Digital communications are essential for robust fundraising strategies today. Everything from your emails to your social media posts, blogs to live video streams, how you communicate with your donors and the community at large is becoming increasingly just as important as your message itself.
Email is generally the most important part of a nonprofit’s donor communications strategy, serving as the keystone for the rest of the digital techniques used to attract and convert new donors and supporters.
Email is also the communication outlet with which nonprofits most often struggle to maintain or improve their rates of donor response.
Nonprofits of all sizes need to pay close attention to the key trackable email metrics that measure donor response. As the essential ingredient that binds together the rest of your engagement strategies, your emails must pull their weight.
There are a few easy ways your team can begin to improve your rates of donor response and build a stronger culture of digital engagement to support it. We’ve selected 6 of the most actionable tips for improving your response rates:
- Use integrated tools to conduct email campaigns.
- Always segment your email recipients.
- Track the performance of your communications.
- Direct readers to an intuitive and useful website.
- Build and maintain an active blog.
- Conduct regular donor surveys.
The Global NGO Tech Report of this year indicates that just over 60% of nonprofits regularly send email updates and fundraising appeals to supporters and donors.
Depending on your perspective and the nature of your mission, this statistic might sound somewhat low. If it sounds high, you might need to rethink your communication strategies. Email is a huge piece of the donor engagement equation, so let’s dive in!
The same report referenced above continues on to explain that of those nonprofits that rely on email to communicate with donors, 63% use an external email marketing service. Only 15% use their own internal CRM tools.
While email marketing services have become increasingly advanced, never underestimate the value of using tools that all speak the same language. A fully integrated and customized CRM system can draw directly from your database as you draft emails, create your lists of recipients, and automate the blasts.
Most nonprofits understand that lightweight, “free” software usually leaves a lot to be desired, but actually taking the time to choose, configure, and integrate your own suite of solutions can have significant benefits.
Chief among these is the ability to develop your own fully-customized data management strategies. You understand your communication and donor response goals better than anyone else, after all. Study up with TeamDNL’s guide to nonprofit data management for more context.
Donor segmentation, curating your email recipient lists based on various factors, goes a long way to boost the impact of your emails. These data points can also help you make a more relevant ask in your email appeals.
Narrowing your audience allows you to better target your message and ensure that it will catch their attention. Only sending blasts to your entire donor database results in more of your donors simply deleting your messages and feeling less compelled to pay attention to them in the future.
Instead, target your emails to particular groups within your database based on factors like:
- History of engagement with your organization, like past giving
- Employment or corporate philanthropy affiliations
- Area of program interest
Take a note from the world of donor prospecting and the tools and resources it uses for more specific communication projects. Carefully curating a guest list for your next major event like a gala or auction is a smart move, and it starts with choosing which segments of your donor database to email an invitation or announcement.
Explore Donorly’s guide to common donor prospecting tools for an idea of the variety of resources you can use to learn more about your donors.
Tracking the performance of your emails and other digital communications as you incorporate new strategies is necessary for generating actual insights and improvements.
If you use an email marketing service, you should have access to reports on the successes of your campaigns. If your nonprofit uses an integrated CRM system to manage donors and marketing campaigns in one place, make sure you’re configured to track a few essential metrics. Google Analytics is a valuable resource to use within or alongside your CRM.
These metrics can all be used to measure your rate of donor response to emails:
- Email open rates or how many of your recipients take the time to open your message
- Click-through rates, or how many readers follow the links in your email to other pages
- Conversions, or how many recipients ultimately complete whatever action you want them to, like donating, registering for events, or signing a petition
- Incoming web traffic if your email directs readers to a particular page or donation tool
For each new email campaign, carefully record and track the donor response analytics in your database. Use them not only to measure your donor engagement more generally but also the successes and shortcomings of any specific strategies you used in each email.
Focusing on your email messages and the technology that supports them is crucial for improving your donor response rates. Making sure that your recipients actually have content to engage with once they click through your email, though, is just as important.
If the only emails you ever send your donors are straightforward appeals with a link to your donation page, many donors will eventually catch on and start to ignore your messages. On the other hand, spamming their inboxes with messages and content that’s seemingly unrelated to your work will quickly cause them to unsubscribe from your mailing list.
Most of your emails to donors and other supporters will most likely direct readers to a page on your website. Depending on the goals of your email campaign, this might be:
- A blog post on a particular topic
- A dedicated donation page
- An event registration page
- A petition
No matter where you’re directing your donors, you have to make sure that the page’s layout, design, and tools make it perfectly clear what users should do. For instance, a missing navigation bar, vaguely labeled buttons, or distracting auto-play videos can ruin a user’s experience after clicking through from your email, causing them to exit your site.
Strong click-through rates but low conversions indicate a problem with your website that requires attention. Top nonprofit websites should feature clear, user-centric design with plenty of intuitive tools that don’t distract users from the task at hand.
Blogging has quickly become an essential part of how businesses and organizations stay relevant online. For nonprofits looking to raise their online visibility and donor engagement rates, an active blog full of useful content is the perfect resource.
The Global NGO Tech Report we cited above mentions that only 38% of nonprofits regularly publish blog posts on their sites. That’s surprisingly low considering how useful an active blogging presence can be for your digital communications strategies.
Try writing a blog post about a current event or issue related to your mission and end it with a call to donate to your advocacy campaign. Then, draft an email message remarking on the issue and linking to your post; ask readers to share it on social media. In no time your blog post can grow your audience, attract new donors, and improve your donor response rates.
This strategy can work in multiple situations. Political events, social issues, fundraising campaigns with tight deadlines, and matching gifts drives are all good ideas.
This last tip for improving donor response rates might sound rather self-evident, but nonprofits often need reminding. Your supporters follow your mission, make donations, and receive your emails because they believe in the work you do.
This means they’ll gladly take the time to answer a few questions about themselves if you wait until the right time to ask. This is typically right after a donation has been completed or in a later thank-you email.
There are a number of major benefits that regular donor surveys can have on your communication strategies, including:
- Immediate insights into communication strategies that attract attention or get ignored
- Identification of gaps or missteps in both your fundraising and communication efforts
- Valuable metrics to analyze and use to refine your strategies going forward
- Generating strong engagement statistics that can then be used in marketing materials and grant proposals
There are all kinds of questions you can ask donors to generate useful insights, but just asking them can accomplish the most important benefit of all. Conducting regular surveys of your donors’ thoughts and opinions on your operations works to build a stronger relationship between you.
By taking the time to ask, it shows that you value their thoughts. This simple act is often enough to then make recipients take the extra moment to notice, open, and read your emails.
Improving your donor response rates by optimizing your digital communication strategies is a worthwhile challenge. Nonprofits rely on their digital outlets, like email, to connect with donors and new supporters. Losing their attention somewhere in the funnel is a serious issue that requires attention.
By focusing on data management tools, digital infrastructure, and engagement practices, you might be surprised how quickly you can boost your nonprofit’s response rates.