Donor-centered fundraising communication can be a hard concept for nonprofits to put into practice.  In your communication with donors, it’s natural to want to talk about the great work your nonprofit is doing. That language often shows up in appeals and newsletters as WE rather than YOU.  For example, “WE served 1,000 students this year with our Discovery Program” vs. “YOU provided the crucial funding that allowed us to serve 1,000 students this year.”

The tools may be new for how to make your nonprofit’s communications more donor-centric, but it all starts with the old-fashioned intention to be authentic, grateful and personal with the people who care enough to invest in your organization. A handwritten personal note never goes out of style even when you are also using more automated tools to reach more people, more consistently.

To get you thinking about what donor-centered fundraising communication looks like in practice, I wanted to share a few nuggets I learned from a webinar hosted this week by Gail Perry of Fired Up Fundraising. This webinar featured Lynne Wester on the topic of  “Donor-Centered Communications Tools That Build Loyal, Loving Donors.” Lynne is the Principal and Founder of Donor Relations Guru, and her website is full of useful resources to check out.

Lynne kicked off the webinar talking about how donor retention is a huge problem nationally for nonprofits. She cited a study that reported that the #1 reason why donors stop giving is over solicitation. Over solicitation happens when the ratio of thanking to asking gets out of whack. Her recommendation was that asks should not double thank yous.

Lynne also talked about the concept of “thaskingwhich is combining the thank you with another ask. Even when there is a “donate now” button in the top navigation of newsletter-like content this can feel like a “thask” to a donor. When you put a business reply envelope in your annual report, that’s a “thask.” Being aware of this concept can help you calculate your own thank : ask ratio.

I loved the simplicity of 3 things Lynne identified that donors really want in their communications with nonprofits:

  • Access (ideally to those who benefit from their giving)
  • Information (especially as insiders or ahead of others knowing)
  • Experiences (that make the intangible more tangible)

Keeping these 3 desires in mind, you can start to tailor your approach to provide more donor-centric fundraising communication.  You can also start orienting your communication schedule around donor behaviors rather than, “it’s time to send out the spring appeal.”

One example is the follow up schedule for first time donors. Donor-centered fundraisers craft a series of communications to provide their new donors with access, information and experiences before soliciting them again. This can be done on a monthly basis for all new donors.

Here are some practical ideas from Lynne that your nonprofit could implement to be more donor-centric:

  1. Send a first time donor postcard.  This welcomes a new donor to your organization and helps them feel valued.  See this link for Lynne’s online archive of samples for all kinds of donor communications like a first time donor postcard.
  2. Map out a first time donor journey. This is can be an enlightening exercise to plan out everything a first time donor should get BEFORE they get another solicitation from you.
  3. Do something special for loyal donors or consecutive donors. For example, Lynne mentioned a President of a university who hand writes 200+ notes each year to donors making their 20th consecutive gift. This practice alone has had a huge impact on their fundraising results.

My own experience with this sea change of behavior-prompted communications has been in starting to use tools like Infusionsoft for customer relationship management and marketing automation. But as powerful as these tools are, they only work if there is clear strategy behind the way the campaigns are set up.  The intention has to be customer-centric in my case or donor-centric in the case of my clients. You have to give customers and donors what they want, in the way they want it in order for them to keep investing in your organization. You have to pay attention to what they are saying when they behave in certain ways–such as clicking on a link to read your blog or giving online vs. through the mail.

Thanks to new tools, it’s now not only possible but imperative for nonprofits to start to move towards more robust and behaviorally targeted communications. This means you can’t just pull the same Excel file as your mailing list and send one version of a letter to everyone on your list.  It means that in order to be most effective, you need to set up your communication cycles around behaviors that the donor does and that you want them to repeat (like giving you the next gift).

I’d love to hear your ideas for other donor-centric fundraising communication practices that have worked for your organization.  Or, if you are a donor and have a sample of an amazing communication you received from a nonprofit, send that my way as a pdf too!  I always love to hear from you at


Is your organization ready for a change?

Stephanie Blackburn Freeth is the creator of The Strategy Tango.


The Strategy Tango is designed to move through seven tried and true planning steps while also accommodating the unique needs of your organization in each moment.


The Strategy Tango process is built upon a foundation of collaboration, candor, and focus.

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Are you looking for transformation?


Stephanie Blackburn Freeth provides 1:1 coaching for leaders looking to make their next transition.

Find out if you're ready for coaching with a free preparation checklist.

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Share This