this about? Hint: It’s not about the tax deduction. It’s because these are times when people, culturally (or through religious upbringing) think about being nice and giving to others — without you even having to prompt them. They are filled with love and nobility. It makes them feel good to give! (e.g., Mother’s Day…  Valentine’s Day… times of year when it’s super cold or hot, and it’s important to get homeless off the street… back to school and kids need hot meals… and so forth). Help folks to enact the values they want to enact, but could not were it not for the fact that they have your organization through which to do so.

Here’s what I believe to be your most important take-away when it comes to successfully wooing donors:

Success begins — and ends — with how you treat your donors in between the times when they make donations.

This doesn’t mean you should stop asking. Not at all.

It means you also need to focus on the time ‘in-between’ the asks.

You are losing 55 – 65% of your first time donors. Even 20% of your monthly donors drop off annually. These folks loved you enough to commit to a regular, monthly gift. Yet… they’re still leaving you! All these folks were EXPENSIVE to acquire. They’re much less expensive to retain.  So, the answer as to where you should be deploying more resources seems obvious. Duh!  But too few nonprofits take a focus on donor retention to heart.  And it’s killing you.

How to cope with all this loss? How to stop the carnage?

75% of donors are telling us (per Penelope Burk’s research) that their first gift is not their most generous gift. In fact, you have to get to the 5th, 6th or 7th gift to actually net any profit with these newly acquired donors.

Donors want to be wooed! It’s your job to keep the love alive, or it’s all for naught.

When people feel good, that’s a better predictor of their future giving than recency, frequency or anything else. Donor Voice research shows that if they rate themselves as “committed”, “loyal” or “my favorite charity” they will become an ongoing donor.

So… it’s your job to really think, long and hard, about what you can do to make people feel good.

Number one? Thank them! Treat them like a member of your family! Ask for their opinions! Keep them ‘in the know.” Show them the impact of their giving. Show them they are being the heroes giving your stories happy endings.

Your donors matter. They’re important to you. Show them!

Kivi tells the story of the bookkeeper and the angel. We all have  emotional and rational sides to our personality. We pretend that the rational controls. Not true. We make emotional decisions we justify with our rational brain. We know, with our brains, that if we eat too much we’ll gain weight. Yet we still eat the sundae. Why? We rationalize we deserve it because… we won an award, we had a bad day… whatever! The bookkeeper in all of us needs the receipt. He needs logistical information, statistics, etc. But the decision to give was made by the angel. In your donor communications you need to speak to the bookkeeper and the angel. But it turns out the bookkeeper doesn’t need much.  Just give the little bits and pieces folks need to rationalize their decision. But know that the inner angel is in control.  Mostly, share emotional stories.  They win folks over every time.

There’s a difference between viewing the world through a “fundraising” lens and a “communications” lens. The latter channels “philanthropy” (aka, love of humankind); the former is too much about monetary transactions.  The latter is transformative. It will get you further — and make you and your supporters feel a whole lot better.

In Part 2 we’ll cover 9 Communication Plan Tools to turn these five strategies into actionable steps you can take to woo — and renew — your valuable supporters.

Storytelling E-CourseSpeaking of sharing emotional stories to win over and keep supporters…

Check out The Power of Storytelling: 4 Weeks to Engage Board and Staff as Passionate Fundraisers with me and storyteller extraordinaire, Vanessa Chase. Join us for a 4-week storytelling journey that will transform your fundraising – making it more effective and a lot more fun! Catch the Early Bird deal before March 15th to save $30.  Two experts for the price of one. Plus the course comes with a 100% guarantee.

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About Claire

I’m Claire and I want to help you raise more money, reach more people and build long-lasting relationships with your supporters. Take a look in the archives.


  1. N Davis says:

    Claire, your knoweldge, the insights you develop, and your clear writing about them is amazing. I am so lucky there is a resource like you to inspire and guide me in the day to day of fundraising oops I meant philanthropy :)

    • Thanks so much for your kind words. You make my day! It is my pleasure to inspire and guide you. Please let me know if there’s every any other way I can be of service to you and your organization. All the best, Claire

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