Donor Communication Guide: Creating the Ideal Communications Cadence

Author: Track 15

Let me guess—you know you should communicate with your donors regularly, but determining content and timing feels tricky. We understand, because we hear this all the time from our nonprofit clients.

Worries like:

“We just sent an email last week – won’t our donors be fatigued?”

“I don’t remember the last time we sent an appeal letter.”

Let us assuage your fears with the ideal, proven-to-work, donor-friendly communications cadence.

Picture this:

Once a year, your neighbor sheepishly approaches you and asks to borrow your ladder to hang up his holiday lights. You feel uncomfortable after not having spoken for 11 months. He never shares stories about his kids or asks what you did over the summer – he just asks you for that ladder. Your neighbor is taking the relationship for granted and making it awkward all around!

Now imagine that you are your neighbor, and your donors are you.

You may think they will feel fatigued by hearing from you, but the opposite is true. An email or phone call once a year to ask for a gift is not a true relationship, it does not inspire giving, and at worst can make your donors feel neglected.

Donors, old and new, want to be in the loop of what your nonprofit is doing. They want to read stories, answer questions, be approached for volunteer opportunities, and engage in ways other than giving.

Let’s do another thought experiment:

Imagine your donors are investors of a for-profit company. Investors regularly receive newsletters and listen to earnings calls to understand the return on their investment in the company.

Your donors are your investors! It is your responsibility to inform them of the impact of their gifts. Nonprofits are tasked with solving some of the world’s toughest problems, why wouldn’t a donor want to be informed on what your organization is doing?

Creating a steady, annual communications cadence – and sticking to it – alleviates stress when executing a campaign or writing a newsletter.

The two main types of donor communication

The Two Main Types of Donor Communication

Consider these two main types of communications and their frequency:

#1 Cultivation: relationship-building with your donors.

Cultivation communications should be a steady drumbeat; whether quarterly, monthly, or weekly, depending on your capacity. You may use channels like:

These mediums all can be used to tell stories, share photos and videos, and express gratitude. It is the equivalent of asking your neighbor about their weekend or sharing recent returns with an investor – you are showing that you care about your donors even in the off-season of giving.

#2 Solicitation: calls to action.

Solicitation communications have spikes at key giving times, including:

  • Giving Tuesday
  • End-of-year
  • Internal milestone like the launch of a program
  • Fundraising goal for an upcoming event

A piece of solicitation content will be simple and direct with only one call to action: donate. A direct call to action feels more appropriate (and less awkward—remember the ladder) when it is cushioned by ongoing, friendly cultivation.

A Note on Stewardship

A Note on Stewardship

You have cultivated your donors through ongoing communication, you have solicited them with a call-to-action to donate, now what?

Here is the good news, your cultivation emails are a form of stewardship! You are already stewarding your donors IF you are sending out regular emails.

Now, that does not mean they don’t get a sincere response of gratitude. Showing gratitude is vitally important, whether that be a thank you note or gift, invitation to serve on an executive board, or a nice lunch with the Executive Director.

All this means is that you can take one thing off your list if you are communicating regularly.

Use a calendar to create a high-level overview of your cultivation and solicitation content through the year. Your calendar will help you proactively decide when and what to communicate with your donors. Without a calendar, it is easy to lose track of deadlines for your content and find yourself scrambling when it is time to ask for gifts.

Plus, staying on schedule with your communications leads to higher engagement. But, allowing for flexibility in your calendar is valuable too; sharing updates in real-time is an important piece of your overall communications strategy, even if it is not always planned in advance.

Remember that donor communications are a conversation, not a plea! To avoid awkwardly asking your donors if you can borrow their ladder, build a steady communications rhythm and stick to it.

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Track15 envisions a world where nonprofit leaders can focus on their mission. As fundraising consultants, we offer a wide range of services that build trust and excitement, including: major donor cultivation, annual giving campaigns, database services, grant writing, and event planning.