Why do people donate? There are easy answers: they wanted to give back, they were moved by your nonprofit’s mission, or they wanted a tax break. However, when attracting and retaining donors, it’s important to ask why your supporters donate specifically to your nonprofit and not someone else’s.
There are many great organizations out there, which means your nonprofit needs to convince potential donors that yours is unique and can use their hard earned dollars to make real change.
Sharing your nonprofit’s mission alone is rarely enough. Instead, think about your case statement. A case statement (or case for support, as it’s also called) explains your nonprofit’s history, goals, and impacts. Describing the impact and outcomes of your work demonstrates the value of your nonprofit to your supporters in a way simply restating your mission statement can’t.
This article will walk through why and how your nonprofit will demonstrate the value of donating, including how to tell stories about past outcomes, follow up with donors, and create strategic donation appeals. Let’s jump in!
Why is demonstrating donation value important?
According to GivingMail’s nonprofit funding guide, 71% of donations made to nonprofits come from individuals. This means that if your nonprofit relies on donations as a form of revenue, you need to understand how to appeal to individual donors.
“Individual donors” is obviously a large and diverse group, but there are a few things you can assume about people who willingly part with their money to make the world a better place. Chief among them is that they would like their donation to make a difference.
To prove that every contribution does matter, communicate the value of your nonprofit’s work with donors and how donations enable your nonprofit to fulfill its mission.
Telling donors about the impact of their support will also make them more inclined to donate in the future. Nonprofits often struggle with retaining donors, some years averaging more donor attrition than retention.
However, retaining donors is more cost-effective than continually having to attract new donors, as your nonprofit will save on marketing and outreach expenses. Recurring donors also give more over the course of their lives than one-time donors, creating a sustainable stream of revenue for your nonprofit to rely on.
If you’re not sure what your current donor retention rate is, try using Qgiv’s donor retention formula to assess where your nonprofit is, and set an obtainable goal to strive towards. Regardless of your current rate, it can almost always improve through better communication with your existing donors to convince any on the fence to stick around.
How can you effectively demonstrate organizational value?
Now that you know why demonstrating donation value is important, let’s discuss some of the most effective ways to do so. Here are a few best practices to consider:
1. Tell specific constituent stories
There are several ways a nonprofit can communicate its outcomes. For example, if your nonprofit has statistics that demonstrate impact, be sure to share them with your supporters. However, while statistics are tangible proof of your nonprofit’s work, they are actually less effective at earning donations than stories.
People donate to nonprofits that touch them, and then look for numbers to back up decisions they’ve already made based on their emotions. For your nonprofit, this means continuing to collect data for your annual reports, but putting more focus on how you can create a compelling story about your constituents.
For example, putting names and faces to your organization’s mission can help donors and prospects see the type of work you’re doing, and the importance of it, in a human way. Your stories don’t need to be masterpieces, but there are a few core elements that can elevate your anecdotes to something inspiring:
- Focus on one person. Though it may seem paradoxical, nonprofit stories about one person tend to garner more sympathy and attention than stories focused on groups. Although less people are being helped in your impact story, your supporters will be able to better visualize and identify with your constituents if there is only one of them to focus on.
- Generate high energy emotions. Your story should certainly provoke emotion, but not all emotions result in positive results for your nonprofit. Stories that dwell on low energy emotions like sadness or contentment aren’t as motivating as ones that generate frustration or excitement.
- Frame your nonprofit as an assistive force. Even as you share how much your nonprofit has helped your constituents, the heroes of every story should be your donors. For example, compare the differences in the phrases “Our organization helped two hundred dogs find good homes” and “Our donors helped two hundred dogs find good homes.”
- Use specific details. Include specific details in your stories to make them feel real and relatable. Take the time to consider what the main point of a story is and how you want your donors to react to it. Then pick and choose the details that best support the image you want to convey.
Stories prove to your donors that their donations are impacting a real person for the better. A particularly good story is also fun, inspiring, and shareable. Treat constituent stories as an opportunity to demonstrate the value of your nonprofit with both your current supporters and the friends and family they might share it with.
2. Keep donors informed about program updates
While some one-time donors are content to give and be on their way, recurring donors make an investment in your nonprofit and want to see what becomes of it. As your nonprofit makes strides towards fulfilling its mission, keep your donors in the loop with regular updates.
Use your donor management software to create donor profiles that track their contact information, donation history, and which campaigns they’ve given to. This will allow your nonprofit to tailor personalized messages to supporters about recent campaign efforts, sharing how their specific contribution has made a difference. For example, if a donor gave to your back to school supply drive, let them know that 217 students were given the school supplies they need to start the year off right.
On the other hand, if your program has hit a wall or isn’t making as much progress as you would have hoped, be transparent about that as well. Your donors appreciate honesty more than they appreciate silence or worse, fudged numbers.
3. Form personal connections through strategic appeals
Building relationships retains donors. Instilling investment in donors can be accomplished in small ways such as a phone call to say thank you or a personalized card in the mail. That said, direct mail has more opportunities to keep your organization at top of mind by providing your supporters with a physical reminder of your cause.
Traditional mail appeals should incorporate aspects of the previous two tips for best results. For example, your nonprofit could send out postcards with a picture of one of your constituents on one side and that constituent’s story on the other.
Personalize your appeals to further build relationships, and avoid addressing any of your recipients with “Dear donor.” Always include your donor’s name and add details such as what campaign they supported and how much they gave to emphasize the impact of their contribution while encouraging them to give again. If you need help getting started, consider using a template like these as a base, then adding your own touches.
Routine appeals like these also serve as reminders to donate. Some nonprofits send their donors annual calendars to make them regularly think of their organization and nudge them to donate again when the new year begins. Get creative and pick a strategy that makes sense for your nonprofit.
Sharing your nonprofit’s outcomes is key to retaining donors as it assures them their money is accomplishing something important. If your organization ever runs out of things to share, consider your current balance of activity vs. productivity.
Some nonprofits do lots of activities, but those activities only mean something if they produce results. Instead of setting out to host engaging events or send well-written thank you letters, establish tangible goals for your nonprofit’s mission and fundraising efforts. Events and thank you letters are still important, but they should contribute to something your nonprofit is doing rather than existing for their own sake.
By implementing the tips in this article, you can reach the goal of increasing your donor retention rate. Pick a rate that makes sense for your organization, then begin informing donors of their impact by telling stories and mailing out physical letters to achieve that goal. Good luck!
About the Author:
Grant Cobb is a fundraising specialist with over 6 years of experience in the nonprofit space. Currently the head of marketing and analytics at GivingMail, he is a huge proponent of data-driven decision making and the push to bring high-level analytics and fundraising to all.