Every year on the first Saturday of December, our parish celebrates the 5:00 pm Mass in honor of St. Nicholas. Members of the congregation are encouraged to bring gifts for children who might not be getting any presents for Christmas. Parishioners bring the unwrapped presents and place them around the altar. The front of the church looks like toyland heaven, with brightly colored toys of all shapes and sizes — trucks, games, dolls, train sets, and even bikes. After the Mass, the gifts are gathered and brought to a shelter for distribution.
As we were walking up for Holy Communion, my 6-year-old son, Paul, turned to me and asked, “Who are all those toys for?” I whispered quietly in his ear, “Those are for the poor children.” He immediately spun around and protested rather loudly, “Well, I’m bored, too!”
You can hardly blame a 6-year-old for being bored during Mass. But donors, too, can become bored — if an organization’s fundraising campaigns continue to look and feel the same year after year.
The power of passion
How do we keep our donors from becoming bored? Stay engaged. Keep up the energy. Show some enthusiasm and excitement for your issues and cause. Clearly convey what your passion in your fundraising communications to inspire your donors. There is nothing more contagious than passion!
Another effective tactic is to vary your communication – mix up the format, content, and approach. Don’t keep sending the same type of communications to your supporters. Although it may seem obvious, it’s still worth stating: donors prefer communications that are personalized and concise, versus generic and long-winded.
And don’t forget to pick up the phone and call donors to thank them. Give your donor credit for what your organization is accomplishing. Even if you don’t speak with them personally, at least leave a message of gratitude.
Strategies to keep donors’ interest
Here are a few additional suggestions, based on a study by Abila, a software provider that focuses on nonprofits. In their Donor Loyalty Study, published in 2016, they interviewed over 1,100 participants in the U.S. across all age groups who had donated at least once during the year to a nonprofit organization. Based on respondents’ answers, Abila made five central recommendations:
1. Devote time and energy to creating quality content — Donors lose interest with inferior subject matter. In Abila’s study, 72% percent of respondents said they might stop donating to an organization based on poor content (defined as vague, dull, boring, irrelevant, or inconvenient formats). To identify any poor content, perform an audit of your existing content and ant content you’re ready to post. Take care that it aligns with your positioning. Keep it short and consumable. Keep it personal. Make certain your communications support the way your donors want to engage.
2. Show impact — Your supporters believe you are spending their donation sensibly, but they also want to know their dollars and time are making an impact. It’s critical to entwine impact into everything you do. When doing so, be as specific and concrete as you can. If appropriate, you could even include brief quotes from recipients of your services explaining the impact they have felt personally.
3. Engage in best practices to share content — Strive to create quality content for donors that’s quickly consumable; longer-form content can cause readers to lose interest, or even become frustrated or annoyed. The types of content donors most prefer are short, self-contained emails, short letters or online articles (2-3 paragraphs), short YouTube videos (under 2 minutes), emails with links to other articles, posts to Facebook, and annual reports delivered via mail. The content donors prefer least include longer YouTube videos (more than 10 minutes), posts to Twitter, and podcasts.
4. Get personal — Never underestimate the power of communicating through email, texts, or phone calls. A personalized thank-you sent by email or mailed to the home is the preferred method of recognition. Be specific in your outreach to donors about how their gift is helping your organization.
5. Listen to your donors — Listening tells the donor that you care about their viewpoint and respect their opinion. The first step is to ask questions to discover what inspires and motivates them. Ask open-ended questions such as, “What would you like to accomplish with your philanthropy?” and “Are you inspired by our explanation of why we need support? If not, how could we make it more compelling?” Listening to the donor’s answers can give you insights into ways to help potential donors understand how your organization and its programs fit in with their values and aspiration
Remember: everyone struggles with information overload, and one coping strategy we all use is to assess — almost instantly — whether something interests us enough to continue reading. Unless you continually evaluate your donor communication to ensure that you're not conveying the same, tired message, you run the risk that your donors will simply stop reading. But by following the guidelines shared above, you can ensure that donors will actually look forward to your communication … because each one they receive is a little different from the last.