Getting Online Donors to Care Today and Into the Future

By re-conceiving online fundraising as the “selling” of feelings of goodwill, nonprofits can proactively utilize website and communication best practices to promote ongoing relationships and garner more support.

This is the second in a two-part series. If you haven’t read the first part of this series, which focuses on reconceiving fundraising and promoting Initial Goodwill, I think the following post will be more helpful if you do so.

Ongoing Goodwill

Ongoing Goodwill is more of a long-term investment than Initial Goodwill (which I detailed in Part 1). It describes the development of a relationship over time between a donor and an organization. Many donors feel a strong sense of Initial Goodwill, but these feelings often wane over time.

After a donor has decided to support your nonprofit, you aren’t in nearly as much direct competition for their attention as you were before. With a bit of planning and proactivity, you can periodically remind them why they decided to get involved and may even elicit support in a variety of capacities in the future.
Maximizing Ongoing Goodwill is largely about accountability on the part of your nonprofit and reminding donors why they supported you in the first place. It’s part analytical and part emotional.

To maximize Ongoing Goodwill, consider trying the following:

Follow up a few days after the donation. A follow-up message a few days after a donor gives to your cause serves as the bridge between the donation and the cultivation of a relationship. It also sets a precedent that you’ll be reaching out in the future.

Make this email substantial. Yes, thank them again for supporting your cause, but also show them you’re going to be accountable. Remind them how their donation will be used. Tell them how to check on the progress of implementation or delivery to the community. Give them details on what and when to expect to hear from you in the future about the good their donation has created. Then actually deliver.

Make this message as personal as you can. Such a message will make the prospect of Ongoing Goodwill very real, laying the foundation for further development of this relationship.

Send concrete updates on donation usage. You don’t have to wait until the end of a project to send an update. As soon as you have something worthwhile to share, do it. I’m not recommending you bombard your donors with email. But if you’re setting up a library in a Rwandan school, tell your donors when you’ve purchased the books, secured the location, and actually embarked on your journey. Update them from the field. Show them the progress of the building. You should share the journey with them long before you send them photos of students smiling over a stack of books (which you should also absolutely send their way).

Sending updates in this way makes donating an ongoing process as opposed to a one-time event. Donating to your cause isn’t the end of the story. It’s the beginning.
And get specific with data whenever you can. Transparency and trust go a long way with donors, both before and after they’ve given their financial support.

Provide opportunities to get involved. Provide your donors with additional opportunities to get involved in the project they’ve donated to support as it develops. Maybe they can write letters to members of the community, or volunteer their time to help distribute the good or service they helped purchase, or e-sign a card or petition to a representative of a partner organization overseas. Keeping donors involved in various ways can significantly heighten their ongoing investment in the efforts of your nonprofit.

Share progress publicly and tie to donors. As you send updates on the progress of the various projects you’re working on, make sure to tie your donors to the cause in both your content and promotion.

Let’s say you write a blog post on the progress you’re making on a project. When you email donors, tell them to check out the good they’re creating. When you tweet it out or share it on Facebook, remind everyone the project is happening only because of your amazing donors.

Send impact stories at the end of a project. At the end of a project, put a great deal of time and thought into how you share the impact with your supporters. These are crucial moments, when the endeavor a donor supported has come to fruition. The idea for making the world a better place is now tangible—and actually happening in a way that can be documented.

Oftentimes it will be impossible for your donors to all be present and see this impact in person. So bring it to them. Make them feel it. Tell stories that showcase the good you’ve collectively created.

Whenever possible, let the community tell their stories directly to donors. Use video. Use photos. Use audio recordings. Use first-person accounts. Remind your donors why they supported your cause. And make them feel remarkable for doing so.

Publicly recognize donors after a project. Many nonprofits do a wonderful job sharing their successes at the completion of a project. This is a great time to once again recognize all those that enabled the project to happen. Even if it’s a long list at the bottom of a page, list the donors that contributed to the cause. I bet many donors will scroll through the list to find their names.

Make it easy to opt out. Some donors will want to build a lasting relationship with you. Other won’t. For those that don’t want to receive your updates, make it easy for them to opt out. Even better, include a way to indicate communication preferences as a part of the donation process. That way, you will only be sending updates that a donor wants to hear.

And if someone says they want out, honor their request the first time. Not only is failing to do so potentially unlawful, but the last thing donors deserve is for a nonprofit they supported to ignore their wishes.

Donor Retention

Giving thought to the promotion of both Initial and Ongoing Goodwill can seriously help your nonprofit’s attempt to retain as many donors as possible. It stands to reason that making donors feel great about donating originally and periodically renewing their passion for your cause will facilitate these efforts.

Keeping donors invested in the work you’re doing as an organization and making them feel like an informed and integral part of this work will increase the likelihood they’ll stay involved with your nonprofit for a long time.

If you’ve donated to a nonprofit, did you feel they did a good job creating feelings of both Initial and Ongoing Goodwill? Or were they better at one than the other? As a nonprofit, what does your organization do to promote such feelings of goodwill among your donors? And what kind of feedback have you received from your supporters? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.