February 21, 2017

Make it Personal: Words That Show Your Donors Love

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My philanthropic friend loves to share about the causes she supports. Today was no different; only she wasn’t in a mood to share how wonderful the causes are.

SHow Your Donors Love with Aespire Nonprofit Communications

Just past Valentine's Day, she was feeling forlorn. She pulled out a stack of letters from nonprofits she supports and communities to which she belongs.

Each began, “Dear Friend,” or “Dear Sir/Madam.”

Hardly the way to begin a love letter to a donor.

She shared with me: “Of the dozens of nonprofits I care about, only one expresses their gratitude in a way that makes me feel appreciated—sometimes.”

“The community college foundation sent out a generic year-end form letter. The salutation read, ‘Dear Friend’—yet we've been a long-time supporter. I was so disappointed they didn't know my name, and the year-end appeal was delivered late—on January 6th.”

She continued: “My husband and I are both members of giving clubs, but only a couple of the charities to which I donated last year bothered to send a thank you.”

Finally, she said, “My church sent out a letter asking if my husband and I wanted to renew our membership. The envelope was addressed with stickers. The letter read, ‘Dear Friend.’”

“Can't they even figure out how to do a mail merge?”

If you read this thinking that she was talking about your nonprofit, you might be right. How do you feel when you receive a letter from a cause you care about that isn’t personalized?

When it comes to donor or member loyalty, it’s not about you. Your cause is meaningful to your donor, and it’s your job to make certain they can achieve their philanthropic goals through your cause.

For the leader, the art of communication is the language of leadership. For the nonprofit leader, the art of relationship building is the language of donor retention.

Stewardship, relationship marketing, extraordinary experiences, customer service, personalization, and consistent communications foster affinity, loyalty, and retention. Why do you make these critical aspects of relationship building second or third priority?

In fact, if you spend more time building relationships with a goal of retention, you’ll spend less time on donor acquisition and membership renewals.

Think of it this way: Would you rather spend more time showing love to your donors, or more time having awkward conversations and introducing yourself to strangers?

My donor friend isn’t alone. I'm confident that you’ve received impersonal fundraising letters from organizations you support.


Learn to speak your supporter’s language. Read “Raise Your Voice: A Cause Manifesto.”


How can you change the way your donors feel about you? Write your supporters a love letter:

  1. First, write the person whom you care the most about a love letter. Tell them what you appreciate the most about them, why you love them, and how they've made a difference in your life.
  2. Next, take that letter, and substitute the name of one of your donors, one whom you know. Tell them what you appreciate the most about their support, why you appreciate them, and how they have made a difference to your organization. Write it with that one donor in mind.
  3. Finally, rewrite your second love letter for each type of donor you currently have: first time, recurring, long-time, major supporters.

Here’s the hardest part about your love letter: Talk about your organization as little as possible, and don’t ask for anything. Make your supporters feel good, positive, loved, accepted, and appreciated. Tell them what good their gifts have done and the impact they help make.

Despite the lack of love from several organizations, my friend had a happy ending to her story. She showed me a Valentine’s Card from her alma mater celebrating her long marriage to her husband, also a graduate of the same institution. She beamed as she showed me the card that made her feel special as a member of the community of married alumni.

In the long run, where do you think her affinity and loyalty will be?

More in this category: « The Tale of Two Gifts