4 Fundraising Strategies for Building Lasting Relationships

Nonprofits looking for long-term strategies for donor stewardship

You’ve established your nonprofit’s credibility, made an initial connection with a prospect, and finally earned a donation. What’s next? How do you hold their attention and start building a relationship that will lead to long-term investment in your organization? How do you plant the seed for future donations now?

The answer to all of these questions is stewardship. Stewarding donors, or as Convergent refers to them, investors, involves using tailored outreach strategies to build relationships after a donation is made. To help you improve your stewardship efforts, we’ll discuss these four strategies:\

  1. Leverage direct mail
  2. Build trust by communicating outcomes
  3. Show your appreciation often
  4. Provide opportunities for further involvement

Whether you’re in between fundraising campaigns or are just launching a new one, these tips can help you build relationships along the way. Let’s get started.

1. Leverage direct mail

Direct mail is a staple of any successful fundraising strategy. The personal nature of physical appeal letters allows you to tell stories that connect with investors on an emotional level, making them feel closer to your organization and your cause. 

To leverage direct mail for stewardship, personalization is key. Create segments of supporters and tailor messages to those in your housefile. According to Meyer Partners’ direct mail fundraising guide, your housefile is a list of everyone who has previously supported your nonprofit. This is likely a large list, so it’s important to segment your housefile further to ensure your direct mail appeals are relevant to every supporter who receives them.

Within your housefile, you might create segments for:

  • First-time investors: Beyond initial thank-you messages, you might send those who have just joined your nonprofit’s community a welcome letter. Include plenty of information about your organization’s mission, upcoming events and campaigns, and ways they can get involved. 
  • Recurring investors: Supporters who give on a monthly basis are already committed to your nonprofit and likely feel very connected to your organization. However, you can still make these relationships stronger by expressing your thanks for their loyal support. If possible, include a personal thank-you message from a beneficiary, as well.
  • Volunteers who recently donated: For volunteers, mention the most recent volunteer activity they participated in, and consider adding a photo of volunteers at work. Be sure to highlight upcoming opportunities so they can continue their involvement. 

In every letter, address the recipient by name and mention specifics from your database, such as their donation amount, the campaign they donated to, and any other details you have on hand.

If you need help segmenting your investors or personalizing appeals, consider reaching out to a marketing agency that specializes in helping nonprofits. These professionals can get into the weeds of effective direct mail marketing, analyzing and segmenting your housefile to craft appeals that put your organization in the best position to successfully build relationships.  

2. Build trust by communicating outcomes

In direct mail and other communications with supporters, don’t shy away from discussing the outcomes of your work. Those who contribute to your cause shouldn’t feel like it was a one-and-done endeavor. They want to know how their gifts are being used and what impact they’ve personally made.

To cultivate trust with supporters, be transparent about campaign performance and how you’re using donations. Send campaign progress updates, detailed annual reports, and highlight the impact of a supporter’s previous donations in every outreach message.

The more specific you can get, the better. If a supporter donated $200 to your last education campaign, for example, let them know that their donation paid for ten new textbooks that local high school students will be able to use for the next five years. 

3. Show your appreciation often

Along with communicating outcomes, any fundraising consultant will tell you that recognition and appreciation are crucial to sustaining strong relationships with supporters. Investors need to feel valued to continue supporting your organization.

The first step to showing appreciation is sending timely thank-you letters. To show each supporter you value them as an individual, NXUnite recommends including the investor’s name, exact donation amount, and any recent involvement activity in these letters. 

However, sending thank-you letters should only be the first step. Recognize investors in a variety of ways to connect with them, such as:

  • Full-page supporter stories in your newsletter
  • Social media shoutouts
  • Birthday or anniversary messages
  • A recognition wall 
  • Lists in your annual report

The appreciation methods you choose for individual investors should be appropriate for the size of their gifts. For instance, every supporter who makes a donation should receive a thank-you letter, but only long-time or major investors might receive a full-page highlight in your monthly newsletter. 

A stewardship matrix can make it easy to determine which appreciation tactic to use on a case-by-case basis. This is essentially a custom guide your team creates that explains which type of communications to send to different levels of supporters and when to send them. In this matrix, you could mark that you’ll send annual reports to every investor once per year, while you’ll only send handwritten acknowledgment letters to major and planned gift investors within a week of their donation. 

4. Provide opportunities for further involvement

Finally, the measure of a truly strong relationship is an investor’s willingness to get more involved. Opportunities for further engagement not only help supporters feel more connected to your mission but also give your team an invaluable chance to interact with investors one-on-one. 

After a supporter makes a donation, invite them to take part in one or more of the following opportunities:

  • Volunteer their time to support your mission. Through volunteering, investors can see your work up close and make a tangible, immediate impact on your cause. Plus, recruiting volunteers from your existing support base allows you to feel confident that your volunteers truly care about your mission. 
  • Fill out a survey to provide their feedback. Surveys about your nonprofit’s programs and fundraising campaigns give supporters a chance to share their ideas and show them that you value their opinions.
  • Take a tour of your nonprofit’s office or program facility. For those who’ve given a major gift or provided a large sponsorship to your organization, let them see where your important work takes place. Talk with them throughout the tour to get to know them better and share updates about upcoming projects. 

Just like any other communication, these invitations should be personalized to supporters’ interests and engagement histories. If you know a supporter lives out of town, invite them to virtual events. If one investor only donates to environmental campaigns, encourage them to join a tree planting volunteer event. Tailored invitations like these will show supporters that you’re paying attention to their preferences and want to give them the best experience possible.

Throughout your stewardship efforts, make notes in your database and track metrics like response rates that give you insight into your success. Every nonprofit’s supporters are unique, so align these strategies with your audience’s preferences to see the best results.

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