Maintaining Donor Relationships

Donor cultivation is part art, part science. At its most basic, donor cultivation (and prospect cultivation, for that matter), centers on communication: staying in touch with your donors and prospects to build a relationship of trust and mutual interest.

Big gifts, small gifts, recurring gifts, bequests… they rarely just “happen.” Most are the result of an ongoing process of cultivation and dialogue. Here, in no particular order, are eight great ways for your to stay in touch with your donors through the course of the year. For best results, mix and match based on your ’s unique needs and goals.

  1. E-Mail Newsletters

E-mail newsletters are cheap, fast, and non-intrusive, making them one of the best ways to stay in touch with your donor base and prospect pool. How often should you send them? At a minimum, quarterly. Once per week is probably the most you can send before they start to wear thin on the recipients.

  1. Snail Mail Newsletters, Letters, and Magazines

These are more expensive than e-mail newsletters, but often seem more “real” to your donors. If you are a small , start by sending update letters to your list twice annually. As you grow, you can add newsletters, and eventually even a magazine to your repertoire.

  1. Your Website

Think of your organization’s website as a constantly updated and evolving brochure for your . Keep it updated and engaging, so that donors will want to check it frequently to see how you are using their gifts for maximum impact.

  1. Social Media

Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social networking sites can provide a vital space for two-way dialogue with your donors. Get online and get active in the social media spaces where your donors and target prospects congregate.

  1. Cultivation Events

Non-ask events (where you don’t ask for money directly) can be a great way to build your reputation and get new people involved in your efforts. Put together a great host committee and task them with getting “new blood” through the door to hear about your efforts. You can also use these events to keep your current donors engaged and connected with your organization.

  1. Public Relations / PR

You may not think of PR as a strategy for communicating with your donors and prospects, but it is. Donors love to open up the paper and unexpectedly find a story about a they have been supporting. You can also use press clips as a way to validate your work to donors and prospects.

  1. Phone Calls

Have you called your donors just to say “thanks?” This strategy doesn’t work for all demographics, but for many donors, receiving a call from a board member or staff person, who gives them a quick update and says, “it’s all thanks to you… thank you for your support!” is a real motivator. Can your organization run a “thank-a-thon” to make these calls once per year?

  1. In-Person Visits

Once the exclusive purview of large universities and hospitals, in-person visits to major (and even mid-level donors) are now successfully employed by many diverse organizations. This is the most personal and intimate of all cultivation methods, and requires a well-trained staff.

What methods are you using to cultivate your donors and prospects? All, none, or a mix of the above? Are there any methods you are successfully using that we haven’t listed here?