Guides & Resources

Back to Basics: Building a Strong Community of Support for Your Nonprofit

Stewardship & Marketing: Donor Relations/Stewardship
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(With so many fundraising options now available and so many things happening in the world, sometimes we all just need a reminder about the basics of fundraising.)

The past few years challenged many nonprofits, and today, many that have stabilized are wondering how secure their future is. Fortunately, there are steps professionals can take to build reliable support streams, which will continue to fund and uplift a nonprofit even during difficult times. Specifically, nonprofits should focus their efforts on forging strong communities around their cause.

Supporters who have a deeper connection to your nonprofit will reliably support your organization through easy and difficult times. Of course, building strong relationships with supporters takes time and a dedicated strategy to see results. To help your nonprofit start forging a strong community, this article will explore the following strategies:

  • Create meaningful engagement opportunities
  • Build an online community
  • Provide products and services

These tips can help guide your overall supporter marketing and engagement strategy, but keep in mind that one of the most valuable things you can do to build relationships is listen to and follow supporter feedback. Your supporters have a different relationship with your nonprofit than other charitable organizations have with theirs. Embrace what makes your supporters and nonprofit unique as you build your community.

Create meaningful engagement opportunities

Even if they have a strong connection to the nonprofit’s mission, supporters will have a hard time connecting with nonprofits that only ever message them to ask for more donations. To build a community that cares about the success of your nonprofit specifically, you’ll need to provide donors with valuable opportunities to get involved and engage with your organization.

When brainstorming opportunities, consider what types of activities are most likely to interest and resonate with your supporters. Here are a few options to consider:

  • Events. Nonprofit events can vary widely from formal galas to community walkathons and 5Ks. Offer a variety of events to ensure you have opportunities that all of your supporters can enjoy. For example, you might host a formal gala for your major donors, a potluck open to your entire community, and a virtual walkathon to keep remote supporters engaged.
  • Advocacy campaigns. You can further your nonprofit’s mission and engage supporters at the same time by launching an advocacy campaign. Advocacy campaigns can be major undertakings, but also have the potential to impact real change in your community and make supporters feel like they’re actively making a difference when they contact their elected officials, attend rallies, and sign petitions.
  • Volunteer opportunities. Nonprofits tend to consider their donors and volunteers as distinct groups, when in reality your volunteers can become some of your most reliable donors and vice versa. For your donors who want to do even more for your cause, provide them with a variety of opportunities to get involved, from working on your initiatives to helping with your next fundraising campaign. Offer multiple ways to volunteer so supporters can select the opportunities that interest them most and best align with their skillset.

In addition to these ideas, don’t hesitate to get creative and try new, innovative ways to engage donors. Ideally, the opportunities you create should be valuable to everyone involved—your supporters will learn more about your cause, feel like they’re making a difference, and make friends with other supporters, while your nonprofit will be able to further your mission.

Build an online community

Not all of your supporters will live in the same location as your nonprofit. And even the ones who do may prefer to engage with your cause online out of both convenience and a preference for virtual engagement opportunities.

To connect with your supporters online, consider first how you can improve and adjust your current marketing strategies to encourage digital engagement. For example, if you regularly send mail invitations to invite supporters to events, try mailing and emailing to let them know about your hybrid event, adding a link to attend your live stream.

Additionally, consider how you can create channels on your website or social media pages for supporters to engage with one another. The more supporters are able to reach out and form bonds with each other, the more likely they are to continue supporting your nonprofit in order to see and connect with their new friends.

Forging an online community also comes with the added benefit of providing your nonprofit with new data collection opportunities. For instance, you might check engagement rates on different social media platforms or experiment with different ways to encourage supporters to leave comments and respond to one another on your blog posts. Then, you can use that information to inform your email marketing strategy to drive engagement there, as well.

Provide products and services

Nonprofits can diversify their revenue streams and build their communities by providing supporters with products and services for purchase. This gives supporters more ways to contribute to a nonprofit besides just donating and will keep your organization front of mind every time they use your products or if they subscribe to a recurring service.

Here are a few types of products and services nonprofits commonly offer:

  • Courses. Nonprofits can spread awareness about their mission, provide training services in their communities, and forge relationships with supporters by offering educational courses. To use your courses as a community building activity, consider how you can plan curriculum that encourages participants to interact with each other. This might involve group discussions, partner activities, or routine in-person meetings for course held online.
  • Custom merchandise. You can ensure supporters routinely think about your nonprofit by giving them something tangible to hold on to, like custom merchandise. Branded products like t-shirts, water bottles, and even pet clothes can make supporters feel like they’re part of an in-group, furthering their connection to other members of your community.
  • Exclusive content. Does your nonprofit conduct intensive research about your issue, have connections with experts in your field, and a strong creative team? If so, your organization may be able to create a membership program based on exclusive paid content. This content can consist of articles, videos, lectures, and other high-value, engaging material your organization can put together.

When providing each product or service, consider how it promotes not just your organization but your community. For example, a nonprofit might maintain a special communication channel for paid members to communicate with one another or encourage supporters to wear their merchandise to events to create a sense of unity.

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