Multi-Channel Donor Cultivation and Communication

If you want to connect with your donors, build deeper relationships, and create a community of enthusiastic fans of your nonprofit, you have to reach out. 

Most of the time, your donors won’t come looking for you. It’s not because they don’t care about your cause, it’s because they’re busy and distracted. Between work, family, and other responsibilities, and just the general pace of life, there are a lot of claims on your supporters’ attention.

To cut through the noise, you need to meet them where they are. 

Whether it’s on their phone screens, in their inboxes, in the mail, on the phone, or on social media, your supporters are active on communication channels. 

The best way to reach them? Take a multi-channel approach.

What is Multi-Channel Donor Cultivation?

“Multi-channel donor communication” sounds more complicated than it is. It simply means reaching out to donors on a variety of channels, including online and offline. For example, if you follow up your direct mail pieces with emails, that’s already multi-channel. If you call donors to say thank you and send an automated thank you email, that’s multi-channel, too. 

A multi-channel donor communications workflow allows you to have one continuous conversation across your channels. It ensures that you show up as the same organization, pursuing the same goals, whether your donors encounter you on Facebook, in person, or on the phone. It helps provide a cohesive and responsive donor experience. 

2022 Responsive Nonprofit Panel

Find out more about multi-channel donor cultivation in this panel from the 2022 Responsive Nonprofit Panel. Watch Now »

The Impact of Multi-Channel Nonprofit Communications

You may be used to thinking of your supporters as “online donors” or “offline” donors, but research has shown that donors who give both on and offline are worth three times more than single-channel donors. The evidence is good that nonprofits should try to attract these multi-channel donors. 

The first-year retention rate for multi-channel donors is twice as high as for single-channel donors. This presents significant opportunities for nonprofits, both in terms of revenue and long-term donor relationships. 

But most nonprofits aren’t using a multi-channel strategy with their smaller gift donors. In 2020, Virtuous and NextAfter conducted a study in which 119 nonprofits were given $20 donations, both online and offline, using two separate donor personas with unique phone numbers, emails, and mailing addresses. Only 14% of organizations sent at least one email to the offline donor and 55% of organizations sent at least one mailed message to the online donor in a four-month period. The potential of multi-channel donor communications is largely untapped.

A Sample Multi-Channel Donor Journey

An automated donor journey, depicting a multi-channel donor communication strategy, taking the supporter from attending a virtual event, to making a gift, with emails, calls, texts, and a postcard.

Here’s how a multi-channel donor journey looks in action:

  • Andrew attends a virtual event with a local nonprofit, the Happy Critters Pet Shelter.
  •  An hour after the event, he receives an email with a survey about his interests. He replies, sharing that he’s most interested in dogs and the shelter’s pet adoption program.
  • The next day, the team calls him to thank him for attending the event. 

Already, Andrew is being engaged on and offline. 

  • Two days later, he receives a text message alerting him to the Happy Critters Puppy Cam. He visits the nonprofit’s website to check it out.
  • The next day, he receives an email with a donation ask to help with supplies for the puppy nursery.
  • He gives!
  • Later, he receives a postcard with puppy pictures to close the loop on his impact.

Plan Your Multi-Channel Strategy

Before you can plan a supporter journey, you need to know which supporters you’re talking to. If you’re sending generic mass messages, it doesn’t really matter if you broadcast them on multiple channels, they still won’t resonate like personalized and targeted messages will.

Segments and Personas

Begin by segmenting your list. While it’s common to segment donor communications by giving amount, you can be more personalized if you segment by their behavior instead. 


Interests: What program areas are most interesting to your supporters? What aspects of your cause are they most passionate about? In our sample journey, Andrew was interested in dogs, so that’s what the organization built their connection on. What are your donors interested in?

Involvement: How are they involved with your organization? Are they monthly givers? Regular volunteers? Long-time supporters? First-time givers? 

Intent: Why do they give? Are they former beneficiaries of your work? Dedicated activists? Newly aware of your work? Responding to a disaster? 

Once you’ve built your donor segments, assign each one a donor persona to help you personalize it. A donor persona is a semi-fictitious character you create to represent a donor segment. In the case of the Happy Critters Animal Shelter, they might have one persona to represent the supporters who care most about dogs and another for cats. As they think about “Danny Dog-Lover” and “Carrie Cat-Lover,” they’ll be able to humanize and personalize their communications.

Donor Journey Mapping

What do you want supporters to learn about on their journey? What do you want to learn about them? Which channels will you use to reach each persona?

A donor journey map is a plan for communicating with your donors and bringing them closer to your organization and cause. As you begin your map, you may find it useful to start with the end in mind. Where do you want your supporters to end up when they’ve completed the journey? Is it making a gift? Signing up to volunteer? Work backward to your starting point, considering what kind of communication and content will help bridge the way from A to B.

You don’t need to create content from scratch. Your nonprofit probably already has landing pages, videos, and articles you can include in your journeys, along with the direct mail campaigns you’ve already planned (think about how to add online elements) and the online fundraising campaigns you’ve already built (think about how to add offline elements). Choose content that builds connection, making sure to tell stories and communicate impact, as well as ask for support. 

You may be wondering how many messages you should include in your journeys. There is no magic formula–your audience and organization are unique. Rather than aiming for a certain number of messages, focus on providing relevancy and value to the audience. Do you have something new to say? What do they need or want to hear about? 

Choosing which channels to include in your multi-channel strategy depends on where your supporters are most engaged. That might not be the same for every persona. 

Maybe your volunteers are very active on Facebook, but your monthly donors don’t really visit it much at all. Inviting volunteers to a Facebook group, and using that as a communication channel, would make a lot of sense. There would be no need to replicate that for monthly donors, who might prefer a quarterly Zoom call and monthly email newsletters. 

As you plan multi-channel communications, look for opportunities to learn more about your supporters’ preferences and motivations. Whether that’s monitoring click-throughs and conversions, sending surveys, or simply asking questions like, “How would you like us to communicate with you?” and “Why did you give today?” the more information you have, the more personal you can be. 

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Donor Relationships at Scale

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Automate Your Journeys

Automation makes multi-channel donor communication possible to implement and manage. If you had to individually click “send” on each email, let alone monitor all your donors’ behavior, multi-channel donor journeys would be impossible. Fortunately, there are technology tools that simplify and streamline the process. 

Once you’ve made your donor journey map and chosen your content and channels, use your marketing automation tools to create donor journey workflows. Virtuous makes this simple by providing templates for best practice automations, including donor lifecycle, new donor welcome series, donor retention, and giving and volunteer milestones. 

Donor lifecycle workflow, showing multi-channel donor communication for a major donor.
Use Virtuous to create multi-channel donor journeys at every stage of the donor lifecycle.

Test and Refine

Your multi-channel donor journeys don’t have to be perfect. Responsive fundraisers (LINK) try new things and adapt based on what they learn. 

It’s okay to start small. Add one new touchpoint to an existing donor journey, like an email follow up to your mailed welcome letter, or a thank you postcard to follow up on your new donor email series. 

As you try new things, keep an eye on your data to learn how you’re impacting your results. Are more donors making second gifts? Do they click links to videos or landing pages more? Do certain segments of donors gravitate towards specific channels? As you learn, you can refine your multi-channel strategy to be more and more successful. 

Start Your Multi-Channel Strategy With Virtuous

With easy-to-use communication tools and robust automation, Virtuous is here to help you make the most of multi-channel strategy for donor cultivation and communication. Want to see more? Schedule a demo!

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