Communicate Your Donor Impact All Year Long

With the start of a new year, many nonprofits are evaluating their year-end campaigns and maybe even making plans for the end of 2015.

Instead, nonprofits need to focus on communicating with donors all year long, not just as a means to meet year-end goals, according to Bill Mountcastle, President & Principal Advisor at Health Philanthropy Services Group, LLC, who presented a session on donor impact communications at Foundation Center Cleveland in December. Here’s a recap of his key points:

Donor Retention vs. Donor Acquisition

If organizations focus on communication -- what they are saying and how they are saying it -- they can better retain donors and move them up the giving ladder, which is much more effective in the long run than spending all their energy on obtaining new, low-end donors.  The 80-20 rule still exists:  Twenty percent of your individual donors will accomplish 80 percent of your individual fundraising goals.

However, donor retention was a top communications goal for only 34 percent of nonprofit executive directors and 16 percent of communications directors, according to the 2014 Nonprofit Communications Trends Report. Instead, the top goals for the year were to “acquire new donors, engage their community, and build general brand awareness.” How can we be successful at something that most of us aren’t setting as a high priority?

Donors want to hear about nonprofit impact—not nonprofit needs

We also need to be paying attention to what we are communicating. Nonprofits get very focused on the challenges they face while doing their good work, and they want to take every opportunity they have in front of donors to let them know what they need. Eventually, donors will stop listening.

Nonprofits can better connect with their donors by giving them messages that lead with results. How can you clearly explain -- and show -- what your organization is giving back to your community? Charting Impact, a collaboration of the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance, GuideStar USA and Independent Sector, encourages organizations to answer these five questions in their communications with donors:

  1. What is your organization aiming to accomplish?
  2. What are your strategies for making this happen?
  3. What are your organization’s capabilities for doing this?
  4. How will your organization know if you are making progress?
  5. What have and haven’t you accomplished so far?

When you focus your donor message on impact, you accomplish two important things at the same time. You get a chance to connect with the donor, and then you close the loop by showing that donor the tangible result of their gift.

Donor impact communications create important moments when donors can connect the dots between the act of giving and the ultimate impact achieved. By using an impact message, your organization gets potential or current donors to truly understand not only the problem that your mission solves, but how their actions, no matter how small or large, contribute to the solution.

Why does this make you a better grantseeker?

Foundations and corporations are donors, too. In fact, they also want to demonstrate their own impact, so they may be even more adamant about knowing how their support for your work has benefited the community. Plus, if your current donors are happy with your work, that can only help your org's financial sustainability, reputation, and reach to new audiences (and future contributors).

Want more about donor retention and communicating impact?

Sign up for From Year-end Fundraising to Year-round Engagement, our live webinar on January 22 with Farra Trompeter of Big Duck, a communications firm that works exclusively with nonprofits. 1/15/15 update: Farra gives three reasons in this blog post about why you should resolve to engage your donors differently in 2015. 

Try these items from GrantSpace:

Raise More Money with Returning Donors (live chat transcript)

Outcome Thinking & Management: Long Term Impacts (video)

Impactful Programs: A Key to Long-Term Nonprofit Sustainability (video)

Evaluating Your Impact: Basics for Smaller Charities (podcast)

Do you agree that communicating impact and retaining donors is essential to your org’s fundraising success? Why or why not? Sound off in the Comments area.

Carrie Miller

-- Carrie Miller
Regional Training Specialist
Foundation Center Cleveland

CARRIE MILLER joined Foundation Center in June 2014. Previously, she served as program director for The City Club of Cleveland for over five years, planning their diverse year-long public forum series, and coordinating, managing, and marketing 100 public events per year. Carrie has a Masters in Nonprofit Management from Case Western Reserve University and a BS in History from The Ohio State University.