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How can nonprofits transform giving from a moment into a mission?

Water is our most precious resource. A necessity for life, no matter where you live. In the aftermath of a huge disaster, like the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti, fresh drinking water becomes priceless.

I visited Haiti for a DRTV shoot just a few months after the earthquake. We followed a 10-year-old child named Angela to the local watering hole that was hidden in the side of a hill. There was no water pump, and she had to climb down into the hole to fill up a few buckets of water for her family.

The buckets were so heavy that she'd spill out half the water by the time she carried them home. All that effort, only to lose half of what she’d worked so diligently to gather.

In our cradle of comforts, we sometimes take for granted how difficult life can be for so many. That’s why I’m so grateful to have worked alongside many amazing international relief NGOs over the years.

Nonprofit organizations across the globe work hard to make our world more humane, just and compassionate. But, in order to do so, they need a precious resource that is key to their survival: donors.

As fundraisers and marketers, we focus so much effort on filling our “buckets” with new donors—only to lose half (or more) of them soon after acquisition. Combine that with a shrinking pool of donors over the last two decades, and you can understand why donor retention has become such a vital piece of fundraising today.

So how can nonprofits keep their buckets full? How can you build stronger relationships with donors, improve retention and provide more revenue for your cause? How can you transform a single moment of charitable giving into a long-term mission for your supporters?

Make donors feel special

In most industries, people pay money through a transaction to receive a product or service in return. But donating is different. We must convince people to part with their hard-earned money and receive nothing in return.

Sure, sometimes organizations return the favor with address labels, note pads or a tote bag, but most of the time donors give simply to do a good deed. They want to make the world a better place and help those less fortunate—like Angela in Haiti. At the same time, donors want to feel good about what they’ve just done. And that’s what’s so great about our industry; philanthropy makes people feel good and it provides tremendous impact for so many worthwhile causes.

In the early days after the initial gift, communication should extend that special feeling. Yes, you must welcome donors to your organization and express gratitude for their generosity, but don’t lose focus on that emotional connection. Most likely they donated to you because of an emotional connection. So, keep it up!

Remind them of the problem that they’re solving or the urgent need they’re helping to address. Tell them how their gift has helped. Show them the impact of their donation. Engage with your donors and remind them of what attracted them to you in the first place. Validation like, “You are helping lift a child out of poverty” and “Your gift is hard at work providing food for those in need” go a long way.

This communication needs to be heartfelt and moving, not just checking boxes or a bunch of cold, intellectual copy.

Remain relevant

Every organization would love to receive a second gift from a committed donor within the first 30 days of the first gift. But the reality is that sometimes it takes almost a year—or maybe longer—to receive another donation.

In any case, you must build a connection with your supporters. Engagement is the idea here. This starts by continuing to make them feel special, as mentioned above, and it continues by finding ways to remain relevant to them as a cause.

You must continue to reach out to them in the channel through which they found you, but an omnichannel approach is even more effective. Just because someone gave through social media doesn’t mean they’ll ignore direct mail, for example. There’s a reason why online retailers like Amazon also send buyers good old-fashioned printed catalogs.

And when you do communicate, speak as if you have something to say, not to just say something. Use the same voice across channels and find a frequency that helps you stay top of mind without being overwhelming. This donor-centric strategy helps keep your supporters engaged and constantly thinking about your organization.

Market with a memory

As you continue to make donors feel special and remain relevant to them, you must not be shy about asking for additional support.

You must understand what motivates their behavior, what drives them to give. If someone donated to support the people of Haiti after the earthquake, for example, what inspired that gift in the first place? What other interests might that donor have? How can you stay relevant beyond the emergency of the moment?

Don’t forget why they gave and connect back to it: “Your gift helped dig a well for the children of this village, but did you know that education is also an essential part of lifting them out of poverty?”

Data and segmentation play a huge role here.

Far too often, we see nonprofits start strong with a welcome series or journey that takes donors through a month or two of communications. Then, the donor gets thrown into the general mail or email stream. This is where the disconnect begins.

The key is finding ways to continually connect back to the initial gift and show that the work is not yet finished and the need still remains.

With these tips, you can lift retention rates and make more of your investment in acquisition. By transforming giving from a moment into a mission, you will keep your bucket full and bring in more revenue.

Ultimately, this helps your cause have a greater impact on those in need, like Angela, as you make our world a better place.

Duke Smith

As Senior Vice President, Client Strategy, at RKD Group, Duke Smith brings philanthropic counsel to the charitable community throughout Canada, the United States and internationally. In his 25-year career, Duke has provided direct-marketing fundraising expertise for North America’s largest and most respected nonprofit organizations, including American Red Cross, Boys & Girls Clubs of America, Canadian Red Cross, ChildFund International, Heart & Stroke, International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, Plan International Canada, Save the Children USA and Canada, World Vision Canada, UNHCR, UNICEF Canada, United Service Organizations (USO), and many others.

Duke has traveled to more than 40 developing countries to meet, film and photograph children and their families whose lives have been impacted by the organizations he has worked tirelessly to serve.

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