Posted , by Erin Phillips, Marketing Director and Consultant. Topic: Donor Communication, Fundraising.

AFP of Hampton Roads recently hosted a seminar featuring industry expert Penelope Burke on “Donor-Centered Fundraising,” which is also the title of a study published by her research firm Cyngus Applied Research, Inc. Burke opened her presentation with three attributes donors define as most important when making a gift to a nonprofit.

1. Receiving prompt, meaningful acknowledgment of their gift
2. Being assured their gift is directed as they intended
3. Receiving updates that demonstrate results of their gift at work before being asked for another contribution

How are you acknowledging your donors? It is imperative to thank the donor and, subsequently, to report back on how their gift has made a difference. When donors are surveyed, they often identify over-solicitation and being asked to give before they have been sufficiently thanked as top reasons they do not give again. Burk noted how much more donors value acknowledgment over public recognition. A prompt, heartfelt handwritten thank-you note from the nonprofit is usually much preferred over having their name on a donor list on the organization’s website. An occasional phone call from a board member to thank the donor for their contribution will go much further than a listing in an annual report. (Although it is good practice to offer recognition to all donors in a variety of formats, always ask if the donor wishes to remain anonymous publicly.)

How are you keeping your donors informed? During the seminar Burk explained that a better informed donor is one who is more likely to give again. At The Curtis Group, we often counsel our clients on ways they can make sure the donor feels appreciated, informed and invested through continuous engagement. Some tactics include:

• Calling your donors to tell them about the impact their gift has made
• Inviting your donors to an annual breakfast or lunch to talk about how your nonprofit is delivering its mission
• Meeting individually with major donors to give them an update and even ask for their input on a new initiative, without including a solicitation
• Offering tours or other volunteer opportunities that show your nonprofit at work
• Sending non-solicitation emails with success stories
• Mailing donors a copy of your annual report with a note thanking them for their support that year

Donors desire meaningful relationships with the organizations they choose to support. It is up to the nonprofit to take the lead in building that relationship. At The Curtis Group, we often talk about a donor becoming an investor once they make that first gift. Donors want to see impact. This must be demonstrated prior to asking them to reinvest.

Are you focusing on donor retention? A staggering 60% of donors who make an initial contribution never give again. Retaining donors, once initially acquired, is key to fundraising success. Nonprofits should focus on building a loyal donor base with individuals who become more generous over time. By practicing “donor-centered fundraising” or, as our firm advises, by following a comprehensive, strategic stewardship plan, nonprofits will continue to see an increase in donor retention and total dollars raised. We suggest using retention metrics to annually track progress. It can be as simple as determining how many first-time donors last year made a second gift this year. “The goal should always be moving a donor from where they are now to a more profitable place,” advises Burk.

It’s a crowded marketplace with millions of nonprofits competing for dollars.Organizations that practice “donor-centered fundraising” will see the most success.

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