Important question, fundraiser. What portion of your job is communications? Answer: more than you probably realize. After all, two very large portions of the development cycle (cultivation and stewardship) involve a lot of communications. The nature and format of these communications can vary depending on whether you work with annual level donors or major donors. But the commonality is that you are likely putting together various communications that update donors, share impact, and tell stories.
With a New Year upon us, we have a fresh start to create our fundraising plan and strategies. This must include our approach to donor communications for 2020. If you’re ready to level up your communications game, here are three communications New Year’s resolutions fundraisers should consider.
Resolution #1 – Aim for Consistency
One of the best things we can do to improve donor communications is be consistent. Create a basic communications calendar to map out when you’ll communicate with donors and stick to it. No more ghosting your donors and going months with no contact. This year, you will stay in touch regularly in order to cultivate your donors for the next ask.
How often should you communicate with donors? At least once per quarter is standard advice. In reality, you need to have a clear plan for your communications every month. You might ramp up your non-ask communications leading up to an appeal or campaign. If you need help mapping out a consistent content plan, get a copy of this free monthly content planning kit for nonprofits.
Resolution #2 – Give the Donors What They Want
If improving the effectiveness of your communications is top of your priority list for 2020, it’s time to take donor input and data seriously. It may seem like simple advice, but giving your donors what they want will often lead to content your donors are actually interested in and a more engaged donor community.
You can look at stated preferences (i.e. information you gather through donor surveys) as well as behavioral preferences (i.e. what donors’ behavior tells you). Do your research, gather insights, and use what you learn to inform the frequency, channel(s), and content of your communications. This approach will help you produce intentional content for your donor communications and avoid the common problem of producing content for content’s sake.
Resolution #3 – Measure Your Success
In fundraising, there are many ways to measure our success. The total amount of money we raise, our donor retention rate, number of new donors acquired, and so on. But the appeals we send to donors aren’t the only things that impact this success. Our donor communications are also impacting our fundraising success. Make this year the year you find ways to measure the impact and effectiveness of donor communications. Not only will doing this give you a more complete picture of your fundraising program, it will help you see what’s working and what’s not working when it comes to donor communications.
Here are a few ideas for measuring your communication’s effectiveness and success:
- Set a goal and define success for every donor communication you send out
- Run reports to look for lifts in giving after a communication has been sent to donors
- Document anecdotal feedback you receive from donors about your communications
- Send an annual survey to assess donor satisfaction with communications
As you plan for 2020 I hope these communications New Year’s resolutions give you a broader perspective on fundraising planning. It’s not just about the ask. It’s about the sum total of donors’ experience with our nonprofit and that includes year-round communications they receive.
Vanessa Chase is President of TheStorytellingNonprofit.com and co-founder of Stewardship School. Her goal is to help nonprofits connect in more meaningful ways with donors through stories and stewardship.