Three Ways to be More Personal in Nonprofit Fundraising

Dear Donor,

Don’t take this personally. This letter has been auto-generated by a moderately priced software program, but it
will make no attempt to use your name, speak to you individually, or make any reference to your contribution history. You should feel lucky, however, because we know many nonprofit organizations won’t bother to send you a letter at all. We appreciate your continued support.

Not so sincerely, your soon to be former charity of choice.

Hyperbole aside, nonprofit organizations are communicating with donors like this every day. Generic correspondence is pushed out at arbitrary intervals, hoping for substantial returns but not in accordance with a governing strategy and not actively conducting performance analytics.

You can markedly increase your nonprofit fundraising donor communication effectiveness starting immediately by following these three strategies:

  • 1
    Develop your donor persona. This is a composite on what most typical donor looks like. To build this, you should consider core elements like age, gender, socioeconomic status, and geography. If you have further intelligence or access to other identifying variables, consider factors such as their level of education, motivation for giving, family circumstances, and what other organizations they might be inclined to support. When you develop this composite, you can use it to guide your voice across all communication and fundraising vehicles, including your website, your schedule for updating donors, appeal messages and call to actions, and whether or not to plan special events. When Gillette Specialty Children’s Healthcare changed from telling stories that made their organization look important to ones that made donors feel important, they engineered a turnaround in their newsletter performance, from a nearly $40,000 loss to a more than $55,000 profit. I personally used donor persona in leading a year end appeal effort and increased performance more than 500% over 2 years. It works.
  • 2
    Employ a segmentation strategy. Don’t get complacent after developing a donor persona with the belief that you can just send out identical messages to all audiences. You have many different sub-audiences within your donor population, including prospects, low level annual donors, emerging champions, planned giving prospects, and major donors/major donor prospects. Similarly, you have sub-groups of donors that prefer to give in response to direct mail, through events, and via online platforms. Give some attention in your fundraising planning as to who these audiences are and what channels, intervals, and key messages appeal best to them.
  • 3
    Utilize a major donor funnel. While the quantity and characteristics of your sub-audiences will vary greatly by organization, one constant is major donors/major donor prospects. If you don’t have an audience like this identified, your prospects for success are bleak. Major donors look different for every organization, but what defines them is their transformational capacity; the 10-20% of donors in your file who can or do contribute 80-90% of total giving. Start by identifying who these donors are and what they look like, and then move on to building a funnel that includes scheduled cultivation points, personal outreaches, sharing of exclusive content, opportunities for acknowledgement, opportunities to deepen engagement, and positioning for deliberate solicitations that align their core passions with a philanthropic opportunity. Surveys routinely reveal that major donors prefer personal relationships and greater access to the organizations they support, so this is an easy way to give them what they want and position your agency for long-term success.

Many of us have grown up learning about the Golden Rule, to do unto others as you would have them do unto you, which is a valuable tool in interpersonal empathy. With donors who crave personalized communication, you are better suited to employ Dr. Tony Alessandra’s Platinum Rule: “Treat others the way they want to be treated”. Embrace this approach, and watch the returns grow.

About Perry Jowsey

Perry Jowsey, CFRE is a professional fundraiser and featured speaker who has been leading financial turnarounds for more than a decade, 

where he has generated more than $20 million in Jowsey_Headshot-1-1.jpgrevenue specializing in small and financially distressed budgets. Perry has worked with local and international media, foreign government delegations, and philanthropists on the Forbes 400. In unparalleled acts of fundraising success, he has cut costs while producing ROI’s as large as 4000%, leading to features in national trade publications and special invitations to present to groups around the United States. Here is the link to Perry's LinkedIn profile

If you'd like to learn more about attracting and retaining donors, download our free guide entitled How to Attract and Retain Donors. You can download it here.