In the nonprofit world, nothing is more important than maintaining healthy relationships with your supporters. Finding new contributors is crucial, of course, but dedicating time to maintain a connection with your existing supporters is the key to long-term and reliable fundraising success.
The heart of any relationship, whether it’s a friendship, a marriage, or the connection between a nonprofit organization and its supporters, is communication and consistency. When your nonprofit is consistent in its gratitude, outreach, and engagement, your supporter relationships will blossom.
In order to cultivate better relationships with your supporters, both this year and in the future, your organization has to be consistent in its outreach, communications, and engagement. While this can look different for every organization based on how you engage your supporters, there are some easy tips that every nonprofit can use:
These tips will help your nonprofit remain involved in your supporters’ lives, as well as inspire you to take your relationships with them to the next level. If you’re ready to learn more about how each of these tips can help support your relationships with your community members, let’s dive in.
When considering your strategy for strengthening relationships with your supporters, don’t forget the importance of a strong foundation. When cultivating and soliciting your supporters, practice strong movements management to set yourself up for success.
Moves management is the name of the strategy in which your nonprofit keeps notes of every interaction with your supporters in your CRM during the fundraising cycle. Moves management allows you to keep track of how far along the supporter is in the fundraising cycle, as well as create a record of their demonstrated interests, preferences, and goals.
Moves management is not only useful during the cultivation process, but also long afterward. You can use the information that you learned while cultivating the supporter to strengthen your relationships after the contribution has been made.
Usable data about your supporters can include a variety of things:
Moves management doesn’t end after the gift has been given to your organization. You should continue to record the engagement between your organization and the supporter, so that you can continue to tailor your outreach to them.
The first step in cultivating a relationship with your supporters after the solicitation is to say thank you immediately and privately. If this supporter gave after a formal solicitation from a major gift officer (MGO), the MGO should say thank you as soon as the gift happens, as well as follow up with a handwritten thank-you note with the necessary tax deduction information.
If the supporter gave online through your online giving software, the software should be able to fill their contact information and gift details into an email and send it as soon as the gift is processed. This email should also contain the tax-deductible information that the supporter needs.
If your organization has the capacity, consider following up the first thank you with gifts or another thoughtful indication of your gratitude, like:
When you continue to engage with your supporter even after you’ve received the gift from them, you emphasize to them that they are an important part of your nonprofit’s community.
Once you’ve established with your supporters that you are grateful for the contributions that they’ve made to your organization, it’s time to thank them publicly. It’s important that your first few thank-yous are private, because private gestures come across as more genuine and personal than large public displays.
However, public displays of gratitude are valuable in maintaining strong supporter relationships, because it gives your supporters something to remember their gift by even when their flowers from you have wilted and the thank-you note has been tucked away in a drawer.
When your nonprofit publicly thanks supporters, it should be done in a way that honors the nature of the gift that you’ve been given and does nothing but demonstrate your appreciation. In short, you shouldn’t make an ask while also thanking your supporters.
Some easy ways to publicly recognize your supporters for their help are:
People love to be recognized for their contributions to social good, so be sure to highlight their actions in a public way after you’ve thanked them privately. Demonstrations of your appreciation for their support will be sure to strengthen your relationship with your community.
Personal communication isn’t the only way that your supporters want to reach your organization. In order to keep them updated all the time in a way that’s convenient for them, you have to store updates and ongoing projects somewhere that they’ll be able to find and reach about your ongoing activities at their own leisure.
The easiest way to do this is by revamping your organization’s online presence to be interactive, engaging, and accessible. Where do your supporters spend their time online? Where does your organization have the strongest web presence?
If the answers to these two questions aren’t the same, then your online strategy needs a bit of work. Your organization should be where your supporters are, whether that’s your website, LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook.
No matter which platform you use, you should follow some online best practices:
Your online presence can help you cultivate your supporter relationships by creating a resource that your supporters can fall back on when they aren’t in contact with you directly.
When your website and social media platforms act as a way for your supporters to find out about volunteer opportunities or fundraising campaigns, they’ll be able to stay involved with your mission.
One of the most important things that you should keep in mind is that every supporter is different. They have different interests, passions, and drives, so no single engagement opportunity will satisfy your whole community.
That is why your organization should offer a variety of differing opportunities in order to maintain relationships with as many of your supporters as you can.
First, in order to gauge which activities might create the most draw for your supporters, look back into your moves management metrics (remember those?). Then, analyze it to determine which activities or events were the most successful in cultivating supporters through the fundraising cycle.
Then, plan those events for your supporters and potential contributors to come and enjoy! Opportunities for stewardship and engagement include:
Offering many different options to your many different supporters is a great way to ensure that more of your community remains involved with your organization, while also demonstrating that you care about your supporters as individuals.
When strengthening your supporter relationships with your nonprofit, don’t forget about the social aspect of philanthropy. People like to meet other people through their activities, so give your supporters the opportunity to meet other like-minded people through your organization.
In addition to being a great fundraising strategy, creating supporter societies is an easy way for your organization to encourage your contributors to meet each other and build connections. A supporter society is a tier of giving in which all members have given around the same amount. For example, a nonprofit that supports animals might have levels like:
Giving the levels fun names related to famous pets is one way to build interest in your societies. Then, decide what each level gets as an incentive for joining. Those who have given at the Lassie level could receive a t-shirt and a free invite to the summer cookout. Those who gave at the Skip level receive a t-shirt, an invite, and a free plus-one. The Balto-level givers get everything mentioned before, in addition to their name being added to a plaque.
You can also host events for each level, so that they get the chance to socialize and get to know each other. They’ll find that they have plenty in common, if the same philanthropic causes inspire them!
Cultivating better supporter relationships is crucial for your nonprofit, so why not get your supporters involved with the process? They want to stay engaged with your nonprofit. Making them an active part of the decision-making process is an awesome way to interact with them more.
Ask your most involved supporters to sit down with your staff and have a focus meeting to determine how best your nonprofit can continue to support your community and your supporters.
You could send a survey out to those who receive your email newsletters and ask them to tell your organization how they want to be involved, as well as how your nonprofit can do better.
If you’re holding a campaign planning and feasibility study, ask your fundraising consultant to interview some of your most dedicated contributors and volunteers during the process.
When you get your supporters involved in building relationships between themselves and your organization, your engagement strategy will benefit twofold. First, you get to learn firsthand what your supporters want from your organization. Second, your supporters will really feel how much your organization appreciates them when you ask for their input!
Supporter relationships and contributor retention are two of the most important parts of your fundraising cycle. To ensure that the relationship doesn’t end after their gift is made, make an effort to continue to reach out to your supporters. Use these tips to get started, and then let the personality of your own nonprofit guide the rest of your way to healthy supporter connections.
For more help with building supporter relationships, as well as strengthening other parts of your fundraising cycle, read this hiring guide for capital campaign consultants from Averill Fundraising Solutions. A consultant can help your nonprofit through the whole range of philanthropic challenges.
Bob Happy brings nearly 35 years of experience providing expert leadership and direction to clients across the not-for-profit sector to his current role as President of Averill Solutions. Before forming Averill Solutions, Bob served as the Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of the nation’s largest fundraising firm. He has mentored hundreds of professional fundraising practitioners and many have joined him at Averill Fundraising Solutions.