Your nonprofit exists to serve your beneficiaries. But to get there, you’ve got to connect with donors first. Raise donors before you raise money.

Broadly speaking, you can divide nonprofit work into three large categories:

  1. Administration,
  2. Programs, and
  3. Development.

Of course, some nonprofit sectors (like private universities) may have more than that. But even if your organization operates with more categories, this post should be helpful.

Like the proverbial chicken and the egg, which side of the nonprofit do you start with? Which deserves the higher priority?

This is where nonprofit management gets messy. They all have to be running at the same time for your organization to remain alive.

And to make things more difficult, each of these areas in your nonprofit requires experts to run them. Administration, fundraising, and program leadership are all separate career fields!  

To keep their sanity, most nonprofits will neglect their administration and fundraising for the sake of programs. That makes sense because you exist to serve your beneficiaries.

But it’s not wise because…

Eventually, poor administration and bad fundraising will catch up with you and force you to close your doors. Then, you won’t be able to serve anyone.

But between administration and fundraising, fundraising is normally the first thing leaders put off. It’s just no fun to talk with people about giving their money to your cause. But it doesn’t have to be this way!

Raising donors vs. raising money

If you change the way you view fundraising from raising money to raising donors, fundraising becomes a whole lot more meaningful (and maybe even fun).

When you raise donors, you’re focused on starting new relationships with real people. Each donor is an individual with interesting experiences, profound ideas, and inspiring tales to tell.

But when you raise money, people become numbers on a spreadsheet. They’re just data in a wealth model or a name on a prospecting list. Like dairy cows, they only exist for what you can get out of them.

When you raise donors, you take time to listen to the reasons people give. Even if it costs more from you, you’ll do what’s necessary to make giving a life-enriching experience for them.

But when you raise money, the fear of spending too much money, time, and effort can stop you from making giving to your organization a pleasure. In other words, you listen more to your fears than your donors.

“RaiseDonors” is more than our name. It’s our philosophy. It goes like this…

Successful fundraising is donor-centric, guided by the results of fundraising experiments (that’s how you “listen” to your donors), and driven by real affection for your donors (aka, “donor love”).

So how do you show your donors love?

You could go to each one with a hug and a cheese tray gift, but that’s not what I’m talking about. Donor love is shown in the way that you tailor the giving experience to your donors’ preferences, style, and desires.

So here are seven general ways to show your donors the love they deserve.

#1. Go where your donors are — online.

The majority of donors are not only surfing the internet—they’re using it daily for banking, purchases, work, and so many other parts of life.

So it’s no surprise that The 2018 Giving Trends Report says 54% of donors prefer to give online.

If you want to show donors that you care about their preferences, then go online, where they’re already performing so many important financial functions. Don’t make them write a check when they really just want to click.

#2. Personalize your communications.

Donor-focused copy makes them feel as if you are talking only to them.

Research shows 71% of donors feel more engaged with a nonprofit when they receive content that’s personalized.

Here are 3 ways to personalize donor communications:

  1. Use merge tags to insert their first and last name at the beginning of your emails and letters.
  2. Talk to them using the word “you” rather than talking about your donors in the third person.
  3. Talk to them as a real person with emotions and desires not a logic-based robot.

To bond with donors, engage them as a human. Dry and formal organizational communication doesn’t resonate with donors.

Remember, fundraising is not about programs: it is about relationships.

#3. Make appeals more personal using plain text emails.

How is an email from a friend formatted?

Does it have logos and fancy pictures? Probably not.

Logos, silky pictures, and colorful buttons are associated with marketing. As a result, people read such emails with skepticism.

For appeal emails, plain text copy produces better results than HTML copy.

A case study by NextAfter showed that a plain text appeal increased donor conversion by 77.5% compared to an HTML one.

The reason for this is simple—the email looked, felt, and sounded more personal.

#4. Share the value proposition for your nonprofit and let the donor see how they can be a part of it

Don’t just tell donors to give—show them why.

One of the most common mistakes in fundraising is to make your organization the hero of the story.  But when you are talking to a donor, it’s not a time to pat yourself of the back. It’s time for you to invite others to be a part of the story.

In fact, it’s an invitation for the donor to become a hero in the story.

This is why sharing stories that unpack how their gift fuels impact are so significant and meaningful. And stories of impact take the focus off of how great your organization is and instead how important the work you do is.  

And that’s a story a donor will want to be a part of.  

#5. Make landing pages simple and easy to use.

There are fewer things in life more satisfying than arriving at a website and finding everything you’re looking for quickly and efficiently. This, my friend, is donor love.

  • Use a simple distraction-free layout.
  • Provide options about how much and how often to give.
  • Shorten the donation form so they don’t spend too much time filling in their info…donors are busy!
  • Optimize for mobile—use large text, vertical layout, and easy-to-click buttons. In the past year, mobile giving donations increased 205%
  • Use a simple straightforward language.

#6. Thank your donors with automatic emails.

When a donor gives, it’s an opportunity to shower them with gratitude, which has been shown to increase retention rates.

RaiseDonors giving pages make it simple to craft thank you emails that are sent as soon as the gift is processed.

#7. Pick up the slack for your donors.

Expired or updated credit or debit cards can be a hassle for donors.

Whenever a donor needs to update a card, it can take them a while to get it updated.  And, of course, for you, an expired card means the gift stops.

Thankfully, RaiseDonors can help with that.

When a donor’s card is declined, RaiseDonors will email both you and the donor with a link to their donor portal where they can update their information themselves.  Or, if you prefer, you can call them to see if they would like to continue their monthly gift. If so, they just need to give you their new info.

The bottom line is that everything — be it a receipt or an expired credit card — is an opportunity to show your donors you care with clear, simple communication.  

The Golden Rule

When it comes down to it, the RaiseDonors philosophy is the golden rule. Give your donors the same giving experience that you would love to have.

If you do this, you’ll be amazed at how much “gold” will come in because you focused on raising donors instead of raising money.

Stephen Boudreau serves as VP of Product + Content Marketing at Virtuous Software. For over two decades, he has helped nonprofits leverage the digital space to grow their impact. To that end, Stephen co-founded RaiseDonors, a platform that provides nonprofits with technology and experiences that remove barriers to successful online fundraising. He is an avid (but aging) soccer player, audiobook enthusiast, and the heavily-disputed UNO champion of his household.

Copyright ©2024 Stephen Boudreau.