Nonprofit Business Planning: How Can I Best Steward my Supporters?

November 9, 2020 Brian Isaac

This post contains material from Making Waves: Mobilising, Organising and Galvanising Today’s Supporters

We live in a connected world.

Sure, you say—that’s not a surprise, especially at a time when there are as many smartphones as there are people.

We are almost literally tethered to our technology, out of choice and out of habit. Although technology certainly is a key factor in linking us to networks of people, true connection is about so much more. True connection is about an experience or a series of experiences that result, over time, in lasting relationships.

Those who know me well know that I place a high value on relationships, in investing time and intention in the people around me. I embrace a fundamental belief in life that good things will come if you spend time getting to know the people around you in almost any situation. You may not know why or how, but the goodness WILL happen.

But, again, this isn’t the whole picture. The complete view results when we embrace the idea that connectedness isn’t just about people relating to each other. It’s also about how we, as individuals, align with causes and how these causes become an interconnected part of our identities.

Today, we take our whole selves with us—everywhere. We want to be valued for our uniqueness and given voice and choice. We want not only to celebrate the causes we care about; we also want others to know about them and to engage alongside us. We want to be connected, to connect with others, and use our own connections to amplify good: a scenario in which everyone wins.

Why should this matter to you? It matters because connections are at the heart of fundraising. Although effective fundraising relies on the analysis of data and specificity of approach, people are a truly central component. People, who want and deserve to be understood, are the very individuals nonprofits are seeking for support and for investment. To successfully secure and retain a supporter, you must honour who they are, what they feel, and what they think. You have to give the supporter what I call “voice and choice” and have the courage to put your brand in his or her hands. In the pages that follow, an array of experts share insight that matters to connection and that is designed to help you—whatever your cause—optimise how you reach out and engage with others.

I’m excited to share with you the first edition of npEXPERTS for the Australia and New Zealand region. First launched in the United States, the annual npEXPERTS eBook brings together leading experts from across the social good sector to share innovative trends, fundraising ideas, and best practices around a different hot topic each year. This year, our npEXPERTS explore how we mobilise, organise, and galvanise today’s supporters.

We are more connected than ever before, and today’s landscape requires that we unite our networks to build relationships with the supporters among us. We hope that these insights will help you tap into networks and leverage connections for good.

Foreward by
Rachel Hutchisson
Vice President, Corporate Citizenship and Philanthropy, Blackbaud
Senior Advisor, Blackbaud Institute



Marcus Blease - Co-Founder, Donor Republic - @bleasem

We recently gave a sample donation to 34 charities across Australia to measure commitment to fostering donor loyalty amongst supporters.

The results weren’t good. But to be honest, they weren’t a great shock either.

Of the 34 charities we donated to, only four sent welcome booklets to encourage us to remain loyal to their cause, despite the widespread knowledge that such premiums can play a significant role in improving subsequent gift rates.

This little experiment highlighted a problem within our industry—a problem that smart fundraisers will see as an exciting opportunity.

In this world people are less committed to individual organisations and more networked than ever before, donor acquisition is becoming more expensive and more difficult every year.

But despite the significant cost of time, money and resources, many charities continue to place acquisition at the top of their list of priorities, mistakenly thinking that the only way to increase giving over time is to increase the donor base.

Here’s the opportunity. While most organisations are out chasing new donors, I’m seeing a handful of smart fundraisers who are digging deep into their existing donor base and switching resources from acquisition to retention.

At the heart of this effort is a commitment to knowing more about each donor, collecting data, and using those insights to create innovative and exciting retention programs that lead to long-term donor loyalty.

We recently worked with a charity that had 24 asks a year. That’s almost one ask every two weeks. And yet, there was not a single unconditional thank you throughout that whole time.


Featured resource: Donation Thank-You Letters Made Easy
Learn how to write simple, powerful, and effective donation thank you letters to turn your donation experience into an unforgettable one.


Can you see the short-term thinking that’s happening here? And can you see the negative impact these kinds of ‘ask, ask, ask’ approaches will have on long-term giving? In the end, a single-minded focus on donor acquisition could do more harm than good unless it is backed up by a strong retention strategy.

So, what can we do to ensure we’re delivering first-class donor loyalty programs that keep our supporters coming back month after month and year after year?

Here are a few practical suggestions.

Invest in your technology. We all need a more determined commitment to the collection of data for creating personalised content and multichannel communications. A good customer relationship management (CRM) system, implemented and used correctly, can be the single biggest factor in increasing donor retention.

Your CRM solution can help you move from an organisation that relies on a ‘mass marketing’ approach, to one that creates custom experiences for individual donors with advanced segmentation and message framing based on individual data.

Invest in your people. One of the challenges within organisations is simply a lack of expertise and experience in working with new technologies.

But if data is the key to donor retention, as I believe it is, then mastering technology is critical to success. As a sector, we deserve larger investment budgets not just on the system itself but for the team supporting the ongoing project, so they have the appropriate skills to get the best out of it.

This includes fundraising departments that are often overwhelmed or underprepared and those that may feel that prioritising data is a distraction from the key task of raising money. We need our fundraising teams to see the long view; good data leads to loyal donors, which in turns leads to strong long-term giving and healthy organisations.

Conduct regular surveys. Donor surveys are probably the best way a charity can aggregate and monitor desires and moods. In some overseas markets, surveys are conducted immediately after the first gift to understand a donor’s connection to the cause. This helps determine how they will be treated in the onboarding journey and what key messaging they will receive that reinforces their individual values and their original giving motivations.

Effective surveys require us to truly listen to our supporters, ensuring that the donor knows we’ve heard what they’re saying. It helps us make sure future communications are shaped appropriately by their feedback.

Create powerful donor loyalty programs informed by data. Once you’re armed with strong data about your supporter base, you’ll be in a much stronger position to create effective campaigns and programs that lead to increased donor loyalty.

This could include strategies such as:

  • Building an onboarding journey for newly acquired donors providing four to five thank you communications through various channels
  • Creating a thank you postcard that is delivered with every receipt letter and closes the loop on each appeal
  • Using new technology, such as Facebook® Messenger, to create ‘background’ journeys that reinforce the impact of their gift and the effectiveness of the organisation
  • Sending certificates of support after every year of loyal giving
  • Creating impact reports highlighting where a donor’s money has been invested
  • Inviting select donors to see the work you are doing on the ground level

Organisations that commit to donor retention and invest appropriately in technology, people and programs will thrive over the coming decade.


Adam Drinan, Founder, Synergy Fundraising

Do you have a love-hate relationship with your donor journey? If you do, you’re not alone.

The love aspect is simple. It comes from the potential of giving every supporter a lifetime of meaningful and flawless experiences that increase their connection to you and your mission.

The hate comes from the time and energy required to see only minor improvements in engagement and retention, or worse, not having the systems in place to know if you’ve made an impact at all.

If you’re guilty of some of these, don’t be too hard on yourself. We’ve all made some of these mistakes, and as a result, we become better fundraisers. Look over the following list of mistakes and discover how to fix or prevent them. It’s too complicated.

It can be difficult when you haven’t created a donor journey at all and want to go from having nothing in place to a 3-year, multichannel, automated process. You want zero to hero, and it rarely works.

I’ve seen fundraising teams work on a project for months, carefully map every single touchpoint and then struggle to implement anything at all. As fundraisers, we’re often time-poor and under-resourced. Try to create something that’s realistic and achievable. You can always add complexity down the track.

Your timing is off. The opportunity to inspire and retain donors decreases as time passes. It makes sense to create some incredible experiences in the first hours, days and weeks of your new relationship with a supporter.


This is especially important with major givers. Learn the basics of major gift prospect management in Moves Management: 6 Steps to Raise Major Gifts


There are two important points I should make in terms of timing: The most important time in your relationship with a supporter is NOW. Preparing a lengthy donor journey in advance can be disingenuous, imagine if you told donors that their interactions for the next three years were already created.

You would be admitting that you’re not listening or changing the way you communicate based on their stories, their feedback and their actions. There’s no personalisation. You just can’t treat everyone the same.

Let’s say you are a medical research charity. You can’t treat a medical professional the same way you would treat a new supporter who knows little about the condition you’re raising funds for.

Go out of your way to prove that you know your supporters. Often, it’s just a simple variable or a carefully worded paragraph in the right place.

There are no set goals. We are a data-driven sector, but we often let that slide when it comes to donor journeys. If you don’t have goals, you probably won’t have measures in place to monitor your outcomes.

It’s crazy to work on something not knowing if you’re making a difference. Isn’t that why we do what we do? To make a difference?

Setting goals will ensure that you reach for results that justify the time and energy you’ve invested. If you don’t have the resources, join a benchmarking project like Blackbaud’s donorCentrics® and let someone else do the hard work for you.

You’re too reliant on digital channels. Email giant MailChimp® released a report that showed charity emails have an open rate of 24.11% on average. Of the emails sent from nonprofit organisations, only 2.57% of people click a link to a landing page, social media page, etc.

The bottom line is that your messaging won’t have an impact if it’s consumed at rates like this. You may need to communicate through a mix of channels to get through.

Consistent messaging across several channels including but not limited to email, social media, mail, phone, SMS, radio and DRTV will generate better results.

While some channels aren’t very expensive, the old rules apply. If it doesn’t cost anything, it’s probably not worth anything. The best opportunities WILL cost more.

You only have one-way communication. Initially, you won’t know a lot about your supporters when you acquire them.

But you’ll only find out about them if you talk less and listen more. My mother often said it’s why we’re given two ears but only one mouth.

Ask supporters to express their values and their feelings. Don’t talk AT your donors when you could be having a real conversation with them.

Feedback is so important, but you’ll need a good CRM solution to store what you’ve learned and use it to personalise your messaging in the future.


Chapter 3: ANALYTICS

Steve Maclaughlin, Vice President, Product Management, Blackbaud, Senior Advisor, Blackbaud Institute

We know that big data is fundamentally changing how companies make decisions and improve their performance, but many nonprofits have lagged in this area.

A few years ago, I set out on a journey to understand why nonprofits are not making more out of the hidden treasure in their data. What I found is compiled in the book Data Driven Nonprofits.

Nonprofit organisations are vital to making meaningful change in the world, and they have significant amounts of untapped potential in their data. But why do some nonprofits struggle to use data while others have successfully harnessed information to drive better decision making?


Download the full eBook now

Download the full version of Making Waves: Mobilising, Organising and Galvanising Today’s Supporters to see more exclusive content from leading industry experts!

Previous Article
The Ultimate Nonprofit Payment Solution is the True “Paypal for Charities”
The Ultimate Nonprofit Payment Solution is the True “Paypal for Charities”

Running an effective organisation involves ensuring your systems are efficient, especially when it comes to...

Next Article
bbcon 2020 Isn't Over Yet: View Sessions On-Demand
bbcon 2020 Isn't Over Yet: View Sessions On-Demand


Stay in the know and join our mailing list!

First Name
Last Name
Thank you!
Error - something went wrong!