Getting To Know Your Nonprofit's Donors: A Quick Guide

Donors make your nonprofit’s work possible. Without them, you wouldn’t be able to run your programming, serve your beneficiaries, or even keep your doors open.

Yet some nonprofits make the mistake of putting the cart before the horse. For example, they may try to plan fundraising campaigns, recruit people to their membership program, or revamp their marketing strategy before doing one crucial thing: getting to know their donors!

Without a solid understanding of who your donors are, what they value, and what they need from your organization to stay engaged with your cause, your nonprofit risks missing opportunities to truly connect with your supporter base in ways that resonate with them.

So, whether you’re just starting out in the nonprofit sector or you’re a seasoned professional, you should prioritize learning about your donors and tailoring your operations to them. We’ll examine some tips for doing so in this quick guide.


Why Getting To Know Your Donors Matters 

Working for a better tomorrow within the nonprofit world can be challenging, especially when you’re operating on a limited budget. Your natural instinct is to focus on stretching dollars. But in addition to paying attention to your finances, you should get to know your nonprofit’s donors so that your organization can experience the following benefits:

  • Long-lasting relationships: Strong relationships that stand the test of time are critical to keeping your nonprofit’s work moving forward. The longer your organization can maintain a relationship, the more likely it is that an individual will not only donate consistently but also deepen their involvement with your nonprofit.
  • A stronger understanding of how your community perceives your cause: When you understand your donors, you can understand how they see your cause and your organization’s brand. This can be valuable for knowing how to better position your cause and your organization to encourage more awareness and support. 
  • Better ROI with your communication efforts: No nonprofit wants to invest in communication channels or materials that are ineffective and fail to reach their audience. By learning about how your donors prefer to be contacted (and how frequently), you can make sure you’re hitting the target every time.
  • More donations: Getting to know your donors improves how you fundraise. When you understand what works when it comes to your specific supporter base, you’ll have an easier time designing campaigns that help you meet your goals.
  • Increased involvement beyond donating: Donations aren’t the only way your supporters can give to your mission. For example, they might volunteer, advise your organization on legal matters, provide items for your next charity auction, or even serve on your board. Having a good grasp on who makes up your community will help you know which opportunities to offer and to whom.

Clearly, it is worth investing the time to learn about the individuals that make up your nonprofit’s community. As we dive into our tips for doing so, consider how your organization might scale each of these processes as it grows to ensure that you’ve always got a strong connection with the people who power your work.


1. Conduct thorough donor and prospect research. 

Our first tip is to do your homework to get to know both your current and potential donors. Doing so will help you take a wide view of your supporter base, considering not only the support you have now but the support you’re seeking for the future. 

Here are some recommendations for getting to know your current donors: 

  • Leverage your donor data. Your nonprofit likely already has a wealth of information about your current donors, from their names and social media handles to their event attendance and donation history. Don’t overlook the value of this information—even small details can help you build better relationships, like using a donor’s first name in an email newsletter. To keep your data clean and actionable, consider investing in data append services to ensure you have the most up-to-date information available.
  • Make notes on donor interactions. Each time you interact with a donor, you should make a note of it, especially when it comes to interacting with major donors. Every interaction builds on the last, so keeping track of what you talked about will be key for the next time you speak with the individual, whether you’re following up on a donation request or asking them how their vacation was.
  • Conduct wealth screening. To get to know your donors in terms of the donations that they can make to your organization, you should engage in wealth screening. This is the process of learning about your donors’ capacity to give, based on information like real estate ownership, business affiliations, stock holdings, and political giving histories. This process can be especially useful for making specific donation asks of major donors. 

To get to know the donors your organization wants to reach out to in the future, you’ll rely on prospect research, also known as prospecting. According to Donorly, when conducting prospect research, you’ll examine capacity indicators (like real estate ownership and political giving histories) but also take into consideration affinity indicators.

Affinity indicators, also known as warmth indicators, help you understand how a potential donor may feel about your cause and organization. Some typical affinity indicators include past donations to similar organizations, volunteering history, and personal information like values or interests. When you find a potential donor that exhibits both capacity and affinity markers, you can be confident that you’ve found a viable prospective donor for your organization.

You typically have two options when it comes to conducting prospect research. The first is to let your team handle the process in-house. You could even train multiple prospect researchers to take on this responsibility. For example, you could coach your team to use prospect research tools by hosting training sessions and awarding digital badges for different milestones. Or, you can rely on the expertise of an experienced prospect research consultant to take on the work for you.


2. Look for regular opportunities to interact. 

As with any type of relationship, regular interactions with your donors are key to learning about and strengthening your connection to them. Using what you’ve learned about your donors (or prospective donors!) through your research, create a communication strategy that will allow you to check in regularly with your donors.

For example, you might:

  • Email a regular newsletter 
  • Send monthly emails or make regular phone calls
  • Schedule in-person coffee chats or lunches 
  • Message donors on social media or reply to their comments on your posts 

Of course, you can’t meet for lunch with every donor once a month. But remember, you can segment your donors based on communication method preference to better tailor your outreach work. For example, you may find that one group of donors responds best to emails, while another prefers to interact with your organization on Facebook. Aligning your strategies with these preferences will go a long way in communicating to your donors that you care about them.


3. Ask your donors for feedback. 

Another great way to get to know your donors is to ask them for their feedback on your work. You can do this informally, through phone conversations, short surveys, or online polls.

However you decide to ask for feedback, make sure you’re asking specific questions. For example, you might ask donors what they thought about your most recent fundraiser, or what communication channels they use the most to stay up-to-date on your nonprofit’s work. Similarly, you could ask them about your donor appreciation strategies, or your website setup.

Sometimes opportunities will arise to ask for feedback in more formal ways, like during the quiet phase of a capital campaign when you interview your most influential stakeholders. But most often, issuing a simple yet targeted question to a large group of donors will help you gain rich insights that you can use to ensure your work aligns with what your community needs and expects.

One of the most important things you can do as a nonprofit is to spend time learning about your donors. Understanding what makes them tick, why they care about your cause, and what motivates them to open your emails—all of this will help you expertly shape your strategies to pull in and retain more support, and ultimately, do more for your beneficiaries. Use these tips to start getting to know your donors today!

April 4, 2023

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