By Drew Fox Jordan • January 13, 2022

    What You Need To Improve Your Donor Communication

    What You Need To Improve Your Donor Communication

    Strategic communications planning is a multi-step process. However, starting out in the right direction is paramount to the success of your larger goal. We begin our planning process by asking why we are creating this plan in the first place. Do we have a problem to resolve or an opportunity to build on?

    For example, recent college graduates may identify that their alma mater does not need their donations because they have a large endowment. Therefore, the organization would want to communicate that the endowment is not an ATM. It is there for long-term financial stability, not immediate needs, so their annual gifts are still needed. This would be an example of a communication problem that needs to be addressed.

    On the other hand, a generous donor may have made a gift that you can claim if you match it with the support of others. So this is an opportunity to let your constituency know the value of their contributions can increase.

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    Let's look at where we can improve our messaging based on what needs to be communicated:


    Digging a bit deeper, we can ask ourselves, "How does this challenge/opportunity relate to our mission? Is it detracting from - or enhancing - our mission, and is it a situation in which we can communicate more clearly about who we are and what we stand for?" Nonprofits are said to be mission-driven organizations, and our communications should constantly reinforce this fact.


    In a similar vein, does the situation illuminate how we are positioned in the minds of key audiences? Is the positioning positive or negative? Is the positioning where we want it to be? If not, how can our communications plan get us from where we are to where we want to be?

    We should never forget that a positive perception may not be what we are looking for, and repositioning might be in order. For example, suppose the organization is viewed positively because of its work with the homeless. In that case, we may want to pivot to reduce hunger, so the communications effort may need to be quite different.


    Closely aligned with positioning is differentiation. Private companies know well that they must differentiate themselves from the competition, but nonprofits do not like to think like that. However, if a donor interested in the environment doesn't know the difference between the Sierra Club and Greenpeace, how will they decide where to make a gift? Being clear about your unique contributions to the world does not imply boasting or negating others. It simply means bringing clarity to your communications process.


    It is necessary to know whether your audience is even aware of your organization or cause to fashion an effective communications strategy. Why? Because, by definition, a prospect will not make a gift to an entity they do not know exists. This may be a time to conduct a survey of key audiences to determine where they stand on the spectrum of awareness/knowledge/behavior.


    Let's assume that your key audiences know you exist, but that's about all. If you are going to launch, say, a capital campaign, people will want to know why. What do you need to do that can't be supported by annual fundraising? For an institution of higher education, it might be professorships or scholarships; for a research institution, it might be a new building. You will also want to let prospects know what you have accomplished already and why you can do an even better job with their assistance. 


    If your constituency is aware of you and understands what you are doing to fulfill your mission, the most critical piece of the puzzle comes into focus: behavior. This is the most challenging element of the plan. It is easier for people to take in information than act on it. When it comes to fundraising, the goal is to sustain existing behavior (giving or volunteering, for example) or to catalyze new behavior (making a gift or volunteering for the first time). An excellent job with awareness creation and knowledge transfer will go a long way toward supporting desired behavior, but it is not guaranteed.

    The key is to determine where your audience falls on the communications spectrum and plan accordingly.

    So after identifying your opportunity, it is time to fashion a strategy to respond in a way that benefits the organization and its advancement. You can read about how to accomplish this in our guide to strategic communications for nonprofits. Download your copy for free today:

    Strategic Communications Playbook


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