8 Great Ways to Stay in Touch with Your Donors

Donor cultivation is part art, part science. At its most basic, donor cultivation (and prospect cultivation, for that matter), centers on communication: staying in touch with your donors and prospects to build a relationship of trust and mutual interest.

Big gifts, small gifts, recurring gifts, bequests… they rarely just “happen.” Most are the result of an ongoing process of cultivation and dialogue. Here, in no particular order, are eight great ways for your non-profit to stay in touch with your donors through the course of the year. For best results, mix and match based on your non-profit’s unique needs and goals.

1. E-Mail Newsletters
E-mail newsletters are cheap, fast, and non-intrusive, making them one of the best ways to stay in touch with your donor base and prospect pool. How often should you send them? At a minimum, quarterly. Once per week is probably the most you can send before they start to wear thin on the recipients.

2. Snail Mail Newsletters, Letters, and Magazines
These are more expensive than e-mail newsletters, but often seem more “real” to your donors. If you are a small non-profit, start by sending update letters to your list twice annually. As you grow, you can add newsletters, and eventually even a magazine to your repertoire.

3. Your Website
Think of your organization’s website as a constantly updated and evolving brochure for your non-profit. Keep it updated and engaging, so that donors will want to check it frequently to see how you are using their gifts for maximum impact.

4. Social Media
Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social networking sites can provide a vital space for two-way dialogue with your donors. Get online and get active in the social media spaces where your donors and target prospects congregate.

5. Cultivation Events
Non-ask events (where you don’t ask for money directly) can be a great way to build your reputation and get new people involved in your efforts. Put together a great host committee and task them with getting “new blood” through the door to hear about your efforts. You can also use these events to keep your current donors engaged and connected with your organization.

6. Public Relations / PR
You may not think of PR as a strategy for communicating with your donors and prospects, but it is. Donors love to open up the paper and unexpectedly find a story about a non-profit they have been supporting. You can also use press clips as a way to validate your work to donors and prospects.

7. Phone Calls
Have you called your donors just to say “thanks?” This strategy doesn’t work for all demographics, but for many donors, receiving a call from a board member or staff person, who gives them a quick update and says, “it’s all thanks to you… thank you for your support!” is a real motivator. Can your organization run a “thank-a-thon” to make these calls once per year?

8. In-Person Visits
Once the exclusive purview of large universities and hospitals, in-person visits to major (and even mid-level donors) are now successfully employed by many diverse non-profit organizations. This is the most personal and intimate of all cultivation methods, and requires a well-trained staff.
What methods are you using to cultivate your donors and prospects? All, none, or a mix of the above? Are there any methods you are successfully using that we haven’t listed here?

Joe Garecht is the founder of The Fundraising Authority, which provides free articles and how-to information on fundraising for small and medium-sized non-profits.


4 Responses to 8 Great Ways to Stay in Touch with Your Donors

  1. Rachel says:

    These are all excellent ways to maintain contact with donors. I have found that many organizations just don’t know what to say! I believe that these contact methods are a great vehicle for highlighting the background and accomplishments of staff members. So many organizations do a great job of communicating the needs that they are addressing but fail to convince donors that they have the expertise on hand to achieve their mission.

  2. I agree with Rachel that these are all excellent vehicles to stay in touch with donors and that messaging is the difficult goal for organizations to achieve. No communication effort – large or small – should be undertaken unless there is an intended result for that effort. We communicate in order to generate action, and better be able to describe that action before sending messages to recipients.

    Cultivation is often the most overlooked component of a fundraising program. Mostly because the results of the effort don’t have an immediate impact. However, a 12 month strategy of handwritten, very personal updates to “key players” or potential “key players” has a very strong and lasting effect on building relationships. These efforts go beyond just a thank you note, it is sending a real picture from an event with a note, “I know you couldn’t join us, but wanted to share a little of the night with you.” It’s sharing a big news story before it hits in your newsletter. Or as simple as an update on a program. It’s a lost art in the face past, impersonal world we live and work in today. But these efforts standout among the rest and is something every organization should be incorporating in their overall messaging and outreach strategy.

  3. LJacobwith says:

    The common denominator for most of these great ways to stay in touch is for the organization staff or volunteer leadership to be LISTENING and hearing what the donors & key volunteer leadership are saying about YOU. And how they feel about their relationship with your work. Pause, listen to a few donors each week. You might be surprised at what you learn.

  4. Vanessa says:

    I think email newsletters can be good, though sometimes not very personal. Something I’ve tested over the past year is sending out personal emails to donors through my work email account that provide them with a key update or two in an engaging way. It’s a great way to directly talk to the donor and some will email me back with questions or feedback.

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