“You are what you do, not what you say you’ll do.”

C.G. Jung

To serve your donors means providing an exceptional experience for individuals involved with your nonprofit. Although it’s important to develop institutional revenue sources, individual donors represent the backbone for most nonprofit funding. In 2012, individuals donated $217.79 billion – an astounding sum.

In this blog post, I discuss some specific practices for establishing solid relationships with your supporters. Being sincerely interested and following through on what matters to a donor will increase the number of lifetime donors – those committed to your organization for a long time.

First, Know your Donors

A Development Officer can determine the best-matched giving opportunity when equipped with a deep understanding of a donor. The more available touch points, the deeper the understanding: “Donors are more sophisticated than just believers of a cause.”1

· Start with basic metrics. The following suggestions come from Lynn Howe, Partner at Analytical Ones. Her firm uses data to form what she calls “actionable insights”:


· Motivation for engagement.

· Acquisition source.

· Solicitation history (email, mail).

· Channel information and donor preferences.

· 3rd Party data appends.


· As your nonprofit becomes increasingly adept at gathering data, continue to dig deeper in your discovery. Shovel


Why a donor contributes

–  Who referred them to your nonprofit

Their social media activities

Specific interests as they relate to the cause

Strive to understand your donor’s motivations for being involved with your organization so that you can better serve their needs.

Act on Donor Preferences

Once you’ve gathered donor data, it’s time to take action!

· Make sure the name and salutation are correct from the start. Nothing turns a donor off more than being addressed incorrectly.

· Use the preferred communication channel. Not everyone is enamored with email and actually may wish to receive a postcard or read a quarterly newsletter.

· Send relevant information only.

· If you’re unclear on donor preferences, then ask! But make sure your system can deliver on what a donor wants. Many years ago I “opted in” to receive multiple newsletters from a nonprofit that I supported. In all honesty, I don’t look at half of what arrives in my inbox from this organization because my interests have changed over time and I don’t have time to update my user preferences. Frankly I wish the nonprofit would reach out to me. Surveying donors and making sure our basic preferences are clear and deliverable goes a long way towards assuring a long-term, two-way relationship.

Illustrate Mission Advancement

Provide information on the importance of a donation and progress towards reaching mission and program goals. This is especially important during a campaign. Even if a donor makes a contribution early in a fund drive, make sure to “circle back” with results and demonstrate how donor gifts are making an impact. Here are some examples:



Teach for America

Thank Profusely and Personally

Saying thank you is almost more important than how you ask for a gift. Although soliciting a donation requires finesse and thoughtful outreach, making sure to thank well and often will strengthen a lasting relationship between your nonprofit and your donor. Review your recognition programs at every point of solicitation. Know the number of “asks” that have been communicated, especially in relationship to the “thank you” and other non-ask outreach. It’s that simple.

Utilize technology to support your efforts and serve your donors Here’s how:

1. Commit to an integrated Constituent Relationship Management (CRM) database. Maximize all layers of data by centralizing it in one place, thereby creating a more complete and broader picture of each individual supporter. Even if your (CRM) system doesn’t support integration, facilitate consistent conversations across different departments that touch a donor. Combine reports across communications, marketing, development, and donor services and determine successful engagement strategies.

2. Segment your donor base by preferences and automate specific deliverables to each profile, based on their unique interests and desires. Processes, like sending out specific information relevant to a donor, can and should be automated in your system.

3. Infographics – quick visual snapshots, are especially effective for communicating results. check out the article, “5 Infographics about Infographics to Master Basics in Five Minutes” by Beth Kanter , Author of Measuring the Networked Nonprofit.

4. Personalize thank you messages with photos, videos, or MP3 interviews. Consider using these tools to add pizzazz to an automated donation thank you page while keeping the feel “personal”. Automate to make sure that no one slips through the initial recognition phase, and then automate the process in your CRM for additional acknowledgment based on giving levels.

As we all know, our actions speak louder than words. Orient your practices towards serving your donors and then enjoy the rewards that will follow with money raised and a lifetime of relationships on both sides of the table.

 Amy S. Quinn is a published author and freelance writer focused on innovation in the non-profit sector. For more resources, please see her blog.

 Footnote:Eric Scroggins quote, page 131, Fundraising Innovators: Leaders in Social Enterprise Share New Approaches to Raising Money; Wise Media Group LLC, 2012