9 Key Nonprofit Communications Tools to Woo Donors: Part 2

This above all: Listen to build relationships. Don't yell. It's not about you.

This above all: Listen to build relationships. Don’t yell. It’s not about you.

In Part 1 we covered 5 steps to woo your donors with a communications strategy. Today we’ll look more closely at 9 key communications tools you can use effectively to build closer relationships with your supporters. Some are extraordinarily simple. It’s just that many nonprofits fail to use these tools consistently, or well. If you make a practice of doing so, you’ll be well ahead of the game.

9 Key Nonprofit Communications Tools to Woo Donors


1. Thank you letters. Prompt. Personal. Not automated or “form.” Part greeting card; part all you. And part something that sets the stage for a continuing relationship. Thank donors for their partnership… for joining your family…  your community. Offer ways folks can become involved that don’t involve money. And use the word “you” a lot. “You” made the difference. “You” provided the happy ending.

2. ‘Bulk’ thank you’s at milestones during the year (e.g., fiscal year-end; end of a campaign; program anniversary). Report on the impact their gift had. Show them, again, they are a hero.

3. Periodic, thoughtful thank you’s such as cards, calls, videos or texts to directly connect your supporters to your work. Keep connecting the dots for your donors. Show them what happens when they give.

For good things once a year is not enough. Why do so many of us only eat turkey once a year?  Or pumpkin pie? I’ve no idea! It’s not rational. These are special foods we value and take great delight in. It’s also not rational to thank your donors only annually.  They keep you going all year long. They deserve your gratitude all year long as well.



4. Donor-centered newsletter articles. In print, maybe quarterly. E-newsletter, best is monthly. 75% of nonprofits who mail newsletters do so monthly, so don’t fall behind the curve. Tom Ahern recommends “The Domain Formula”:

Make every article about the donor; not about your organization. Flip your perspective. No more “We do this” but shift to “You make this possible.” Have the clients/patients/students tell their own story. Have them thank the donors personally. Give credit where credit is due.

5. Email newsletters work differently than print newsletters. People skim them. They don’t leave them around on the coffee table to settle in for a long read. So, write for low attention spans. Take a cue from Aussie fundraising consultant Jonathon Grapsas, who introduced the idea of “SMIT.” SMIT is an acronym that stands for “Single Most Important Thing” I have to tell you. Try showcasing just one thing that focuses on current impact.  Then link to other stories on your website or blog. Include links to other things folks can do besides giving money. (e.g., advocacy action; volunteer; attend an event, share with their social networks).


6. Annual reports in print. It’s still 2014. Short, timely, and personal will work better than long, dated and formal. Think “amazing results” rather than “historical record.” Kivi Leroux Miller, nonprofit communications expert, recommends a “new and improved” annual report that’s 2 – 4 pages long. Even if you create a long one, you still need the short version for most people. This is becoming a trend with many large nonprofits.  Make a “snack”. How about an Annual Report post card? Stats, Photos of folks helped, A few succinct numbers, and you’re good to go! Or try an infographic annual report.

More and more, nonprofits are taking their annual reports online. Check out this example of an online “print” non-annual report from Girlstart.org. They don’t even call it an annual report. Gratitude is front and center. Lots of opportunities for involvement are offered. There are even some fun activities for kids right inside the catalog. Here’s another all digital report from the Trevor Project. It includes a whole section connecting folks to compelling videos.

7. Video. How about just doing a simple year-end “Victory Video” – 90 seconds to 3 minutes; no more. Highlight achievements made possible by the donors. Pick your top accomplishments; don’t try to cover everything. You just need one or two sentences per accomplishment, supported by live video or compelling photos. It doesn’t have to be expensive or high quality.  These days most smart phones will take a decent video. Check out these examples.

The only hard and fast rule is this: Be donor-centered. Look out a window; not in a mirror.Whether you go print or digital, it still takes time and resources. So figure out what works best for you and your audience.


8. Special invitations. Get creative. Typical invites are to donor lunches, coffee, tours. Think about whether there’s a way folks can participate in your work that’s exclusive. Something that makes them feel like ‘insiders.’ How about a monthly call with your E.D. for your major donor club? The E.D. can give updates, but should also ask for advice and opinions. People love to give feedback! It makes people feel you care about them for more than their money. Or invite folks to a focus group where they can give you opinions on your promotional materials and campaigns. Or ask them if they’ll even be models in your ads!


I have an entire article devoted to Blog + Social Media: Not Your Mom’s Donor Acquisition/Retention Plan on Maximize Social Business this week. I’m really serious that your blog can be a huge driver and coordinator of energy that engages folks in your nonprofit cause. So do check it out.  And please do yourself a favor and seriously consider rocking a blog [you’ve still got a couple of days to register for my new E-Course; see below]. And here’s why being a fundraiser means being a communicator in 2014…

9. Don’t just broadcast, broadcast, broadcast. Give folks a chance to let you know what they like and value. Give them an opportunity to freely express themselves. When they do, tap into that by responding with pats on the back. When they share, thank them. When they join a pledge drive, thank them. When they sign a petition, thank them. When they comment on your blog, thank them. Dialogue with them. Even when they ‘like’ or ‘follow’ you, thank them. Whenever folks do these things they are expressing their values. How powerful is this? Notice them. Engage with them! Get to know them!

Overall relationship building tip: When you can, include a real person’s name and contact information. Give people a person who can be their person ‘on the ground’ if they have any questions or need to be in contact with you for any reason (you should do this in your thank you letters too, by the way).

Bottom Line: Move from outside/in to inside/out. It’s the difference between “interruption” and “attraction.” Don’t be out there broadcasting lots of noisy “look at me” stuff. No. Learn what your constituents want. What is meaningful to them? Find a need and fill it. Attract them to you by providing meaningful, useful, interesting and easily accessible content that will bring them back time and again.

What about the folks who say they hear from you too much? Well… sometimes this really means you’re just asking for money and not providing useful information to them. Your communication must be relevant. You’ve got to understand your audience for this to happen. If you offer up the ‘good stuff’ folks will welcome your communications (even if they don’t have time to open them every time).

Be a friend to get a friend. It’s that simple.

Want more actionable tips?

I’ve got two new E-Courses coming up to help you communicate more lovingly — and effectively — with your supporters.

  1. This is the last few days to catch Charity Blogging Gold to build — and rock! — your nonprofit blog, with me and social media/copywriting expert,Mazarine Treyz.  The course starts March 10th, but you can download the modules and bonus webinars at your leisure. So register here before it’s too late.
  2. Coming March 25th is 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. Hi Claire,

    Thanks for this, I back you 100% on the points you’ve raised here!

    One of the best things you can do is to prove to your donors that their efforts really are valued and that their contribution has made an impact. People love to see tangible results as proof that they have helped make a difference to your cause!

    Social media platforms are a great way to make sure everyone is aware of your efforts as you share the outcomes of your projects (whether that be by photo, video or thank-you’s) that were funded by your generous donors!

    • Thanks for chiming in Kirsty.You’re correct. And when you thank folks and report outcomes multiple times, you make folks feel good more than once, while staying top of mind. No down side. 😉

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