AP Perspectives: 5 Best Practices to Cultivate Donor Relationships

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Cultivating donor relationships is certainly one of the priorities for any fundraising professional. Organizations that focus on creating a complementary relationship with their donor base are already miles ahead of the ones that do not emphasize it enough. The reason? Good donor retention directly translates to a high donor retention rate, more donors who are willing to be volunteers and better overall engagement with your fundraisers and campaigns.

If you are looking for some tried and tested ways to get started on cultivating sustainable donor relationships, we have got you covered. Let’s dive into some of the best practices to build a strong relationship with your donor-base, and how you can get started with each of them.

1. Segment your list for donor-centric engagement 
When it comes to donor engagement, it’s important to cater to the needs of your donor to build a mutually rewarding relationship with them. While generic engagement might seem convenient, it fails to create an impact on your donor base — this is where donor-centric engagement comes into the picture. 

To get started, begin with segregating your donors based on specific parameters. For instance, a great way to segment your donor base is based on their affinity. Based on their previous gifts, which segment of your audience is more likely to relate to a certain cause and contribute to it? Next, make a rough segregation based on this learning and engage with each segment through content pieces that align with their interests.

2. Showcase the impact of their contributions
The journey to building a sustainable relationship with your donors doesn’t end with you hitting your revenue goals after a successful campaign. Give your donors a reason to come back and make a change through their contributions by showcasing the impact their gifts have made. Who benefitted from the funds you raised? What impact is it making on the community? Big or small, every step counts, so make sure you celebrate these achievements. 

Give the spotlight to your donors through an appreciation post on your social media handles every once in a while and applaud their contributions that have helped you achieve the goal. An annual event or a virtual post-campaign toast honoring your donors could also be a great way to celebrate their contributions and let them know you value them. 

3. Take your donors’ feedback and act on them
Your communication with your donors shouldn’t be one way — make it a dialog by asking for their feedback. It’s important to know and understand what they have to say to engage better with them, know where their affinities lie, and what you can do to improve your campaigns. Giving the mic to your donors is only the first step here—acting on it is the most important part of the process.

You can start with your most engaged and active donors and reach out to them for their suggestions. Timing your feedback request is also crucial at this point. A short zoom call with these folks right after your virtual fundraiser can fetch you some great feedback since the event is still fresh in their memory. You can expand this group slowly or make it a forum — but make sure your team is active to acknowledge the feedback you’re receiving there.  

Once you make a change based on their recommendations, a thank-you email to your donor(s) for their valuable feedback would be a cherry on top!

4. Listen to what the metrics have to say
As a fundraiser, metrics are certainly your best friend. From understanding donor behavior to setting the right goals for your next fundraiser — tracking your metrics is imperative to understand many of the less tangible aspects of your strategies. Once you have these numbers in place, you can see the trends in the metrics, understand what’s working with your donor base and align your strategies to it.

To get started, choose a set of metrics that can be measured year-over-year, such as your annual donor retention rate, cumulative campaign attendance, etc. Keeping track of these numbers will help you understand your donor base better. For instance, which campaign performed the best this year? What is a realistic target for your next fundraiser? Is there a segment of your donor base with a specific affinity? There are several questions that can be answered through metrics.

It’s important to understand that metrics only work when collected and observed in the long term. What’s more crucial is to align your strategies to meet their indications in order to drive fundraising success.

5. Nurture your donors
Persistent and quality interaction is important in order to nurture your donor base. If you’re only reaching out to them when you have an ask to make, it’s time to re-think your communication strategy. With virtual engagement platforms, you can arrange easily accessible virtual events in no time and keep the conversation going with your donors.

Create content for your donor base that aligns with their interests; this is where donor segmentation helps you select what should be the content for a specific segment. While most organizations do have a set cadence in place, unless it provides value to your donors, it will fail to create the impact you’re looking for in certain groups. 

Take your interaction with your donors a step ahead of mere email communication. Virtual events are easy to plan on your end and provide simple access for your donors. Be it discussion panels, webinars, or simply an e-meet — encourage your donors to take part in your virtual or hybrid events. This creates a more substantial bond between you and your donor base and keeps the conversation flowing.

KaylanKalyan Varma is the CEO and co-founder of Almabase. Kalyan focuses on helping universities build lifelong relationships with their alumni by driving participation. He hosts the Almabase Spotlight Podcast, which showcases inspiring stories from Alumni Relations and Fundraising professionals. Kalyan has also delivered sessions at CASE and Blackbaud conferences.

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22 Sep 2021 AFP News
22 Sep 2021 AFP News
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