How Nonprofits Can Attract and Retain Repeat Donors

Dave Sutton, Contributor, Business2Community
June 12, 2017

Did you or someone you know participate in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge in 2014?

The internet campaign became a viral hit and the ALS Association raised $115 million in donations to fund research for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Remarkably, the Ice Bucket Challenge donations funded research that discovered a gene marker for ALS.

Recognizing that many of the donations came from first-time donors, the ALS Association did an excellent job at demonstrating exactly where the funds went. By demonstrating how donor dollars are utilized, nonprofits like ALS can build trust and boost fundraising.

While receiving a heavy influx of donations may seem like a dream come true, it comes with its share of problems. For example, how will your marketing systems scale with a million unexpected donations? Could your current operations staff, email marketing system and development processes handle a rapid influx of donations? How will those funds be utilized to deliver on the nonprofit’s brand promise and vision?

If you don’t have simplicity, clarity and alignment across your nonprofit brand story, strategy and systems, not only will you not be able to scale but you will waste valuable time and resources chasing one-time donors.

Here are three simple steps that can help you identify and nurture qualified first-time donors and put scalable marketing systems in place (just in case your online video goes viral).

1. Know your “true” donor personas
You have to know your regular audience of benefactors and be able to distinguish them from one-time donors. If you have set up proper donor persona profiles, you are less likely to spin your wheels on the one-timers. That’s not to say don’t go after the one-timers, but an effective marketing strategy should account for all types of donors and the journeys that they experience. Some donors will be more actively engaged, others transactional, but there will also be some that donate once and don’t come back.

Your goal shouldn’t be to take new donations and spend them on first-time donors. Your efforts should be spent on nurturing the relationships with the donor personas that believe in the cause and believe in why you do what you do. Engaging these donors will yield the best returns.

Additionally, it’s essential to know when each donor persona wants to hear your message and the channel and format that they want to hear it in. In other words, you have to deliver the right message, to the right donor, at the right time and on the right channel. Once you identify how, where and when each persona wants to hear your message, you can begin aligning your systems to deliver those results.

2. Aligning your systems to your strategy
Once your organization has an understanding of your six-second story and has agreed on an aligned marketing and fundraising strategy, you must align your systems to execute on the strategy. Your marketing systems must be aligned to the donor journeys. Since it’s unlikely that your first attempt at persona journeys will be perfect, you have to set up your systems to identify the right metrics and success signals and iterate based on the results. These signals might seem small at first but as you start to run campaigns, you’ll discover how the success/failure of each touch-point relates to the entire donor journey.

By taking a lean approach and running small experiments to validate your strategy and systems are aligned, you will begin to see trends that will inform your future marketing and development touch-points. Measuring and iterating on these results is a key component to being able to identify one-time donors from engaged participants. For example, a likely one-time participant may be put into an automated nurturing stream whereas an engaged, long-time donor may receive a personalized letter or phone call.

A flush of new donations can cause a massive influx of new signals and what may seem like a dozen new persona types. To prevent your nonprofit from chasing bright, shiny new donor personas, your marketing and fundraising systems must be aligned and have the right triggers in place to quickly distinguish your “true” donors from one-timers.

3. Invest wisely and be transparent
This is probably the most important step.

Your investments should mainly focus on the cause you claim to support. Nothing sours a donor/nonprofit relationship faster than a benefactor discovering their donations went to a CEO’s salary, luxury cruises for the staff or solely to soliciting more donations.

Looking back at the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, the organization ensured a whopping 96 percent of those donation dollars went towards promoting their mission to fight ALS, and, even better, those donations made a measurable impact.

Obviously, not all funds can go towards “the cause.” This is where transparency makes all the difference between a transactional nonprofit organization and a transformational nonprofit organization. Nonprofits should be able to clearly indicate what donor funds are going towards their stated mission. If they aren’t going directly to “the cause,” it must be clear that the funds are being allocated in a way that will help propel the organization’s mission in the future. If that can’t be conveyed simply and clearly, you will have a hard time keeping donor loyalty.

A recent example of this type of transparency is the ACLU, which saw a flood of $24.1 million dollars in donations over the course of a weekend. The ACLU, or American Civil Liberties Union, has taken a dramatically different approach to how it will use the donor funds. It will be part of the winter batch of companies enrolled in the Silicon Valley startup accelerator Y Combinator with the hopes of learning from some of the smartest entrepreneurs in the world. Because the ACLU had the right story, strategy and systems in place, it was able to make a quick and informed decision on what would best deliver on the brand vision and then clearly relay that information to donors.

Clarity and alignment of marketing and fundraising don’t suddenly appear after an influx of donations. If there isn’t alignment before the funds roll in, there surely won’t be alignment afterward. It’s important to have a simple, six-second brand story that makes your audience want to learn more, want to engage and eventually donate to your cause. In order to successfully attract and nurture your audience, it’s essential to strike the right balance between marketing and fundraising.

This article was written by Dave Sutton from Business2Community and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

The information in this article is presented as-is and does not necessarily reflect the views of First Republic Bank.