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Cultivating and Maintaining an Active Donor Base

So, you want new donors?  You want to make sure that you keep getting funds from the donors you currently have?  What are you doing to make sure that both of these things are happening?  If you lack a strategy and purposeful intent to cultivate and maintain a donor base, you will certainly have money troubles.  “Form it and they will give” doesn’t work well for many nonprofits.  Here are three things to consider to cultivate and maintain an active donor base:

1)  A Compelling Purpose.

You need a compelling purpose.  Are you doing anything that a donor might want to support financially?  Are you providing your community with services that are indeed needed?  If a donor can relate to, or is interested in, the services your nonprofit provides, the donor is more likely to be happy giving to that cause.  If there are many other nonprofits in your community that are providing the same services, you will have to try harder to differentiate your organization from the other nonprofits.

Maybe your purpose IS compelling…to you.   You understand things about the need for your program that the public doesn’t easily grasp.  For example, the need being met by a homeless shelter is pretty obvious.  If, on the other hand, your organization’s purpose is to research treatments for dry-eye syndrome, you are going to be challenged trying to garner wide monetary support for your efforts.  Those with the problem will jump on board, but your work is cut out for you with everyone else.  You need to understand #3 below:  communication.  But don’t skip #2.  It’s big.

2)  An Effective Program.

If you want any chance of maintaining existing donors and attracting new ones, your organization simply must produce results.  There is no faster way to lose a donor base and poison the well of potential donors than to have a year without any forward progress.  Like it or not, people operate on a “What have you done for me, lately?” mentality.  That has never been more true than it is in this recession.  You may still have a period of time that is more planning than action.  That’s OK, so long as the planning moves you toward progress.  But even then, never-ending planning makes for weary supporters.  Get on with it!

Unfortunately, the concept of progress can be quite subjective.  Depending upon your organization’s programs and goals, accomplishments may be measured in miles…or inches.  We don’t need to explain that miles speak for themselves, at least to a point.  Inches are another matter.  In your particular line of work, inches may be the equivalent of miles.  But, it is incumbent upon your organization to…yes, you guessed it…communicate!  Now you may go to #3.

3)  Regular Communication About Accomplishments and Needs.

Most donors want to know if the money that they gave is making a difference.  As we pointed out, a donor likes an effective program.  That means you need to get the information out to the public about your accomplishments.  If you are in a period of planning, then communicate what that planning will result in down the road.  Information about accomplishments should be accompanied by an explanation of the ongoing needs of the nonprofit.  It is hard to fund something that you do not know needs funding.

If you are like the “dry-eye guys” above, and you are seeking new support, you had better be prepared to sell the need.  That’s tough to do, but certainly not impossible.  You just have to work harder to explain what the problem is and why your organization is vital in meeting the need.

There are many different ways to communicate, but here are four great methods that should be considered:

  • Website –  A website is no longer a luxury.  It is a must.  You simply cannot afford to overlook this.  There are so many inexpensive hosting options available and, with the rise of tools like WordPress (our blog engine of choice), it has become so much easier to manage.  If you are web illiterate, get help from a 20-something.  The first place many potential donors will check you out is your website.  One final note:  keep it simple and current.  The only thing worse than no website is one that is ugly, cluttered and out of date.
  • Email – You may have grown to hate email, but it is incredibly effective in communicating to large groups effectively and economically.  There are a number of very popular mass email tools out there (Constant Contact, aWeber, iContact, etc.).  For example, we send out approximately 64,000 email newsletters every month for about $150.  Try that with the post office!
  • Social Networks –  Social networks like Facebook and Twitter have become very popular ways to communicate information.  With Facebook, for example, you can have a “fan page” for your organization that allows your donors, and people interested in your nonprofit, to see information and communicate with each other.  You can set up events and post pictures of your program’s activities.  On Twitter, donors can get real-time small information blasts of what is happening with your organization.  This may all sound like a foreign language.  We understand that.  But don’t let technological intimidation squeeze you out of the game.  These things have become the norm, not the exception.  If you need help, get it.
  • Printed Letters and Newsletters – Tried and true.  People still like to get a letter in the mail.  If you do not like email and do not want anything to do with social networks and social media, the printed piece might be what you want to work with.  But keep in mind, this is a very expensive, time consuming route to take.  If your target audience is over 65, then you might get away with this alone.  But don’t bank on that!  Grandmas love Facebook!

Getting and keeping a motivated group of supporters takes hard work.  But, it beats the alternative of working alone and having no money to do it with.  Now, get to work!

Greg McRay is the founder and CEO of The Foundation Group. He is registered with the IRS as an Enrolled Agent and specializes in 501(c)(3) and other tax exemption issues.

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