Donor Development Strategies: Questions to Ask Yourself When Things are in Flux

This post originally appeared in 2020. It was updated for relevance in 2022. 

Think about your donor development strategies from the beginning of 2020. Do you see any major issues compared to what you know now?

In 2020, a lot of nonprofit folks had to completely throw out all their plans and fly by the seat of their pants. No one knew exactly what to do, how to plan or what was coming next.

It raised a question that has stayed relevant: How do you make a plan for donor stewardship in uncertain times?

There are no hard and fast rules, but there are approaches that work better than others. Responsive fundraising allows you to turn on a dime and adapt to change faster because you’re not handcuffed to a plan, you’re listening to your donors. A questioning and curious mindset helps you make better decisions and try and analyze new things quickly. 

As you’re making plans when things can change minute by minute, your approach and mindset may end up mattering just as much as the individual decisions you make about donor stewardship. Here are our top questions to guide you as you navigate donor development when things are in flux.

Data is the Key to Donor Development Strategy

In a normal year, there are some donor trends you can extrapolate from the past. Your donors may follow a predictable pattern of engagement around year-end, for example. But when a year like 2020 arises, patterns change. You need to be able to see how your donors are engaging right now, and meet them where they are.  

To get the most out of your data, ask yourself the following.

Do you have the right donor data tracking in place?

A responsive CRM, along with multi-channel marketing automation, enables you to listen to your donors’ signals and provide real-time engagement. Listening means you’ll be connecting with your donors in the best possible ways for this moment, not last year. 

Are you connecting with your donors on multiple channels?

Many of your donors may be spending more time online than ever before. That means they’re getting a lot of messages, from ads to social media posts, to emails. Make your messages stand out by using marketing automation and donor tags to give your donors the most relevant and engaging information on all channels, including off-line options like direct mail and phone calls. 

A responsive CRM and marketing automation software capture every signal donors send, whether it’s replying to a direct mail piece or clicking a link. This gives you the broadest and most accurate picture of how your donors are interacting with you. 

How often do you update donor data?

During a time of flux, you need up-to-the-minute donor data. Ideally, your nonprofit CRM will do a lot of the tracking and updating for you, so you’re always getting the freshest information. 

How Does Your Donor Stewardship Plan Work Internally?

When things are changing quickly, it’s easy for people within an organization to cross signals and end up working against each other’s goals. Prevent these problems by establishing a process at the beginning that you can adapt to your changing priorities. Deciding on the “who/what/when/where/how” ahead of time will keep you working together even as the details of your donor stewardship plan shift. 

Defeat silos by asking yourself these questions.

Who is responsible for collecting which data?

Look into who surveys donors who are also volunteers, development or volunteer services. Who pulls social media numbers, the marketing manager or the marketing associate? If multiple people are collecting and acting separately on the same data, it’s time to streamline your process by spelling out who is responsible for which piece.

How is data shared?

How many people need this data? Do they need the raw numbers, or will they get more out of it if there’s some interpretation? Does it need to be in a formal report, or will a monthly email do the job?

Who is working together to pull and share insights?

Data means more when accompanied by insight about what it means, and how that informs what you should do next. Decide who will be involved in pulling data and informing the rest of the team about the insights to be drawn from it. A responsive CRM puts you way ahead of the game by analyzing data and drawing insights automatically, saving you hours of data sifting and making sure you don’t miss a thing. 

Donor Segmentation Makes Stewardship Strategic

During a time of information overload, it’s more important than ever to make sure your communication to donors is relevant and targeted. How do you make that happen for every donor? Segmentation.

When 90% of US consumers find marketing personalization appealing, you can’t afford to use out-of-date “spray-and-pray” mass messaging. Segmenting donors by their interests, passions and personas allows you to create personal one-to-one messages for each donor, at scale. 

How are you segmenting donors?

There are many ways to segment donors for more effective communication, including by their interests, group affiliation, giving habits, communication preferences and interactions with your nonprofit. 

How are you automating segmentation?

The best segmentation is based on donor signals and behavior, which is difficult for humans to track for a donor base of any size. A responsive CRM can assign donor tags automatically, and utilize information from social scraping, appended wealth data and existing networks to create the most detailed picture possible, without staff spending time on it. 

How are you updating and optimizing segments?

As you learn new things, you will need new tags and segments. Watch your data for emerging trends in what donors are interested in and responsive to, and update your segments so you can optimize your communication. 

Donor segmentation allows you to send the right messages to the right people, ensuring that they’ll receive the information they’re most interested in. This helps cut through the chatter of their inboxes and social feeds, and make sure that every communication they receive from you is relevant.

Segmentation can help you create more meaningful connections. For instance, creating a segment for donors who’ve informed you they’ve lost their jobs helps you demonstrate that you value people beyond their financial contributions. That segment could receive a communication flow that included thank yous for their past support, information about their impact and volunteer opportunities, but not direct financial appeals. This keeps them engaging with the organization, rather than alienating them with inappropriate asks.

Crafting an Efficient, Effective Donor Development Plan

You simply cannot afford to waste your time on things that don’t work. You need to be able to try something, see how it goes, and then discard it or keep it as needed. These are not the times to lock yourself into one solid plan–things are changing too quickly. 

Approach your donor development plan scientifically–hypothesize, experiment, analyze the result and come to a conclusion. Some of the things you try won’t work, and that’s fine. As long as you apply the data from your failure to whatever you try next, you didn’t waste the effort, you learned something important. 

Put everything on the table, and ask yourself these questions.

What are you doing that works?

Where are you seeing results and engagement? What gets the most positive feedback? Which stories resonate the most with donors?

What are you doing that doesn’t serve your donors?

If your donors consistently don’t respond to something, you probably don’t have to keep doing it.

Your donor development plan should be all about your donors and providing them with the most meaningful experience possible. This means that you should spend your time and effort on the things that serve them. 

Ask yourself what your donors truly want from you. Listen to their signals, and you’ll start to get a clearer idea of what motivates them, delights them or completely bores them. As you get more personal and relevant, you may find some of your development activities don’t really serve your donors at all. 

How is your software serving your team and operations?

It is very difficult, if not impossible, to create a flexible, responsive donor development plan while you’re fighting with your software or trying to make sixteen Excel sheets function as a CRM. How is your software helping or hindering your efforts? What could you do with a better, more responsive system? 

What are You Going to Do Next?

There is no one, universal next action for every nonprofit to take, but there is one approach we recommend over any other: responsive fundraising. Listen to your donors, connect with them and make suggestions based on what you learn. Instead of sticking to a plan, you stick with your donors, wherever they may lead you.

“What do I do next?” is a big question. After you’ve analyzed your data, set up solid internal systems, segmented your donor and made your plan more efficient, you’ll be in a much better position to answer it. 

What you should do now

Below are three ways we can help you begin your journey to building more personalized fundraising with responsive technology.

Take a self-guided tour of Virtuous, where you can explore the platform at your own pace and see if Virtuous is right for you. 

Download our free Responsive Maturity Model and learn the 5 steps to more personalized donor experiences.

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