Nonprofits know how important their donors are to their success. However, they don’t always act in a way that reflects donors’ value, and it shows in the results. Overall renewal rates are at an abysmal 44%. 

Many nonprofits spend a ton of money acquiring new donors, who quickly fall off the file. Acquisition is always important, but nonprofits also need to use their resources to retain the donors they currently have. 

To do that, nonprofits need to focus on building strong relationships with donors through various cultivation efforts. Organizations need to build trust and credibility to inspire donors to grow in their loyalty and commitment.

The good news is there are many different ways to cultivate donors that can be highly effective. 

Have a plan

First off, make sure you have a plan for the year. You should put all your ideas into writing and plan out when you will do what. This will ensure you have a good mix of cultivation and solicitation efforts that work together and will make sense from the donor’s point of view. 

Cultivation Mailings

These give you the opportunity to thank the donor, and to share stories about how she is making a difference. The goal is to build credibility and trust. Do not ask for a donation. Think of how you can show your appreciation best, in a way that is thoughtful and even unexpected. 

Here are some ideas to consider:

  • Newsletters
  • Impact reports
  • Handwritten thank you notes
  • Personal emails (from an actual staff member)
  • Photocopy an article highlighting your organization’s impact and put a post-it note on it with a handwritten note
  • Send a postcard from someone who was directly impacted by the donor’s contribution
  • Thank you phone calls
  • Send a surprise gift in the mail
  • Birthday cards
  • Anniversary cards

There are so many great ideas to consider. Be creative and think outside the box! If it makes the donor happy and feel like a hero, then you are on the right track.   

Customer service

It might not seem like cultivation, but top-notch customer service really can make a big difference. You will see it pays to do the simple things right. Make it easy for donors to reach out to your nonprofit. Answer the phone, emails and letters from your donors. Answer questions if they ask them. Respond promptly and politely. When donors reach out, see it as the huge opportunity it is to wow them (or to disappoint them.) Make sure you have the systems and staff in place to exceed donors’ expectations. 

Feedback Loop

Donors love to share their thoughts and opinions. They want to be heard and to feel that they are truly a part of the organization. 

Ask for feedback and truly listen to that feedback. It has really got to be genuine though. Donors will see right through anything less. 

Think about how you can create a feedback loop with donors. Do you send periodic surveys and report back on survey results and their impact? Share an idea from one donor with the larger donor base?

Keys to Cultivation

Make the donor the hero in everything. Your communications should never be about how great your organization is. It should always be about the donor and the difference they are making.

Be transparent and show how you are using donations. Don’t try to hide anything from donors. They are smart and honesty is always the best path. Reporting on a failure will show you are human and that you learn from mistakes.

Communicate how their contribution has made an impact. Be as clear and specific as possible. 

Respect and follow donors’ communication preferences. This can be a big one for many donors. 

Cultivation done right will make the donor feel appreciated, and feel as special as they are. It will take time and resources, but the investment in cultivation always pays off. In the short term, cultivation will lead to happier donors. It will also result in more donors for your nonprofit who are engaged and committed for the long term.