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15 Things You Can Do to Build Strong Donor Relationships

14 min read
February 08, 2024
Alex Huntsberger
A woman sits on a bench with a donor to her nonprofit, getting to know more about her and building a relationship.

How can your nonprofit get off the donor churn treadmill and start actually building a base of returning supporters?

Well, cultivating recurring donors is really about building strong relationships with them. The stronger your donor relationships, the more donors you’ll have who return month after month, year after year.

Here Are 15 Ways to Build Stronger Donor Relationships

When it comes to fostering strong donor relationships, there’s no magical “one crazy trick” you can use. It’s going to be a whole arsenal of strategies and donor management best practices. In this article, we’ve collected 15 of the best ones.

  1. Personalize Your Donor Emails
  2. Use Segmentation to Send Tailored Messages
  3. Keep Donors in the Loop With Regular Updates
  4. Always Say “Thank You.” Always.
  5. Go Out of Your Way to be Transparent
  6. Create Donor-Exclusive Content
  7. Try Offering a Loyalty Program
  8. Publicly Celebrate Your Donors
  9. Offer Donors Customized Giving Options
  10. Throw Donor Engagement Events
  11. Provide Feedback Channels
  12. Send Out Surveys and Polls
  13. Invite Donors to Volunteer
  14. Interact With Your Donors on Social Media
  15. Celebrate Milestones and Achievements

1. Personalize Your Donor Emails

When you send your donors a message, you want them to feel like you’re writing to them personally. But starting your message with “Dear Friends” or, worse, “Dear Valued Donor” is guaranteed to scotch all that by making them feel the opposite of valued. 

The easiest way to solve this is by addressing them by name. That way, “Dear Valued Donor” becomes “Dear Mr. Hunt.” Or, if you’re going for a more informal tone, “Dear Ethan.” 

Here’s the rub: Manually updating all your emails to include the names of individual donors would take hours upon hours. It’s simply not doable.

That’s where email personalization features come in! By using an email program that communicates with your donor database, you can insert “tokens” (aka “bits of code”)  into your message that will automatically populate your donor’s name.

a screenshot of an email draft created in Neon CRM using personalization tokens.
 In Neon CRM, you can use the token {{Constituent First Name}} to add your donor’s name to their salutation.

Not only that, but these tokens can also pull information like donation amounts into a message as well. That way, a thank-you message you send could address your donor, Ethan Hunt, by name and thank him for his donation of $100.

Personalizing your communications will build a sense of connection between your donors and your nonprofit. The more connected donors feel to your organization, the more likely they are to give again. 

Just remember that these kinds of features are only as good as the information in your database: Make sure you have names and titles correct in your donor profiles before using them. 

2. Use Segmentation to Send Tailored Messages

Once you’ve started personalizing your donor emails, you can go one step further by tailoring your communications to address specific donor interests.

How do you do this? By using segmentation features in your database to create different donor groups based on (for example) donation size, location, giving capacity, or which programs they support. 

Once you’ve created a donor segment, you can create and send email campaigns with language and messaging that speaks directly to those supporters. 

Looking to take segmentation to the next level? You can create separate donation pages for each donor segment, with messages, imagery, or even suggested donation amounts that are tailored to that group. 

Want to learn more about donor segmentation? The blog below has tons of great information to help you get started:

3. Keep Donors in the Loop With Regular Updates

Do you know one of the most common reasons that donors stop giving to nonprofits? It’s because they feel that their gifts aren’t making an impact.

So if you want to turn a first-time donor into a long-time supporter, demonstrating the impact of their gift is one of the best things you can do!

There are a couple of ways to go about this.

First, send donors personalized messages that tie their gift to a real-world outcome. For someone who donated $50, tell them about the kid who received free after-school activities for a semester. For someone who donated $500, tell them about the kid who got free one-on-one tutoring for a whole year.

Notice something about both those instances? They focus on the stories of single kids, not whole classrooms. This is called the “Identifiable Victim Effect.” Basically, people can sympathize with one person’s hardships more easily than they can sympathize with big groups of people.

So keep your stories small and human-sized! They’ll provoke much stronger emotions in your donors that will help deepen your relationship.

Beyond impact statements, you should also keep donors updated on your work more generally using email newsletters, social media, and blog posts. Don’t be shy about sharing your successes!

4. Always Say “Thank You.” Always.

We hate to sound like your mom, but, sometimes, extreme measures are necessary. 

Whenever someone gives to your nonprofit—whether it’s a gift of money or time or stuff—say “thank you.” Every time. 

For people who’ve made financial gifts, first, make sure you add a little thank you note to your donation receipt. Next, send a full thank-you note within 72 hours. 

For volunteers or in-kind donations, set up a reminder to send them a thank-you message within that same 72-hour timeframe post-gift.

In all of these cases, you have the chance to do a little more. Build on the warm and fuzzy feelings your “thank you” will inspire in donors by asking them to do a small favor, like taking a survey or sharing a post on social media. 

Need some help crafting the perfect thank-you letter? We have got you so covered. Here’s a blog post on writing thank-you letters, plus a whole series of downloadable thank-you note templates. 

5. Go Out of Your Way to be Transparent

Build trust with your donors by being transparent with them about how their funds are used.

Start by having financial reports available (and easily accessible) on your nonprofit’s website. Take pains to ensure these reports have summary sections that use down-to-earth language to explain their contents. 

But don’t just drop these reports on your website and leave it at that. Proactively send these reports to your donors and provide them with a staff member to whom they can ask any questions.

Even better, hold a session (ideally a hybrid one, both live and online) where donors (or anyone, really) are free to attend and discuss your nonprofit’s finances over the past year.

Being proactive with your transparency will help build trust with your donors. And we all know that strong relationships are built on trust.

6. Create Donor-Exclusive Content

People like being part of a club. And you can create a sense of clubbiness with your donors by offering them exclusive content. 

This could be a monthly mailbag where your nonprofit’s executive director answers donor-submitted questions, or it could be a behind-the-scenes look at your upcoming annual gala. 

If your nonprofit is putting together a big report, give your donors an early peek at its contents! If there’s a big fundraiser coming up, invite them to a pre-event shindig at a nearby bar. 

The possibilities here are endless, but what they all have in common is a sense of belonging. By offering your donors exclusive content, you’re saying to them, “You’re one of us.”

A screenshot of a member portal on a nonprofit website created using Neon Websites.
Nonprofits that use Neon Websites can even create a “members-only” section of their site—it’s the perfect place to host donor-exclusive content.

7. Try Offering a Loyalty Program

Similar to offering your donors exclusive content, try implementing a loyalty program with special perks or benefits available only to them.

The easiest way to do this is to partner with local businesses, restaurants, and museums to secure discounts for your donors.

If you go this route, you can have some fun creating a “member” card that your donors can show to secure said discounts. 

These will serve as a form of advertising for your nonprofit, so be bold!

8. Publicly Celebrate Your Donors

We’ve already covered the importance of thanking your donors one-on-one. But you can also build strong relationships with them by celebrating your donors publicly!

For major donors, this practice is pretty standard. That’s why you’ll see entire buildings or facilities named after the donor who wrote the largest check.

But you give public recognition to your small donors too! Social media, newsletters, and blog posts are all wonderful places to spotlight individual supporters. 

You can also throw an event with the express purpose of recognizing your donors. This will also make your donors feel like they’re “part of the club,” as we covered earlier. 

Keep reading for more on donor events. And check out the article below for tips and best practices on donor recognition!

9. Offer Donors Customized Giving Options

Provide flexible giving options, allowing donors to choose how their funds will be utilized, giving them a sense of control and involvement.

What exactly do we mean by “customized giving options”? We mean going beyond giving donors the ability to choose their donation amount—which you should always do, by the way—to letting them choose which programs they fund.

By letting donors choose the programs that their donation will support, you are giving them a greater feeling of control and a feeling of really being involved with your mission.

Earlier in this post, we talked about tailoring communications to your different donor segments. Having segments based on different programs these donors are funding will let you really hone in on how you message the impact of those gifts.

A screenshot of a donation form created in Neon CRM with a drop down menu that donors can use to assign a "purpose" to their gift.
In Neon CRM, you can easily add a dropdown list of programs to your donation form for donors to choose from. 

10. Throw Donor Engagement Events

Donors are used to be invited to fundraising events. But donor engagement events are different. 

These events offer a chance for your supporters to sit down and talk with your team members. They can ask questions and offer suggestions, all while you nurture their connection to your cause.

Donor engagement events can be live or digital. For live events, we recommend checking out a local brewery or bar where you can rent a room for cheap and encourage a casual atmosphere.

For digital events, the trick is always going to be fostering two-way conversation. Holding a live-streamed webinar on a certain topic related to your cause will provide a good forum for stimulating questions and feedback. 

With these engagement events, you’re planting seeds that will bloom in all kinds of ways beyond future giving. They will encourage your donors to become volunteers, advocates, and maybe even future board members! 

Want some ideas for events to throw? Check out this list! 

11. Provide Feedback Channels

Any healthy, functional relationship relies on two-way communication. Your donors are going to be hearing plenty from you. The trick is to make sure that you have ways to hear from them. 

As a starting point, you should at least have a donor feedback email address where they can send questions. This isn’t great—it feels a bit impersonal—but it’s a start.

Even better? Designate a specific staff member as your donor relations contact. Encourage donors to reach out to them with questions and offer virtual office hours sessions where any donor can show up to chat.

Finally, make an effort to respond to any and all donor feedback, no matter where it’s offered: email replies, social media posts, DMs, or a note wrapped around a brick thrown through your front window (okay, maybe not that last one).

If you take the time to answer your donor’s questions and listen to their feedback, you’ll not only deepen your relationships with them, but they might also give you some suggestions that are genuinely good!

12. Send Out Surveys and Polls

Responding and listening to donor feedback is great, but going out there and gathering feedback is even better!Use donor surveys and polls to learn more about your donors, like how they prefer to communicate, what parts of your mission speak to them, or a million other things that you can use to improve your donor engagement strategies.

A screenshot of a donor feedback form created in Neon CRM.
Neon CRM lets you easily create and send donor surveys.

A great time to send a donor survey is right after someone has made their first gift. There is something called the Benjamin Franklin effect that says someone is more likely to have a positive view of you after they’ve just helped you.

Put that effect into action by following up your donation thank-you (the one that you absolutely must send) by asking for them to do you a small favor and fill out your survey. 

What kinds of questions should you be asking them in this survey? The article below contains the seven most important ones.

13. Invite Donors to Volunteer

Building a deeper relationship with your donors means getting them more invested in your organization and your cause. What’s a great way to do that? By inviting them to volunteer.

Look for specific projects where it makes sense for your donors to get involved. If you operate a food kitchen, for example, invite people who’ve donated to support it to work a few shifts a month.

Donors already have a financial connection with your nonprofit. But volunteering will create deeper connections that can serve as the basis for a long-term relationship. 

Learn more about volunteer recruitment in the article below:

14. Interact With Your Donors on Social Media

Think of how many relationships we have today—even with our close friends—that exist almost entirely on social media. If your nonprofit is going to build strong relationships with your donors, social media has got to be a part of it. 

Your social media channels need to be more than simply posting updates and stories. After all, these platforms work best as two-way streets.

Respond to comments on your posts, react and respond to your donor’s own posts—you can even share the posts if you think your audience would appreciate them.

We should caution you that it’s possible to go overboard with this strategy and get super annoying. There isn’t anything specific we can offer to combat that other than to say, “Be mindful of it.”

15. Celebrate Milestones and Achievements

We should be high-minded here and say that celebrating your organizational milestones and achievements is a good way to highlight your nonprofit’s rich history and your success at carrying out your mission—all things that donors want to see in a group they’re supporting financially.

We should say that. Instead, we’re just gonna point out that having any halfway decent excuse to throw a party and invite all your friends is just the best, right?

Seriously though, organizations’ milestones, anniversaries, and achievements are a great hook on which to hang fun donor events and fundraisers that bring people together—literally, oftentimes, by throwing an event—and get them excited about your nonprofit. Don’t be modest. When your nonprofit has something to celebrate, do it, and do it loud.

Check out the blog post below for more on crafting nonprofit anniversary campaigns

Keep Reading for More Donor Management Tips

Building strong donor relationships is a key pillar of any nonprofit’s donor management strategy, but it’s not the whole kit and kaboodle.

For a full 360-degree view of how your nonprofit should be crafting its donor management plan, check out this guide:

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