Home NonprofitNonprofit Management 3-Step Plan for Building Meaningful Donor Communication

3-Step Plan for Building Meaningful Donor Communication

by Clay Harmon

Every nonprofit wants to build an audience of people who care deeply about the nonprofit’s message. The most meaningful relationships they can make are ones that last years, where the donor is along for not just a particular initiative, but for the whole journey. To find these people, though, you have to communicate with your audience using high intentionality. After all, it’ll be hard for people to be passionate about your mission if they don’t understand your message or mission. Knowing how to nurture your audience with the right emails can lead to building good relationships with donors. Here is how to build meaningful donor communication with your new and existing donors.

Building Your Email Strategy

Creating the right message is everything. After all, only a small percentage of people who receive your email will actually land on your site. According to this Campaign Monitor article, the average open rate for nonprofit emails was 20.39%, and out of those people who opened it, only 2.66% of them clicked on the links in the email. This means there can always be a better way to construct your message, so creating a strategy behind your emails becomes very important.

Ask yourself these questions when coming up with a strategy:

Why are you reaching out?

What are you hoping your communication will accomplish? Is it to create a relationship with someone who knows very little about your organization? Or are you trying to build on a relationship you’ve already established? Or perhaps it’s neither; maybe you’re making an ask or you’re inviting them to an event.

What is your main goal? 

It’s important to decide what your main goal with email marketing will entail. This is a more general inquiry versus the section above. You’re trying to decide the aim of a series of emails as opposed to the aim of a specific one. Are you just trying to raise funds for your nonprofit, or are you trying to provide educational resources? 

Once you have these questions answered, you can actually start creating a schedule for an email campaign so you can start reaching out to your audience.

Need some examples of successful email campaigns to get you started? Hubspot provided some helpful emails built by their users, some of which had up to a 55% click-through rate!

Creating Your Communication

If you’re hoping to grow your audience with your organization, there will come a point where it isn’t feasible to personally email them one at a time. There are a number of emailing services out there that can help make emailing large numbers of people easy, such as Aplos’ email marketing that comes with your subscription. There are also external services, such as MailChimp and Campaign Monitor. Using a system to aid in your emailing will be essential if you hope to grow your nonprofit.

Once you’ve picked out the system you’ll be using, next you need to build the emails themselves. Below are more questions you should be asking yourself when trying to figure out how to structure your donor communication plan. 

How are you emailing them? 

Are you planning to send out mass emails or individualized ones? Some emails, such as receipts or newsletters, can be standardized, but when it comes to communicating with people who are integral to your organization, you’ll want to give proper care and attention to those emails.

Will you set up a recurring email to send their way every so often? 

It’s important for your audience to receive regular communications from you so they don’t forget you exist. Newsletters and updates on the progress your organization has made are great ways to reach out.

Are you sending communication based on their activity with your organization? 

Take the time to clarify your donor communication road map. There is no perfect way to communicate with your donors since every organization has their own voice and topics, but remember that people have different levels of tolerance when it comes to email frequency. Communication with one person might result in increased engagement, while that same communication with someone else can result in an unsubscribe. Find a happy medium between regularly communicating but not to the point where someone feels like they’re being spammed.

Keep in mind that email might not always be the way to go. It can come across as cold if the email is for someone who requires extra care and attention, and it’ll never feel as human as the sound of someone’s voice via a phone call. Sometimes it’s best to just pick up the phone and call.

Looking for a little help on where to start when constructing your message? Read below for ideas on how you might communicate with your audience.

Let Your Donors Know They’re Changing the World

All donors want to be part of the story of changing the world. Since your nonprofit is in the business of changing the world, that means including your donors and showing what the results are of the initiatives you’ve pursued, which couldn’t have been possible without them.

Show How Their Money Is Making a Difference

The above was more about including them in your story, but this is about showing the numbers. A big reason people don’t donate is because they don’t trust that their money is going where it was claimed to go. It’s your job to instill that trust and show exactly where their dollars are going.

Defy Expectations

If you stick to the same boring schedule of communicating when a donor might expect it, such as before and after a fundraiser, or thanking them for their donation, they can become complacent. Complacency is a bad thing!

This article by Virtuous provides other donor communication ideas if you’re still having trouble coming up with a message.

Evaluating Your Engagement

Let’s say you finally reached a point where your organization is sending out email campaigns to prospective donors and everything is running like a well-oiled machine. Now it’s time to evaluate whether your emails are connecting with your audience or even reaching them in the first place. There are a number of ways to measure this.

Delivery Rate

This is for measuring how strong your email list is. Many organizations will accrue emails, only to find that some emails are bogus or out of date. A high deliverable rate means that your emails are landing inside inboxes.

Open Rate

Getting your audience to open your email is the next big hurdle. Usually, your open rate indicates the quality of your subject lines. They need to be attention-grabbing, while at the same time not setting any false expectations for what to expect inside the email. A helpful tip is to try making sure your email comes from a person rather than the nonprofit itself; for instance, saying your email is from the head of the nonprofit will make the email feel more personal, while at the same time providing authority.

Click-Through Rate

This metric applies to links you’ve included in your email and whether your audience is clicking on those links. This is a great way to see whether the email itself is engaging and relevant. A copy/paste email that is sent to hundreds or thousands of people all at once will have a lower click-through rate than a carefully constructed email that was given proper time and attention.

The Big Picture

Donor communication via email is just one aspect when it comes to proper donor management, but it’s one of the most important. Intentionality makes all the difference between nonprofits that enjoy high engagement with their audience and everyone else. 

Looking for a more big picture solution to managing your donors? Aplos is a nonprofit accounting and management platform that gives you every tool you need to build quality relationships with your audience for years to come.

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