Does Your Nonprofit Accommodate Donor Preferences?
by Mike Montalto
May 7, 2020

You know that no two donors are the same. So why would you assume that your entire donor base wants to engage with your organization in the same way? Yet, too many nonprofits fail to accommodate donor preferences in their communications strategy.

If you want to build strong relationships with your donors, they need to feel like they are being heard. Sure, you can get started by giving donors the option to opt out of certain appeal mailings or your monthly newsletter.

But it will take a lot more to truly accommodate donor preferences. We’re also going beyond the of thinking “what would I want to hear if I was a donor.” Because there are some real discrepancies between what nonprofit professionals think donors want, and what donors say they want.

For example, an Abila study found that 42 percent of nonprofit professionals felt they weren’t communicating frequently enough. However, only 4 percent of donors felt the same. But 65 percent of donors said they were content with the frequency they were contacted, and 27 percent believed nonprofits were already reaching out too often!

So, it’s clear that nonprofits have more work to do to understand and accommodate donor preferences. Let’s explore some of the ways your nonprofit can do more to engage donors in the ways they prefer.

You probably know more about your donors than you think if your database is in order

Listen to Your Data

It can be difficult to determine what donors really want at first. This is especially true if you find genuinely don’t have an answer, or worse, if you assume to know the answer based on intuition.

The extreme disparity between nonprofits and donors on communication frequency alone should be enough evidence to not go with your gut!

Luckily, you probably know a lot more about your donors’ preferences that you think! That is of course, if your data base is in order.

For example, let’s say you email a monthly impact report to your donors. But you notice these emails have low open and click-through rates compared to your other email communications. Your donor base may care more about quality than quantity. So, listen to your data, scale back, and send quarterly impact reports instead!

Personalized ask strings are another great way to use data to accommodate donor preferences. You probably have information about each donor’s last gift, even if your nonprofit’s data base leaves much to be desired.

It may seem remedial but reaching donors with an ask that feels in the right ballpark is one way nearly every nonprofit already accommodates donor preferences. It’s a simple act that often goes overlooked.

If a donor’s last gift was $500 and your next ask gives options of $25, $50, or $75, you’ve missed an opportunity. And not just to raise more money! But also, to show donors you are aware of and trying to accommodate their giving tendencies and preferences.

Send a donor survey to learn more about donors' preferences

Use a Donor Survey

Re-read the first sentence in this blog post.

You shouldn’t assume what your donors want. And you shouldn’t assume one donor’s preferences will mirror another’s.

We’ve all heard the phrase, “you won’t know if you don’t ask.” Yet, many nonprofits continue to conduct their outreach in the same way without asking what their donors really want.

Sending a brief donor survey can give you valuable insight into how to better accommodate donor preferences. Ask them if they prefer to receive a direct mail appeal or would rather just receive an email.

Or, ask if they would ever consider attending one of your events. If not, don’t send them an invite to your next one.

But a word of warning; If you use a donor survey to get a better feel of how to accommodate donor preferences, you need to act on the feedback.

If a donor responds to your survey and says you are reaching out too often, you’d better scale back on the communications you send them. Failing to accommodate donor preferences when they are explicitly stated will make your donors feel like their concerns were ignored.

And it doesn’t make sense to do nothing after you put in all that work to discover what your donors want. That’s like a doctor diagnosing a patient with a terminal illness and walking away without discussing treatment options!

Use the Right Channels

If you’ve read our blog before, you know that we are huge advocates of an integrated communications strategy that uses multiple channels to reach donors and encourage engagement.

But we’ve never said that every organization needs to use every channel for every donor! You can make a bigger impact by reaching donors through their preferred channels.

According to the Abila study referenced earlier, 55 percent of millennials are open to receiving communications from nonprofits via text message. However, only 24 percent of boomers felt the same. If you have an older donor base, you probably won’t be spending time and energy developing a robust text-to-give campaign.

However, this is not a golden rule! For example, an organization with an older, but very tech-savvy donor base may not want to rule out a text-to-give initiative or social media campaign.

Your data and feedback from donors are the only things that can tell you what the right approach is for your organization. So, first see if the answer lives in your data. Then, if not, reach out to donors and ask them yourself!

Segment your audiences based on their known preferences and reach out with highly targeted communications

Segmenting Audiences

Have we hammered the point that no two donors are the same in this blog post yet?

And while that is true, it is also unrealistic to expect nonprofits to come up with a unique outreach strategy for every donor!

But you can make a real impact on your audience while reducing the work involved by segmenting your audiences based on similar preferences. This will allow you to version content to better reflect what groups of likeminded donors want to hear.

It can also make it easier to suppress certain communications from groups that would prefer not to receive them at all!

There’s no shortage of ways to segment your audience. However, once again, past giving history is great place to start.

Consider separating your donors into different giving tiers based on past giving and developing an ask for each level rather than coming up with individualized asks for everyone. You can take this beyond the ask itself and come up with messages and non-ask communications that are more relevant for high, mid, or low-level donors.

Your Donors Need to be Heard

Think back to a time when you were a kid. I’m sure there was at least one meal that your mom made that you were never excited for.

Every Tuesday is meatloaf night. It’s the way it always has been. And you’ve always hated it!

You tell your mom every week, “please no more meatloaf!” But your pleas fall on deaf ears. Before you know it, the meatloaf is in front of you, again. And your resentment towards mom’s meatloaf grows stronger each week. (Mom, if you’re reading this, no offense).

Now, swap the mom in this scenario for your nonprofit, and the child with a donor. The donor keeps telling you, through data and direct feedback, that they really don’t want to receive solicitations outside of your year-end appeal. And yet, you keep sending a spring appeal, fall appeal, a Giving Tuesday appeal, and the year-end appeal year after year.

The donor can only stomach so much before they get irritated. They feel the same frustration you did each week when mom’s meatloaf was on the menu. However, the donor has more power than the child in this scenario.

Once they get tired of being ignored, they may decide to stop giving to your organization and find another with similar goals that makes a point to accommodate donor preferences.

So, the next time you feel compelled to assume what donors want, stop. Instead, think about how they will feel if you make it clear that you’re not willing to listen.

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