The Gift That Keeps on Giving

June 26, 2019

As a non-profit, chances are pretty good you follow a familiar pattern to generate funds. The annual mega-fundraiser is crucial, and you rely on grants to support key programs. Maybe you’ve even found an elusive corporate sponsor to provide some additional stability.

You do it because it seems to work well enough, and you know it’s a good idea to have diversified revenue streams to reduce risks to sustainability. Wouldn’t it be nice, though, to have more consistency and predictability—and the ability to keep expanding your base?

What Most Nonprofits Get Wrong

There’s another source to explore—one that non-profits often overlook.  Individual donors can provide continuous, reliable funding that grows over time.  However, many organizations don’t invest resources in pursuing recurring contributions in any meaningful, systematic way.

Instead of tailoring their approach, they target everyone using the old annual appeal, or a combination of the traditional newsletter and updates on a variety of social media platforms. These efforts target broad, generic audiences, and they fail to engage current or prospective donors in ways that develop lasting, rewarding, personal relationships. In the end, not enough of the “right people” are hearing what non-profits have to say. And, if they do, it’s going in one ear and out the other.

Shifting Your Mentality, and Getting Personal

Nonprofits that take this approach are effectively viewing donors as objects rather than as people.  It’s easy to see existing and potential contributors primarily as cash, checks and credit cards—not as individuals with interests, preferences, and personalities.

It’s understandable—that’s the way it’s always been done. But not knowing who’s behind the money can make it incredibly difficult to connect with prospective and existing donors on a personal level. Even the most experienced nonprofit professionals can struggle to determine who they should be approaching, how to effectively reach their audiences, or what messages will resonate with them.

The solution? Get familiar with the donor pool!

The concept is simple: Find out who’s most likely to donate, where they get their information, and what makes them tick. Then, target those people through customized media and messaging over the entire life cycle from initial contact to conversion to retention.

In practice, it is more of a strategic commitment for non-profits than what many are doing now, but the returns are entirely worth it. The inevitable question, of course, is how to go about this.

5 Keys to Developing Tailored Messaging That Resonates with Your Donors


  • CollectingHaving high-quality data on the demographics, economics, psychographics, and behaviors of your donors and prospects is critical. If you can obtain information on the donor pool, you can segment the population and estimate both giving potential and likelihood of contributing.  This is how you “meet the people.” Explore your current donors first, and then expand to the general public through surveys and/or focus groups.


  • ProfilingThe data you collect can allow you to profile selected segments by building representative donor “personas” of individuals you want to engage. This is how you get to know the people you want to “befriend.” Give them a face and a name, and lay out the details using the information you’ve gathered. Test your profiles by running them by subsets of the segments they represent.


  • MappingPersonas provide foundational “journey maps,” which describe individuals’ status, thoughts, and feelings, and identify opportunities to facilitate their progression from contact to conversion to retention. This is how you “walk with the people” as they become familiar you’re your non-profit.  Get a team together, grab some sticky notes, and have some fun with it!


  • CustomizingThe journey maps will inform your outreach approach, guiding the content, format, media, incentives, calls to action, access points, etc. at key milestones.  This is “leading the people” to introduce yourself and the problem, make them want to learn about you, help them to help you, and give them what they need to give again.  Focus on reaching, informing, and making things easy for your target audiences.


  • MeasuringYou’ll want to know when your strategy is successful and adjust it when it’s not. By using web-based platforms (e.g., Google Analytics, HubSpot) it’s relatively easy to gather and analyze metrics on, for example, who’s viewing your content and how they’re responding. If something isn’t working—if you’re not connecting, the messages aren’t resonating, or people aren’t following through—fix it.  A little fine-tuning goes a long way.


How does this look in practice?

One nonprofit focused on poverty did this by asking its current donors how best to connect with them, segmented the audience, and then handed things over to teams comprising internal staff and external “customers” to create “snapshots” of the most promising groups—names, faces, and personal “stories.”  These teams then “walked the walk,” stepping through each prospect’s journey from contact to conversion to retention.  Marketing and Development took the resulting maps to design and execute targeted outreach strategies, focusing on messaging, media, and delivery channels they were confident would reach and resonate with prospects.  Pushing out “before-and-after” stories through videos, blogs, and other media to the social platforms these audiences used was a key part of the approach,  and the organization more than doubled contributions the next year.

Personalized “relationship marketing” changes the individual donor game for non-profits. It makes it easier to forecast with confidence and helps to maximize gifts that keep on giving.  And, it works for nonprofits of all sizes.  While it’s a big undertaking and it’s helpful to have a dedicated, innovative Marketing and Development staff, that isn’t completely necessary—with a little outside help, even smaller organizations can do this with executive leadership and program personnel.

For many organizations, individual donations can be a significant part of a diversified funding strategy, even if the results haven’t been there in the past. Let’s face it. Newsletters often tend to go unopened and tweets get lost in the crowd. But investing in a targeted individual giving strategy can have a significant return on investment.

There’s money to be had, but there are faces, names, and personalities behind each dollar. Taking the time to get to know them leads not only to more dollars raised for your programs, but also to strong, long-lasting relationships with your donors.

What to do next:

Read our article on this topic, Anatomy of a Non-profit Donor
View the related presentation, Targeting and Retaining Better, Long-lasting Donors 
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Tom MorleyTom Morley is Founder, President, and Managing Director of Snowflake LLC, a Certified B Corporation® consultancy dedicated to helping organizations transform lives and build communities through strategic planning and organization, people, and marketing strategies.  He worked for more than 15 years as a senior leader with “Big 4” firms BearingPoint and Deloitte Consulting before launching Snowflake in 2014, with the goal of collaborating with non-profits, governments, and responsible businesses to bring about social change.  Over the course of his career, he has worked with over 75 different clients across sectors and industries, in the US and abroad, advising and supporting them in their efforts to accomplish greater things for the greater good.

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