In times of crisis, many nonprofits gain a large number of new donors—but few retain them. According to The Fundraising Effectiveness Project, less than half of all donors are retained year over year.
While there are countless donor retention strategies, many can be expensive or time-consuming. Thankfully, there’s a quick way to keep your nonprofit top of mind with your new (and old!) high net worth donors: a donor stewardship email program. To start, you simply need to put yourself in your donors’ shoes and do a little planning.
Many people give to a nonprofit once and then move on. In many cases, this is because other organizations inspire them in new ways. As a result, for your nonprofit to retain its existing donors, you need to keep them motivated to continue supporting your mission.
You may not be able to inspire them to feel exactly how they did the first time they learned about your work. It’s tough to compete with the excitement of something new. But you can offer value in another way—by building meaningful relationships with them.
So imagine this: you’re a new donor who recently gave a large gift to your nonprofit. What’s the best way for the nonprofit to build a relationship with you? By showing that you matter. And saying it often.
A donor stewardship email program does just that—it keeps donors engaged in your work through consistent, thoughtful outreach. It creates an authentic connection between your mission and their interests. And prevents your longer term donors from feeling like they don’t hear from you much unless you’re making a fundraising ask.
To get started with a stewardship email program, map out a plan that addresses the basics: what to send, when to send, and how to send it.
Donor Email, What To Send
Just because a stewardship email is thoughtful doesn’t mean that it needs to be complicated. In fact, it shouldn’t be. Your high net worth donors are busy, so be brief to get your message across. Plan to send short emails that do two key things: express gratitude and offer something useful.
Let your donors know that you saw something and thought of them, so you wanted to pass it along. Depending on your donors’ interests, examples of useful items could include:
- Evidence of the impact of their support (annual reports, progress updates)
- Materials to help them learn more about your cause (white papers, press releases)
- News articles relevant to your mission and their interests (new research, current events)
- Assets that will help them share their passion for your work (suggested social posts, printables)
- Messages of gratitude (thank you videos or quotes from your staff and the people you serve)
- Sneak peeks into upcoming happenings (events, campaigns)
It’s crucial to put yourself in your donor’s place as you think about what to share. Think about what truly excites them about your work. After that’s clear in your mind, decide from there what resources to share.
How to Send Donor Emails
There’s no need to invest in the latest marketing technology for stewardship emails. Ask donor relationship managers to send stewardship emails from their normal email inbox. That way, their messages feel personal, not commercial and mass produced. Simplify the process by creating a quick written email template with areas where relationship managers can add in:
- The donor’s name
- Why they think the resource is relevant to the donor’s interests
- Instructions on how to view or use the resource
- An invitation for feedback on the resource
- A sincere message of thanks for their support
When it’s time to send a message, the relationship manager can simply paste the template into a blank email, edit as needed, and send.
When to Send Donor Emails
Reach out to your donors often, but don’t overdo it. Perspectives vary on how often to communicate with donors, and you should experiment with what works best for your nonprofit.
As you test different rhythms, pay attention to how much time you are investing, changes in your donor retention rates, and what responses, if any, you receive from your donors. It may take several months for your experiments to bear fruit. Relationship-building takes time.
If you’re looking for a number to start at, send one stewardship email per month to each of your high net worth donor for one year. Create a donor communication calendar that outlines possible topics you can highlight each month during the year, depending on when you know that different organizational materials will be published or various holidays and events are happening. But always be ready to adjust your calendar as new topics take priority.
When asking for feedback on the resources you share, don’t hesitate to ask whether your donors would like you to continue sharing similar content with them in the future. That will help you understand whether you should change your strategy or stay the course.
A donor stewardship email program may sound complex, but it’s actually very straightforward. It will help you build relationships with top donors through quick, thoughtful gestures, provided via email. It’s an excellent solution for busy nonprofits looking to stay connected and supported by the generous people helping them realize their vision of a better world.
Allison Weber is passionate about helping mission-driven organizations tell better stories. Before launching Allison Weber Consulting, she spent nearly ten years helping nonprofit organizations raise millions and reach more people. Through working at Feeding America, the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief organization, and Opportunity International, one of the first nonprofits focused on providing banking services in developing countries, she has developed the skills to write for a variety of audiences and channels. When she’s not working in the social impact sphere, you can find her chasing the sun, searching for the perfect cookie recipe, or enjoying a book from her ever-growing reading list.