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?


By James V. D’Ambrosio

Recently I attended a grant-writing workshop at the Support Center For Nonprofit Management in NYC. While most of the day-long seminar focused on the nuts and bolts of preparing winning grant proposals, at one point the conversation turned to the challenging environment many nonprofits now find themselves in: struggling with reduced government support and increased competition for foundation and corporate grants.

Given this reality — unlikely to change anytime soon — I began thinking about focusing on the basics: maintaining positive relations with your donor base — those regular $5, $10 and $20 gifts comprising nearly 80 percent of individual giving, on average. Since it is far more difficult — and expensive — to acquire new donors than keep existing ones, it is imperative that nonprofits cement these relationships and not take them for granted. With gasoline soaring toward record highs — last night I saw a station raise the price 20 cents a gallon — and stubbornly high unemployment, people will continue to look for ways to cut discretionary spending. And charitable donations definitely fall into that category.

So this is a good time to update and remind long-time small donors about the good work your agency does and the positive difference it’s making in people’s lives. You should reiterate how much you value their support, framed as an important investment serving your constituencies.  This should not be a fund-raising pitch; rather, strictly an informational piece. It’s good public relations to intersperse solicitations with informative pieces that do not ask for money. Many donors — myself included — appreciate this. It reduces the likelihood of people  feeling ‘overpitched,’ i.e., only being contacted when asked for financial support.

Additionally, consider the long-term perspective: keeping  donors engaged and excited about the work you do increases the likelihood they will feel good about contributing to your cause. If you can keep donors engaged during difficult times, think what you can do when the economy improves! 

QUESTION TO READERS: How else might you keep donors engaged during these challenging economic times?

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