Ten Ways to Cultivate Donors For Your Nonprofit Organization

I haven’t been posting regularly this week, since I’ve been speaking at the African Christian Broadcasting Conference in South Africa.  So I asked Mary Hutchinson from donor development firm Inspired Direct to submit a guest post on a topic that would make a difference for our readers.  After reading my recent post on How to be a Better Communications or Media Director, she began to consider how ministry staff on the “other side” of communications could be more effective. It’s great to have a brilliant and effective program, podcast, and website, but what can you do to keep those people engaged?  Here’s Mary’s top ten suggestions:

1) Focus on the first 90 days. If someone reaches out to your ministry, you only have 90 days to get the second response from that person.  Otherwise, they won’t remember who you are or what you do.  Most won’t even remember they emailed, called, or wrote you in the first place. The first contact is almost meaningless, and will cost your ministry money if you don’t have a strategy in place for five strong messages or offers ready to go.

2) Know whom “your people” like.  In the ministry world, you don’t own your donors, viewers, or listeners. It’s not like church were people have a “home.” Your viewers and donors are spending time with many other ministries as well. Find out who they are, how you are different from the others, and what is the common thread.  (Just ask them!)

3) Make sure your creative team understands the DNA of the audience and crafts a strategy that respects that knowledge.  Asking a 25 year old designer to create a thank you package without knowing that your audience is 65+ is a recipe for disaster. It will look cool, but…

4) Get out of the office.  Attend the type of workshops and conferences that will allow you to see what is happening inside the donor department of other ministries. Successful leaders like to share. Be on the front row, take good notes and if you are really impressed, pull the speaker aside afterwards for a cup of coffee (you pay!).

5) Don’t be afraid to hire someone more experienced than you.  The person who has twenty years of experience doing your job at another place is not a threat; they will bring fresh wisdom and knowledge to the table. Blend that with your knowledge of new technologies and ministry leadership and you have a homerun. Your star will shine brighter.

6) Assume nothing.  Any communications to your viewer/donor file can be  impacted by pretesting major elements. Don’t let your taste dictate, let theirs.

7) Talk to your viewers/donors.  If the ministry hosts a conference, be in the middle of the audience chatting it up with as many people as you can. Get their candid feedback on how they feel about your communications with them.

8) Keep a close eye on the percentage of people giving year after year.  Is that number going up or down? A healthy program will see the renewal rate increase even in a bad economy (although the amount the average donor may give may go down when things are tough).

9) Make sure your creative team knows what worked and what didn’t.  Every e‐blast, letter, magazine, etc. has a percent of response and a return on investment. The more your people know, the better results you will see.

10) Don’t be too aggressive.  If you see less than 50 percent of your new donors making a second gift, or less than 60 percent of your long‐standing donors giving into the next year, you have a problem. No matter how good the ministry is at attracting new viewers/donors it will never grow until you address this.

BONUS TIP:  Don’t assume print is going away anytime soon. Sure it would be great to save the print and postage costs. Yes, the percent of income driven by web is growing monthly. But the vast majority of people giving gifts of over $100 annually to support ministries are over the age of 55. They still like their checkbooks and stamps. Another trend that group is showing is they receive and read direct mail, then elect to give online. The mail prompts the gift, but they save themselves the postage. Give them a way to give easily their way.

—– What do you think think?   Can you implement any of these suggestions this year to give your donor development program a good jolt?


Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Matt Mallino


    I think having professionally media and graphic arts can be a big help. It adds tons of credibility and the appearance that you have your act together. …and honestly I think it is better sometimes if you don’t ask for any money at all. I think if you can fund your own non-profit it is quite an accomplishment. Great post, enjoyed it.