Say you receive a meaningful planned gift from someone who isn’t in your donor file and hadn’t previously shown up on your radar as a prospect. You need to recognize the gift and thank the family. So, which approach do you take? 

  • Have your attorney send an official letter acknowledging the gift and consider it a stroke of fortuitous generosity. 
  • Call the family to thank them, invite them to visit your organization, and discuss how the gift could be used. 

The answer seems obvious, but you might be surprised how many organizations send an official letter and move on. By doing so, they’re missing a valuable opportunity to build a lasting relationship with the donor’s family that could lead to future gifts.  

Stewardship is a fundraising fundamental. As we continue to see declines in donor giving, it’s more important than ever for nonprofits to get back to the basics. A renewed focus on building donor loyalty can create deep-rooted support to carry your organization through almost any short-term challenges.  

Let’s explore how you can encourage donor loyalty through relational fundraising, tapping into generational preferences, and using data as a guide. 

Transactional vs. Relational Fundraising 

Nearly all nonprofits rely on some form of transactional fundraising. These events and campaigns are necessary, but they focus on immediate returns.  

Relational fundraising is different — you’re playing the long game. The goal is to build deep relationships with donors who care for or are connected to your organization’s mission. They may want to donate, but they also may want to volunteer, advocate, or serve your cause in another way. By giving them opportunities to engage, you build long-lasting, deep-seated roots. 

Through a relational approach, you can steward donors so that they consider your organization a top philanthropic priority. You may not get a donation today, but the loyalty you’re building will likely pay off in dividends later. 

Giving Through Seasons of Life 

Life is never a straight road; it often resembles a roller coaster. There will be seasons when a donor has more disposable income to give and more time to commit. Think about it: a young professional couple with no children is likely financially in a very different place than a couple with kids in college.  

As fundraisers, getting hung up on the numbers and how programs perform can be easy. In uncertain economic times, leaders may see donations dip, panic, and decide to cut programs like stewardship. But having the patience to invest in programs—and people—that may not pay off today can prove incredibly fruitful over a donor’s lifetime. 

If you can cultivate a valuable relationship with your donors from the beginning, they’ll give to your organization when they can. For instance, when they start thinking about estate planning, stewardship helps ensure you’re on their list of priorities. 

Generational Acquisition and Stewardship 

We talk a lot about generational giving, especially how different generations respond to various communication and outreach methods. Direct mail acquisition is still a profitable way to attract older donors, while younger prospects prefer digital means. But there are two questions to consider as you acquire new donors: 

  1. Are you acquiring new donors in a way that diversifies your donor file? 
  1. Are you identifying newly acquired donors who show potential for long-term loyalty? 

First, some churn in your donor file is natural, so it’s essential to use an omnichannel approach to target potential new donors. Segment your copy, images, cadence, and channels to better resonate with each generation. 

Second, use what you know about your new donors to determine whether they’re inclined to support causes like yours with regular gifts. What messaging did they respond to? Did they opt in for monthly giving? This should inform how you follow up.  

When you remove transactional donors, you can use cultivation tactics to build relationships with those more likely to show long-term loyalty.  

Rethink Your Programs 

Rather, rethink how you think about your programs. For instance, some organizations may see their annual giving program as a revenue generator and nothing more. If revenue from that program dips, it can be tempting to reduce the investment in it.  

Take a long-game approach instead. Your annual giving program is a pool of prospects for mid-level and major gifts — invest in stewarding them well.  

In fact, every program has a place in a comprehensive fundraising strategy built on cultivation and stewardship. Each interaction you have, whether a thank you note or an organizational newsletter is an opportunity to engage a donor. Those who respond repeatedly to your efforts are more likely to give you multiple gifts over their lifetime. 

In many ways, it all comes down to value. Donors will continue to support your nonprofit if they feel they’re receiving more than they’re giving. If you can clearly show the impact of a gift, then the donor will feel more confident in your organization. That feeling turns into joy and gratitude that they’re making a difference, which inspires loyalty. 

Let Data Be Your Guide 

The amount of data available today makes it easier than ever for you to identify donors who are poised to support you long-term. A tool like GivingDNA adds third-party data to your donor file to reveal giving patterns, such as what types of organizations your donors support and what causes they care about. 

For instance, you can apply analytics to your transactional fundraising efforts to determine if any new donors tend to give to nonprofits like yours. Those who do should be prioritized for stewardship and cultivation. 

Data analytics can also help you make wise investments in your programs. Specifically, it can uncover which programs are more likely to be profitable down the road. You can then feel more secure and confident in your investments. 

Don’t Lose Sight of the Basics 

The summer months are an ideal time to return to basics. As you acquire new donors, learn as much as you can about them. Use data to pinpoint those more likely to become loyal and look for authentic ways to engage them. 

Here are some questions to consider: 

  • Who am I engaging with, and how? 
  • How am I cultivating new donors? 
  • What do our mid- and long-game efforts look like? 
  • What do we want our donor file to look like in the next few years, and how can we accomplish that vision? 

Our Allegiance Group + Pursuant team is always available to brainstorm ideas and discuss challenges. We can help you identify stewardship opportunities that can lead to deep-seated loyalty. Contact us today to learn more. 

This blog is based on an episode of the Go Beyond Fundraising podcast, Elevating Donor Loyalty: Strategies for Long-Term Nonprofit Growth

Ready to increase donor retention?