Scale and Substance: The Tricky Mix of Donor Interactions

If you’re a regular reader of The Fundraising Authority, it is highly likely that you already understand that great fundraising is built on good, solid relationships with your prospects and donors. People give to organizations they trust, where a relationship has been built through positive interactions.

As a non-profit, your organization has tight line to walk in building these kinds of relationships with donors. On the one hand, your donor interactions need to be substantive and personal, meaning fitting in as many in-person meetings, conversations on the phone, and personal e-mails and notes as possible, particularly with your larger donors.

On the other hand, your donor communications need to be scalable, meaning that your organization needs to do enough mass-communication and semi-personalized communication so that your donors feel constantly connected, without requiring one-on-one attention at all times.

Establishing the proper mix of donor interactions can be tricky, and many organizations fail to find the right middle ground. Put too many mass-communications (like direct mail, mass-emails, and newsletters) in place, and your donors won’t feel like they have a real and personal bond with your non-profit. Spend too much time with one-on-one and small group interactions, and your development team won’t have the time and resources to build a large and growing donor base.

Here are the three steps I use when determining the proper mix of substance and scalability in donor communication plans:

1. Segment Your Donors

In general, the larger the donor, the more personalized interactions they will expect with your organization. While this isn’t always true, it is true often enough that you can segment your donor population by donation capacity. Larger donors and prospects should tend to receive more personalized communication; smaller donors should tend to receive less.

2. Establish a Written Donor Communication Plan for Each Segment

The best way to make sure you are staying on target is to develop a written communication plan for each donor segment. Establish several categories of donor communications, including e-mails, newsletters, non-ask events, personal phone calls, in-person meetings, etc. Then decide what mix each segment will receive and on what schedule. Use a calendar to mark out your donor communications periods for each group.

Make sure that each donor segment receives a true mix of communication styles. I always advise that even the smallest of donors should receive at least one personalized donor interaction each year, even if it is simply an invitation to a meet and greet with the organization’s staff and board.

3. Poll Your Donors

Once you have implemented your donor communication plan for a full year, sit down with a few of your donors (or take a larger poll/survey) to ask what they think of the interaction they have had with your non-profit the previous year. Did they receive enough information? Too much information? Do they wish they had been invited to more events? Do they feel like they have a strong relationship with your charity?

Take the answers you are given and use them to re-configure your donor communications strategy for the coming year. After all, no one knows the right mix for your donor interactions like your donors themselves.

Photo Credit: Hunson