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5 Donor Development Strategies for Building Long-Term Relationships

9 min read
April 05, 2023
Neon One Staff
A donor is recognized during an event as part of a nonprofits donor development strategy

When poring over various donor development strategies to improve your nonprofit’s giving, you should first take a step and think—really think—about some of the strongest relationships in your life. 

Your best friends, your family, your significant other—how do you keep those relationships healthy? You probably communicate with those people pretty regularly and find ways to spend time with them. Maintaining those relationships takes at least a little bit of work.

Donor relationships are similar. They take work, too—but the strong relationships you’ll build with the people in your community are well worth the effort.

As you get to know your donors and they, in turn, learn more about your organization, you’ll find a ton of opportunities to engage them in your work. These five donor development strategies will get you started as you look for ways to create long-term connections with your supporters.

5 Donor Development Strategies

Traditionally, “donor development” or “donor stewardship” are phrases that refer to inspiring more financial support from donors. 

Both will depend on the relationships you build with your supporters. If you don’t build genuine relationships by communicating your donors’ impact and sharing information that is personally meaningful to them, you won’t be able to inspire them to be even more generous. 

Keep that in mind as you read about these five donor development strategies that you can use to improve your own donor stewardship and encourage your supporters’ generosity. Each of these activities will be most effective if you prioritize relationships first!

Okay, here’s what we’re going to cover:

  1. Thank your donors
  2. Recognize your top supporters
  3. Offer recurring donations
  4. Try a corporate matching program
  5. Host annual giving events

Let’s dig deeper into each of these strategies.

1. Thank Your Donors

One of the top reasons donors stop giving to an organization is that they aren’t thanked for their contribution. The problem with forgetting to send a thank-you isn’t just that it’s rude. It also implies that you don’t need their donation. Maybe you didn’t even notice it! 

A prompt thank-you letter, card, or email tells them that you see your donor, you appreciate their generosity, and that you genuinely appreciate your support.

Of course, what you put in your donation thank-you letter will affect how well this strategy works. Ideally, you should address them by name, reference the specific amount given, and state how their support will impact your cause. 

With a nonprofit CRM, it’s even possible to automate this task. Just take care not to let automation and transaction details make you sound robotic or impersonal.

Say you run a nonprofit that provides free books to children in elementary school to support childhood literacy. A donor gives your organization $50 through your website. As soon as the donor completes the transaction, your CRM creates a donor record and sends an automated email that lets them know how their gift will provide 10 free books to children in the community. 

Since you’ve taken the time to write a thoughtful, authentic message (which you’ve done, right? Right??), your message will deepen the connection that person feels to your cause, even if it’s automated.

For more information on how to engage donors right at the start, read our post, How To Write the Perfect Donation Thank-You Letter.

2. Give a Shout Out to Your Top Supporters

“Top supporter” doesn’t necessarily mean a major donor. A top supporter is anyone who goes above and beyond for your cause, whether they give a larger-than-average donation, make a recurring gift, are a volunteer, or host campaigns on your behalf through peer-to-peer fundraisers. Giving them public recognition can help to show them your appreciation. 

Your nonprofit can adopt a policy of public recognition based on the level of donation. Here are a few examples:

  • A donor gives $50 to a social media campaign. The organization mentions them in a thank-you comment on the same platform. 
  • A supporter participates in an online peer-to-peer fundraising event. The organization writes an article talking about the event’s success and thanks all participants. They post it on their blog and in donor communities. 
  • A recurring donor has loyally supported an organization for five years. The organization posts a donor spotlight on their social media channels thanking that donor and sharing why they’re so passionate about the cause.  

Of course, public recognition isn’t for everyone. To make sure your public appreciation doesn’t embarrass the donor, you should always give them the option to donate anonymously. You can still create a donor record, but just note in the file that they prefer anonymity. 

This is another example of how a CRM can elevate your organization! With a spreadsheet, tracking donors who prefer to be anonymous is tricky. With a CRM, it’s as easy as adding a field and clicking a button.

3. Make Giving Easy With Recurring Donations

When a donor elects to make an ongoing regular donation to your organization, there’s a good chance they’ll give a lot more than even some of your top one-time donors. It’s the cumulative effect—your donor gets to break a large gift into much smaller, more affordable installments. 

Want proof? Here’s what we found in The Recurring Giving Report: Data-Backed Insights for Sustainable Generosity:

  • The average non-recurring donor gave $2,057.67 annually for 1.73 years. That’s $3,559.77 over the course of their donor lifetime.
  • The average recurring donor gave $949.19 annually for 8.08 years. That’s $7,669.45 over the course of their engagement with a nonprofit.

Recurring donors have higher retention rates and longer donor lifetimes than one-time donors—and around half of them also give 

Your ability to run a recurring donation program will depend heavily on the tools you’re using. Remember that you’ll need to send a receipt and a thank-you letter when someone initiates a gift, and you’ll want to send regular updates and impact reports. If and when you send future appeals to active recurring donors, you’ll need to take steps to ensure those appeals are tailored to them! Make sure you acknowledge their generosity and be specific about why you’re asking for additional support.

The best way to handle this is to use a CRM that gives you the ability to communicate effectively with this special group of donors. Every recurring gift will be tracked and acknowledged, and you can easily create segmented lists for future communications. 

A good CRM will help in other ways, too, like sending messages when a donor’s gift is about to expire or when they need to update their payment method.

To learn more about the importance of recurring donors—and for tons of tips and best practices to create a thriving recurring program—check out The Recurring Giving Report: Data-Backed Insights for Sustainable Generosity.

4. Consider Corporate Matching

Looking for a way to raise more? Matching gifts are an opportunity for donors to double their donation (or more!). 

Corporations can match their employees’ contributions to a cause, usually as a dollar-for-dollar ratio, though sometimes more. These types of programs have raised an estimated $2 to $3 billion annually and are a great way to engage donors where they work. 

Like recurring donations, corporate matching programs can be a bit tricky to administer. The donor typically must submit a match request to their employer to make it go through.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t always happen! Up to $7 billion in gift-matching funds go unclaimed every year. Keep track of your donor’s employment, and make sure they are aware of potential matching gift programs. Proper monitoring allows you to send out reminders and avoid letting funds go unclaimed.

Your donor is going to have to do some work to submit their gift for matching. This is where relationship-building comes in; it’s easier to ask someone to do you a favor if you’re on good terms!

5. Host Annual Giving Events to Engage Donors

An annual event can remind your donors of your cause at a specific time of year—usually during the end of the year when interest in giving is at its highest

Of course, starting an annual event isn’t easy. It can take a few iterations to get it right and make a sizable impact on your giving. Alternatively, you can boost an existing campaign by piggybacking off an existing annual event. 

GivingTuesday is a great example. This annual event, in its tenth year and held on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, is a fundraising effort any nonprofit can take part in. In 2022, it raised a record-breaking $3.1 billion. If you’d like to kick off an annual giving campaign, GivingTuesday is a good place to start! 

A donor who gave to your Giving Tuesday campaign last year is primed to think of you again when they see #GivingTuesday trending online next year. You can build on this by marking them as a GivingTuesday donor in your CRM. That way, future campaigns and reminder emails can reference their specific support from the last time they gave. To learn more about ways you can supercharge your end-of-year giving, check out our post on 11 Year-End Giving Campaign Ideas (and 6 Tips for Making Them Work).

Using Neon CRM To Improve Donor Relationships

All good relationships are built on communication and engagement—including donor relationships. Your donor development strategies need to be based on improving that communication. Recognize your donor’s contributions, show their impact, and remind them of their importance to your cause regularly throughout your relationship. 

Neon CRM supports your donor development strategies with a flexible, scalable, and automated platform you can use to improve communication and relationships. To learn more, join one of our group demos! These 30-minute sessions will give you a broad overview of everything the system can do.

Just click the button below to find a session that works for you. See you there!

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