4 Relationship-Building Strategies for Nonprofits to Know
Your nonprofit’s supporters are an incredibly valuable resource for your organization. They’re the ones who come to your aid as you plan events, contribute financially to fund campaigns, spread the word about your mission to their families and friends, and so much more.
One thing you’ve probably noticed is that gaining traction with new supporters is expensive, not to mention difficult! Donor, volunteer, and supporter acquisition are challenges for most organizations. To limit the number of supporters you need to acquire, focus on retaining the ones you have. Therefore, it’s important to recognize why supporters lapse, then strategize a way to keep them for the long haul.
Here at Bloomerang, we specialize in retention. We built our software around the concept of retaining supporters and have helped thousands of organizations increase retention rates. The best way to do it? Building strong relationships.
According to the Bloomerang retention guide, the majority of donors who lapse could have been maintained with a more proactive approach to relationship-building by the nonprofit. Here’s the breakdown of why supporters lapse according to the study quoted in the guide:
Some of these cannot be avoided, such as death and no longer affording to contribute. However, many others correlate directly with your nonprofit’s ability to build relationships with your supporters.
Relationship-building is key to an effective strategy for fundraising, planning events, and maintaining the support you need to succeed.
In order to build and develop healthy relationships with your organization’s supporters, here are our top recommended tips:
- Offer multiple ways to contribute.
- Personalize communications with supporters.
- Provide impact statements.
- Show ample appreciation.
Want to dive deeper into each of these relationship-building strategies? Let’s get started.
Many nonprofits get caught up in a single method of contribution from their supporters: donations. Donations are great! They are necessary to fund your mission. However, asking your supporters to give over and over again can make them feel like a piggy bank or an ATM.
The same goes for volunteer hours. If you only ask supporters for their time, they’ll start feeling like they’re simply being used for their contribution of time.
That’s why it’s important for your nonprofit to diversify the engagement opportunities you offer your supporters.
Supporters see the immense value of your nonprofit’s mission and want to get involved. Giving them additional opportunities to do so increases their level of engagement with your organization while avoiding burnout with a single method of contribution.
Make sure your nonprofit strategic plan includes a number of engagement opportunities for supporters to get involved, such as:
- Multiple fundraising campaigns. Change up the type of fundraising campaign you use to raise funds from supporters. Consider different campaigns such as peer-to-peer fundraising, crowdfunding, phone or email solicitations, and text-to-give. Make sure to choose the type that makes the most sense for your specific campaign goals.
- Volunteer opportunities. Even in the age of COVID-19, your nonprofit can still offer opportunities for supporters to volunteer with the nonprofit. Try launching a virtual volunteer program to engage your supporters from the comfort of their homes. This enables them to contribute time and skills as well as funds.
- In-kind giving. Soliciting in-kind donations is an effective method of engaging your supporters while gaining materials your organization needs. You might ask supporters to contribute chairs for an event, canned food for your mission, or other products you need to succeed. You can even put together a wish list and ask supporters to purchase the items you need most.
- Advocacy campaigns. Keep an eye on the news. Are there current events or legislation in play that directly impact your nonprofit’s mission? An advocacy campaign might be the perfect way to get your supporters to make a difference by simply signing a petition or otherwise contacting representatives. Make sure you have the advocacy tools you need to make these types of campaigns possible before you get started.
- Stewardship events. Rather than asking supporters to get involved to help you, ask them to get involved to show what you can do for them. Stewardship events are engaging for supporters and show your appreciation for them without asking for anything other than attendance.
Contribution to your organization comes in many forms. The important thing to remember is that engagement is the key. When supporters are highly engaged with various campaigns and opportunities offered by your nonprofit, they’re more likely to stay for the long-haul.
When was the last time you received an email that was made out to “to whom it may concern”? What did you do with that message? Did you read it in full? Did you skim it? Or did you quickly delete it without really engaging with the message? If you’re like the majority of other individuals, you probably either skimmed the message to see if it was worth your time or you didn’t bother with it at all.
Your supporters do the same thing. If you don’t personalize your messages and communications, they’ll likely either skim and delete the message or ignore it completely.
Personalizing communications goes beyond simply addressing the supporter by name. You need to use your available data and analytics to craft messages that will truly grab the attention of your audience and make them want to read it.
This guide explains that this personalization is one major purpose of a nonprofit CRM. It states that “nonprofit CRM software allows your organization to segment donors into groups, further enabling your organization to personalize messages based on what segments of donors are most interested in hearing.”
This means you can create individual groups of supporters according to past engagement, interests, and other information you have on file to make sure your messages are personalized as well as efficient.
Take, for instance, the example provided in this VolunteerMark article. This article explains how you can use volunteer management software to view analytics about groups of volunteers. This is not only a great way to get a good view of your volunteer program, but it also provides an opportunity for supporter segmentation. In accordance with the article, let’s consider the following segments:
- Volunteer department or program. When volunteers help out with specific departments or programs at your organization, you can better understand their interests. Then, you can send messages directly relevant to the department or program with which individuals engaged in the past.
- Event volunteered for. Events (or virtual events) are a natural opportunity for volunteers to get involved. If supporters have volunteered at events in the past, you might invite them to get more involved at your next one as well, either as a volunteer or as an attendee.
- Volunteer sign-up date. Get an idea for when supporters first got involved with your organization and segment your communications according to longevity at the nonprofit.
- Hours contributed. Get an idea for the threshold of hours your volunteers usually give, then, push that threshold slightly by offering more opportunities. This maximizes volunteer hours and increases engagement.
While this example is simply for volunteers, you can segment any group of supporters in your nonprofit’s database. By using segmentation strategies and including supporters’ details (like their preferred name) in messages, you’ll be well on your way to an engaging communication strategy.
After all, you can’t build relationships without effective communication!
Supporters got involved with your organization because they feel strongly about your mission. That’s why they give their money and their time to help your nonprofit succeed. Therefore, one way to keep them engaged and to build their relationship with your organization is to show them how their contributions have made a difference.
You have several opportunities throughout the year to provide statements of impact for your nonprofit’s supporters. Each of these opportunities ranges in the type of impact they exemplify. Take, for instance, the following example opportunities to show supporters their impact:
- On your donation page. On your donation page, try offering supporters insight into what contributions of different sizes can do for your nonprofit. For instance, you might say, “A donation of $50 can feed a family of four for one week.”
- As a part of your thank-you. When you thank your supporters, tell them what their contribution has accomplished for the nonprofit. For example, you might say, “Your volunteer hours at our recent event helped engage 1,000 attendees and raise $50,000.” Donor thank-you letter templates by Fundraising Letters offer additional examples of how to show impact and appreciation for your supporters.
- After a project or campaign. After a project or campaign has wrapped up, tell your supporters who contributed in the campaign about what you’ve accomplished. For instance, “Your contribution to The Puppy Rescue campaign helped find loving homes for fifty dogs.”
- In your annual report. Your annual report is the final opportunity to explain everything your organization has accomplished throughout the year. It’s a chance to summarize your various campaigns and projects. In this report, use statements like, “Generous volunteers/donors/supporters made it possible to…” to show that supporters were the ones who really made the difference.
Showing impact is an important part of building relationships because it shows supporters just how valuable their contributions to your organization are. When supporters feel valued by your nonprofit, they’re more likely to continue working with you.
In addition to showing your supporters how impactful their contributions are to your mission, tell them about how much their support means to the organization. Appreciation is the final step to ensuring your organization builds healthy relationships with supporters.
Go above and beyond simply sending a single email when supporters contribute time, energy, or funds to your organization. This will make sure your nonprofit stand out from the crowd. For instance, you may try the following appreciation strategies:
- Writing hand-written letters
- Shouting out to supporters on social media
- Providing small trinkets or gifts in return
- Create an appreciation video
- Host stewardship events
If you’re looking for more ways to show appreciation for your supporters, check out this guide explaining 50 creative ways to show appreciation.
Appreciation is a key aspect of any relationship, but especially the relationship between supporter and nonprofit.
Relationships are an important component of your nonprofit’s retention strategy. When you develop relationships further, you’ll help your organization raise funds, secure volunteer support, and spread awareness for your cause.
These four strategies are just the beginning. Solicit feedback from your supporters to learn more about what your specific audience wants from the organization. After all, your strategy should be as unique as your supporters themselves!
Author: Jay Love
Co-Founder and current Chief Relationship Officer at Bloomerang
He has served this sector for 33 years and is considered the most well-known senior statesman whose advice is sought constantly.
Prior to Bloomerang, he was the CEO and Co-Founder of eTapestry for 11 years, which at the time was the leading SaaS technology company serving the charity sector. Jay and his team grew the company to more than 10,000 nonprofit clients, charting a decade of record growth.
He is a graduate of Butler University with a B.S. in Business Administration. Over the years, he has given more than 2,500 speeches around the world for the charity sector and is often the voice of new technology for fundraisers.