How A Donor Communications Program Keeps Donors Giving and Giving

Are you over-soliciting and under-communicating?

How creative can your thank you be?

The problem is – we solicit our donors often, probably way too often.

But what happens with our donors in between solicitations?

It’s called “communications,” says my friend Kivi Leroux Miller, the guru.

And there’s the rub.

We study, study, study how to ask.

But do we study as hard how to communicate warmly and personally?

Are we studying how to make our donors feel loved and so very appreciated?

(Does your thank you letter make your donor feel loved? Just asking!)

Why aren’t we studying “warm and fuzzy” communications to donors?

(I’d sure rather go to a Warm and Fuzzy workshop than The Art of the Ask workshop!)

Now, don’t get me wrong here.

You GOTTA be able to ask and ask well.

‘Love on” your donors

BUT you also GOTTA “love on” your donors (as we say in the south) a whole lot.

Donor numbers are declining.    But “Donor Love” can reverse the trend.  

And I’m taking a stand right now that we over emphasize the Asking, and we neglect the Donor Communication, aka, “Donor Love.”

I think it’s time fundraisers and board members tackled this issue head-on.

Why You Need a Donor Communications Program RIGHT NOW

How we communicate with our donors has everything do to with whether they give again, and whether they keep giving.

Great donor communications can reverse our terrible decline in overall donor numbers.

Remember that the overall number of donors has decreased by 20% over the past 5 years. (Blackbaud)

Donor Love can boost up our abysmal donor renewal rates.

(Did you know that overall donor retention averaged 41% and new donor retention averaged 27% in 2010? Gasp!) (AFP Fundraising Effectiveness Survey)

Just think how much money you could raise if you get more donors to renew???

Donor Love can make or break your fundraising program – hands down.

If your donors don’t feel appreciated, involved, supported, responded to, connected, and informed – then they probably will not make another gift to your wonderful cause.

So, what’s your communications strategy to keep your donors in the loop?

You need a plan to keep them close, warmed up – so they’ll be friendly when it comes time to ask again.

You need a plan to connect with them.

Create a systematic, month-by-month calendar for your donor communications.

In between your solicitations, what will you send them? What will you say to them?

A Donor Communications Program Can Create Amazing Results

Remember the old fundraising adage: “Find 7 ways to thank your donor and she’ll give again.”

That’s what Donor Love is all about.

Here’s a checklist of ideas you can use to craft your very own Donor Love program – things to help you create compelling, happy, friendly, warm and fuzzy messages to your donors.

Be systematic.

Set up a calendar of what type of communication you are sending out and when it goes out.

Plan ahead and put somebody in charge.

Create themes and message ideas and get everybody to agree on them ahead of time.

That’ll save you lots of time and discussions later on!

Get Help.

If you are really smart, engage a terrific communications firm like Big Duck, or Agents for Good.

Ask them to help design a Donor Communications program for the year.

A great communications consultant can come up with ideas that will charm the socks right off your donors.

Ideas you’d never think of.

Be creative.

Come up with different ways to say thank you to your donors. Can you send a singing thank you telegram for example?

Donor Love can increase your donor’s trust in you and your organization.

Can you change your Annual Report into an “Accomplishments Report?”

Can you change your Annual Meeting into an Annual Celebration?

Can you change your Donor Appreciation Event into a cookout or a porch party?

How can you involve your donors in the life and mission of your cause?

Use lots of channels.

You have all sorts of communications channels at your disposal:  in person visits, phone, mail, all types of events, newsletters, acknowledgements, social media.

Use them all. Systematically.

Especially face-to-face visits.

Let your donors know how you spent their money.

Donor are having a lot of trust issues these days. They don’t trust the government, big institutions, politicians, nonprofits and probably not your organization either.

You have to earn their trust.


By letting them know how you spent their money – as accurately and as transparently as possible.

Let your donors know what you achieved with their money.

(Note: this is different from “how you spent their money.”)

Can you be this warm and fuzzy with your donors? : )

This is about outcomes and your results.

How many people did you help? Or cure? Or feed? Or care for?

How many kids, or adults or elders? How many performances did you present? How many educational sessions with how many kids?

Get your tone right.

Lofty and formal is different from warm and fuzzy.

Yes, it’s ok to deviate from the formal, jargon-rich, lofty “nonprofit-speak” that you so often use to the rest of the world.

What’s the tone of your communications to them?

How personalized?

Yes, it’s ok to use contractions like I’m using in this sentence.

Yes, it’s ok to tell stories and to be casual.

By all means, be friendly!

Bottom Line:

It’s past time to add Donor Communications as a new formal element to your fundraising program.

You’ve GOT to stay in front of your donors – cheerfully – in between solicitations if you want them to keep giving!

What do you think? Let me know with a comment!

  • Jvanderyacht

    My CEO is our grant writer (a very successful one) and we are always at odds on the HOW to say it with the donors.  His approach is so formal and too “educational” in my opinion.  Do you have any statistics on how using a warm and fuzzy tone is more effective with donors?  I believe it but don’t know how to prove my be warm and casual approach is MORE correct…. 

  • Karen

    SO very true!  And add in appreciating the volunteers you have and you have a strong formula for success!
    Recently I did a huge Gala…. and we raised over $240.000 for the cause. I was a volunteer and spent many hours getting silent auction gifts. I sent a personal thank you to every donor and then went back and told them how well it went and thanked them all again. They were delighted!
    Just a side note… I have not yet heard from the organization to thank me for my time( probably 170 hours plus!)  That is an oversight that needs to be looked at….how many effective volunteers might drift to another organization if they feel undervalued!I am OK because I know how much it was appreciated,  and I volunteered for the cause…..but we all like that feedback!
    Let’s get the love fest going! E letters, thank you cards,coffee mornings, bbq’s,car bumper stickers,notepads,fridge magnets…..look at how local companies keep their name out there …and find out who they use…they may well be a great source for’ give aways’ for your donors. Its OK to spend some of the money to keep the givers giving ! Ask a local marketing company if they have any staff who would give you pro bono advice…my husband’s company allows each person 3 hours volunteer time off…imagine what that could do to your website/marketing/board training etc if you could get a local expert there to do an advisory session …for FREE!
    Thanks for the session! Karen

  • Sandy

    You’ve hit the nail right on the head Gail!  If folks spent more time thanking donors and communicating with them, they’d ultimately see more donations.

    Sandy Rees

  • Kim

    This was such a great post….I am new to my role, and found this very helpful and informative.
    Thank You!

  • Anonymous

    Great post, Gail! The thing I find most organizations do is to “talk” about themselves and their work and  they miss the most important part of communication – the listening part. Warm, trust-building communication might often have very few words spoken by the development staff person…but be filled with time spent listening carefully to the donor or volunteer about THEIR experience with the nonprofit. Thanks for these great reminders about powerful communication!

  • Martha

    I wanted to let you know that I used your advice to have my board members contact our donors to thank them for their recent support of our Annual campaign.  The Board loved it and the donors loved it.

  • Martha

    I wanted to let you know that I used your advice to have my board members contact our donors to thank them for their recent support of our Annual campaign.  The Board loved it and the donors loved it.

  • Anonymous

    thanks Kim, this can make everything you do a LOT easier!

  • Anonymous

    Sandy – and they’d have more fun AND have happier donors! : )

  • Anonymous

    Karen, LOVE your ideas!  And you are so right – all this goes for volunteers as well – so often a neglected group when it comes time to thank and acknowledge!

  • Anonymous

    Sometimes grant writing requires formal nonprofit jargon – based on the grant maker and what they expect. However, that type of language BOMBS with donors. Take a look at Tom Ahern’s blog/newsletter, and John Haydon’s newsletter/blog. They are professional writers and have a lot to say about correct writing. 

    Also check out my 115 Tips to Raise More Money via Direct Mail –  it’s under the Free Tools section of my website.

  • Janar

    I am looking for a new format to organize our Communications Calendar… and would LOVE to see some examples of what others have created. Anyone willing to share?

  • Anonymous

    Fabulous!  WE love it when they love it,don’t they!

  • Anonymous

    Check out kivi miller’s content creation guide at

    She’s terrific!

  • MJG

    Thanks for the post–good reminders, all. 

    I also wanted to let you know that I clicked on the photo of the cats (hoping to see a larger image), and it took me to a different website that–I think–has no affiliation with Fired Up Fundraising. It may be advisable to un-link the photo, or link it to it’s original source…

  • Emeraldabd

    Your newsletters are timely and written in a very readable and interest catching way. I look forward to the issues.

  • Anonymous

    Hi – glad they are helpful! Always trying to make them readable and skimmable!

  • Gail

    Thanks, I removed the link from the photo. I added the link because best practices are that you attribute photos to their source and don’t just use them willy-nilly. But upon further investigation of that blog I agree!!

  • Hnmdevelopment

    It always comes back to the fact that you can not thank donors enough. I’m new to my organization which is faith-based and have organized the Sisters to call donors to just say thank you.  I don’t
    know who is more delighted and “warmed” by these personal calls- the donors or the Sisters!

  • Tamara

    We strive always to be warm and fuzzy, but it’s good to take a step back and really look at what interactions we have with donors. Thanks for the reminder!

  • Believe

    I’m really enjoying the design and layout of your site. It’s a very easy on the eyes which makes it much more pleasant for me to come here and visit more often. Did you hire out a designer to create your theme? Excellent work!