THE BLOG
10/13/2013 12:57 pm ET | Updated Dec 13, 2013

5 Ways to Land - and Stay - on a Donor's Top-5 List

Let's face it.

With thousands of organizations competing for donor dollars, it's more important than ever to develop a thoughtful and meaningful relationship with your supporters -- regardless of who they are or their capacity to give. The reality is, if an individual donates in a passive manner -- like a friend's online personal giving page to support involvement -- can you really count on that gift being renewed next year? What happens when a key fundraiser retires from your board, or takes a more active role in another organization?

The current philanthropy landscape contains a wide range of challenges and opportunities that we are just now beginning to understand. New digital technologies have enabled nonprofit organizations to target like-minded individuals and communities and communicate with large groups of people almost instantaneously. Conversely, the 24/7 news cycle elevates a constant stream of competing causes into public consciousness. In short, there are equal parts noise and music out there, which can make it tricky for philanthropic organizations to attract the support they need to best fulfill their missions. With new text-to-give programs and urgent calls-to-action to respond to worldwide crises with dollars, donors are constantly forced to re-prioritize their "charities of choice" or to just give more. Fortunately, there are ways to cut through the clutter and spur donors to give to your organization not just once, but consistently -- increasing the value of the donor over an extended period of time.

The following five tips can play a key role in reaching that goal:

Drive Support with a Message

This is arguably the most important tip -- and perhaps the most difficult to execute well. When seeking to attract and keep donors, nonprofits must determine exactly what they want to express to the world. The optimal message is a clear distillation of what an organization does and who it benefits. An organization's message must be repeatable and easily comprehended so that it can be used with a wide range of audiences and over a wide range of mediums. At its core, an organization's story should elevate its cause, define the "space" the organization "owns," and demonstrate impact, presenting all of this in such a way that will gain attention - and hopefully renewable support -- from potential donors.

Align the Message with the Medium

It is essential to express your message the right way via the right channels. When appealing to an online audience, for example, keep your message snappy and concise. As one digital media expert put it:

"Tell the reader what they need, and want, to know, and no more -- it sounds simple but far too many people don't follow this rule." Such "punchy" messaging works particularly well when announcing a new initiative, advertising an event, or sharing with donors examples of the good works facilitated by their donations.

On the other hand, during face-to-face encounters or in printed materials, it is often beneficial -- and necessary -- to make a more detailed and thorough appeal to potential donors. Describing a little-known disease, for example, might require more time and detail than announcing an event, and thus might be best suited to an in-person presentation or a written description in a letter or pamphlet.

Build on What Works

If your message ain't broke...don't fix it! When a certain narrative or example of positive results resonates with an audience, it is important to capitalize on that success by repeating it and sharing it with a wider group. Oftentimes, non-profits opt to "pursue attention by the pound" - touting each and every new initiative to as many people as possible. This strategy has its benefits but we've found that it's more effective to identify a message that works and stick with it.

At the Y, we were pleased to find that donors responded strongly to our efforts to give underprivileged kids in New York City the chance to spend summer at a Y camp. We committed to the messaging, spreading it widely and enthusiastically, and the resulting impressive levels of donations greatly benefited the children who attended summer camp.

Demonstrate Lasting Value

We often say that donors don't give to a philanthropic organization so much as they give through one - the organization itself is less important than the positive change it effects. It is our duty to share the results of our good works with donors - and prospective donors - so that they recognize the value of providing support. As I wrote last month, today's young donors strongly appreciate when non-profits share tangible evidence and stories about successful initiatives, which validate their decision to give. The core concept holds true for all donors - if a non-profit achieves and subsequently shares its successes in concrete and measurable ways, then people will feel confident that their donations have gone to good use and will hopefully feel inclined to give more in the future.

"Court" Your Donors

The process of attracting a consistent donor is similar to dating. Our goal as non-profits is to establish a casual connection with a donor and then, if there is mutual interest, build the trust and confidence necessary to turn it into a serious relationship. Non-profits should constantly seek to elevate the relationship - in part by enacting the strategies mentioned above - so that the donor buys into the organization's mission and sees the value of staying involved on a long-term basis. Key to this approach is ensuring that your organization remains "top-of-mind" among your donors through consistent, but not overly persistent, outreach.

The hope we have for any organization-donor relationship is that the contributor will be so dedicated to the cause that he or she will introduce it to friends, thus opening the door for new avenues of support. As with dating, achieving this level of trust is difficult but ultimately rewarding.