By James D’Ambrosio

Recently I attended a nonprofit conference on New York’s Staten Island. Listening to a respected leader discuss a slew of new regulations New York State will likely impose on nonprofits making it more onerous —and time consuming — to do business with the state (grants and contracts), I thought about a key statistic. 

In “Nonprofit Management 101: A Complete and Practical Guide For Leaders and Professionals,” Kay Sprinkel Grace, CFRE, founder of Transforming  Philanthropy, LLC, and author of numerous books on nonprofit, notes: “In the United States, individuals, through outright and estate gifts, provide 83 % or more of all gifts to nonprofits. Given this, an individual donor strategy is crucial to the success of most any nonprofit.” I spoke up, cited the statistic, suggesting greater emphasis on individual giving. My comments were respectfully acknowledged. 

While some agencies necessarily rely on state grants and contracts for much of their revenue — most notably, direct providers of medical and human services — most nonprofits can benefit from communicating with individual donors in more meaningful ways. Since it’s far more costly to obtain new donors than keep existing ones, the following are some communication strategies you can use to increase retention rates and steward donors towards larger gifts: 


FOCUS ON IMPACT: People don’t give because YOU have needs. They give to help you meet COMMUNITY needs. Show them the results of your work. For example, post a story of how your agency positively impacted the life of a client or service recipient on the home page of your Web site, making it easy for donors to see your direct impact in an interesting way. Savvy donors want to see a tangible return on their gift, considering it a social investment. Show them you’re accomplishing that.

DON’T ALWAYS ASK FOR MONEY: Send short, regular e-mail updates about agency news and information WITHOUT an appeal, keeping people informed of the important work you’re doing. Many donors (myself included) are turned off if every communication is coupled with a solicitation. Over time, this can result in negative feelings, reduced donations, and loss of  donors. Strike a reasonable balance in your communications to help build and maintain positive relations.

SHORT, INTERESTING MESSAGES: People today are saddled with information overload: social media, online news, e-mail, texts, instant messaging and the 24-hour news cycle. As a result, they’re becoming accustomed to consuming information in smaller pieces. No matter how noble your cause, people won’t read long missives. Connect by sending a 2-page e-mail newsletter with short articles, bold headlines and action photos in an easy-to-read format. If people can quickly grasp the gist of your message(s), their more likely to be read and remembered — exactly what you want to accomplish. 


The benefits of regular communication — in ways meaningful to donors — cannot be overstated. Over time, you’ll build rapport and credibility, demonstrating you SINCERELY VALUE their investment in your agency’s work and, in turn, increase the likelihood of repeat and/or larger gifts. Think about what your donors really care about and demonstrate how you’re making it happen — a small investment that can yield big returns.    


QUESTIONS TO READERS: Any success stories regarding donor communications? Suggestions that might help others?

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