Back to Oppelt Insights

Creating Donor Communications that Work

communications fundraising Dec 18, 2020

To effectively communicate with donors, you need to engage them first. c It’s a relationship. It’s a two-way street. To be a successful relationship, each party will give and get something as a result of the interaction. You want them to listen and respond to your request. If you want them to listen to you, you need to listen to them. If you want them to respond to you, then you respond to them. If you want them to meet your needs, you must meet theirs.

Effective Donor Communications Plan Step One: Know Your Donors

Know your donors inside and out. Know their needs, values, and preferences. Know their motivations for giving. Know why they would welcome a communication from you. It is not about you and what you need. It is not about why you think you’re great or how their gift will help your organization. It’s about them fulfilling their needs and values in ways that they find satisfying. Frame your donor communications using their perspectives and interests. Get their attention in ways they are most likely to pay attention to and understand. Make it easy for them to notice you. Catch their attention by presenting concepts and images in ways that speak to them most strongly.

If you want to know your donors as a group, do your research. Go to the census bureau and get demographic data. Visit the Center for Generational Kinetics to find the global preferences of your different age cohorts. Look at the Giving USA, Charity Navigator and Blackbaud Institute donor studies to see who’s giving what to what. Google “communication trends” and read any number of articles about who likes to communicate how.

For specific donor information, keep good records when you interact with your donors. And review them regularly. Recordkeeping is a must if you want to develop long-term relationships that show your donors you hear them and care enough to know and remember what they have to say.

Effective Donor Communications Plan Step Two: Get Their Attention

For donors to even notice you, you need to send them messages using communication channels they are most comfortable with. That means that you probably will not text a donor in his or her 80’s or send a direct mail piece to someone in their 20’s. Meet them on their turf. Find out, if you don’t know, who likes letters, voice mails, emails, social media posts and/or texts. Start the donor relationship sending the message, “Your preferences are important to me.”

When you communicate, remember that you should not promote how great your organization is or how much your organization needs the money. Donors are more interested in mission and impact than they are organizational operations. Instead of talking about how their money helps you, address their interests, values and needs. For example, there’s a big difference between saying, “Last year demand for my organization’s services grew 47 percent” or “Last year my organization fed 5,000 people” to saying something like “When was the last time you were hungry? How did it affect you?” Which one grabs more of your attention?

If you want donors to read your message, make it about them. Make it relatable. Make it emotionally appealing. Talk about them. The content is about they can make an impact that is meaningful to them, not you or your organization.   

If you’re not sure what their interests, values and needs are, ask them. You can survey your donors and ask for opinions. You can do it formally or informally. You can ask in person or you can have a questionnaire. You can ask a large group or you can ask a few influencers. There’s lots of ways to conduct donor research. Just make sure that whatever response group you use is a representative group. And remember that for every group characteristic, there are individual exceptions.

And remember to record everything in your donor database.

Effective Donor Communications Plan Step Three: Make it Personal

When you communicate with donors, do it in the second person. Make your message personally relatable. Use the words you and your liberally. Talk about what you (the donor) can accomplish, the impact you (the donor) are making. Make your donors the center of your mission fulfillment success. Let them know how important they are to mission success. Make them feel like they are the most important people in the world in making the world a better place. In this way, you validate them and acknowledge them. And meet some of their primary emotional needs: the needs to contribute to something bigger than themselves and doing something of worth. And they will find the interaction with you satisfying thus more likely to continue, and maybe strengthen, the donor relationship.

Effective Donor Communications Plan Step Four: Have a Call to Action 

Now that you have their attention, engage your donors. Make your donor communications two-way interactions and give donors a way to respond to you. Which means when you send them messages, using channels they are most comfortable with, you need to incorporate ways for them to respond to you. Ask them to do something. They can visit their legislators, vote, volunteer, sign up for an event, attend an event, invite a friend, donate money, contact you, fill out a survey, forward a message, and so on. Give them ways to make an impact on an issue they care about. Engage donors in your mission. Build those relationships.

Be clear - very, very clear - in your call to action. Be direct and be specific. And give a deadline. 

Effective Donor Communication Plan Step Five: Engage Them

When they respond to your request, respond back.

Let them know you know and appreciate what they did. Acknowledge and validate them again. Meet their emotional needs again. Build that strong donor relationship. Thank them. Give them feedback on the results of their actions. Let them feel like they are crucial to mission impact, again.

Then engage them some more. Send them another call to action. Create an ongoing positive cycle of donor engagement and mission fulfillment. Watch those engaged donors stick around. And watch the gifts from engaged donors increase in size. With increased donor retention and larger average gifts, your financial results will improve. Which will be poured into mission and increase mission fulfillment. Which you report back to your donors, making them the heroes. And you validate them again. And so on.

Effective Donor Communications Plan Step Six: Communicate Timely and Often

How often should you communicate with donors? Well, anytime you have a request to do something and anytime they have responded to those requests. And mix up your requests. Don’t make all your requests about donating money. You can send a survey. You can ask for feedback. You can get opinions. There’s lots of things you can ask your donors to do that don’t involve money.

When you make the call to action, give a deadline and respond immediately after that with an update. If you have asked them to contact you, call them back within 24 hours. If you have asked them to donate, they need to be thanked with 48 hours of you receiving their donation. Believe me, most nonprofits don’t do this. If you thank your donors within 48 hours of making a donation, you will catch their attention just because it’s not the norm. If you have asked them to fill out a survey, let them know you have their feedback and are compiling results as soon as the survey ends. Then let them know when you’re going to release the results. And then let them know the survey results. If you have asked them to visit their legislators or vote or advocate in some other way, send the periodic updates on where in the legislative process the issue stands. If you asked them to volunteer, sign up for an event, attend an event or invite a friend, give them updates on attendance. Integrated into how that translates into greater community impact, of course.

Wrapping It Up

Know your donors inside and out. Use their preferred communication channels. Talk to them about things they are interested in ways that they will find satisfying. Ask them to do something. Give them a way to do it. And when they do it, respond back. Thank your donors. Report back to them. Dialogue with your them. Interact with you donors in ways meaningful for them. Engage your donors. Let them engage with you. Build a successful donor relationship. And watch your fundraising results soar.

To discuss how this article relates to your nonprofit, I invite you to participate in a free, 30-minute discovery session with me. 


During our time together, we will clarify the fundraising issues your nonprofit is facing, explore possible solutions, and develop a plan of action. When you make your appointment, you will be asked a few brief questions about your situation so that I am best prepared to help you.

I look forward to our conversation!  

Talk with me