The 3 C’s of Donor Communications

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By Andy Jones

Communication is the key to a strong relationship. Unfortunately, donor communication is often an area of weakness for organizations.

Usually, good things crowd out the priority of donor communications. Nonprofit leaders are often so passionate about the good work their organization is doing that donor communications can be relegated to a tertiary position in the organization’s priorities. It becomes an area of frustration instead of an area of focus. Deadlines sneak up and efforts are haphazard. As a result, donors are left in the dark and feeling undervalued. The relationship suffers, and eventually so does the mission.

What does it look like for an organization to communicate effectively with donors? If you want your organization to implement communications that build stronger donor relationships, you need to make sure they reflect the three C’s: clear, consistent and creative.

1. Be Clear
Stories, reports, and emails are often written by staff, reviewed by staff, and sent by staff. As a result, they are clear to the staff. Yet, those less familiar with the organization have trouble understanding the main point. Your audience isn’t your executive director. Your audience is more likely a mom picking up her son from soccer practice.

Clarity is achieved through simplicity. Tell a story, make your point, thank donors for their gift, and show them other ways to get involved. The average donor will not have time to digest much more. Tell donors one thing and they are more likely to remember it. Tell them everything and they’ll remember nothing.

Donor communications reflect the organization. If you are confident in who you are, what you are trying to do, and how donors can play a part, it will be reflected in your communications with donors. If your organization has trouble achieving clarity, it likely isn’t the fault of your marketing department but symptomatic of deeper issues.

Being clear means cutting out the jargon and cutting to the chase. Donors are busy. Make it easy for them to understand who you are, what you do, and how their gift can make a difference.

2. Be Consistent
Can you name a personal injury attorney in your community? Most people can, even if they’ve never needed the services of one. How? Because personal injury attorneys realize the only way to make a lasting impression on people is through repetition. They use billboards, bus stops, television ads and radio jingles to engrave themselves on our brains. We may never need them, but we know who they are.

Similarly, donors learn through repetition. Donors have to hear things multiple times through multiple channels in order to recall them. You’ll need to use email, direct mail, social media and events to make yourself memorable. Have one message and say it repeatedly.

Consistency doesn’t just mean telling your story in the same way; it also means telling your story again and again. Reputations are built through drips not buckets. There’s a reason advertisers show us the same commercial over and over again: repetition creates recall.

Achieving consistency doesn’t have to be complex. Write one story every month about the difference your organization is making in the world. Feature it in a monthly email, share it as part of your weekly social media, include it in your annual report, and share it at your next donor event.

If you are consistent in communicating with donors, you will earn the right to ask them to renew their financial support. They will feel informed, valued and excited to invest in the work you are doing.

3. Be Creative
Your organization is a brand. Every brand has to find fresh, new ways to present itself. Creativity requires thinking beyond normal constraints. It can mean a new look, a new message, using a new channel of communication or creating new assets to reach donors.

This point is best made with a story. An organization recently approached me because they felt their donor communications had stagnated. They asked Roundtree to come in and revamp their efforts. When we took a closer look, we noticed they were sending a traditional newsletter on traditional paper in a traditional size. We showed them how we could transition their newsletter into a full-color print magazine. Now, their donors receive a print edition that stands out in the mailbox and compels closer examination.

The organization experienced a significant increase in giving last year. Was it all due to creativity? Probably not. But the creativity likely influenced the perceptions of donors regarding the quality of the organization.

If your donor communications are clear, consistent and creative, you will experience the compounding benefits in the form of donor retention and donor revenue.

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