Many organizations have barriers in adhering to a consistent and strategic donor communication plan.  The most common we hear are: there just isn’t enough time in the day AND it’s difficult to gather stories from program participants. And of course there are hundreds of other barriers as well. Let’s face it, the donor communication plan isn’t breathing down our necks – so it’s easy to wait until it’s absolutely urgent. But today is the day to dedicate a little time to your plan. You’ll be glad you did.

Remember, it’s about the donor, not you. Organizations need to regularly “Inform, Ask, and Thank,” and it takes all three for a comprehensive plan.

To “Inform,” donors need to hear the details about what their dollars are doing – focus on what their gift has accomplished, share statistics and impact stories, and give updates on programs they have already demonstrated interest in. Vary your delivery. It can be letters, pictures, videos, etc.

To “Ask,” make sure the timing is right for that donor. Detail your future plans and where the organization is headed. Most organizations should be asking for support at least twice in a direct mail/email appeal.

To “Thank,” get the thank you letter/receipt out within 48 hours. Make it a meaningful piece of communication. Regularly change the content of the thank you letter so donors don’t get the same one.  At least change it seasonally/quarterly, but consider updating it monthly. Be sure you ask people how they want their tax letter (via email or hard copy) and especially be intentional with how monthly donors want their receipt info. Be creative! Consider sending a thank you video or hand made card from a program participant.

Combat the Struggles!  Time is a challenge for all development professionals, so we all have to do the best we can. First off, make a communication plan and share it with your team. This will help keep everyone on the same page and avoid random additions to your calendar! Don’t rely on mailings when you have a cash flow issue – you should be asking when it’s the right time for a donor to give, not when you need the money. Gathering stories can be difficult for some development staff as well. Consider participating in existing program meetings. Have each program director share a story at all staff meetings. Take notes on tours or identify a specific program staff member who you think might have stories and begin building a relationship with them. Program staff are busy and sometimes reluctant to share stories, so make it easy for them. Also, show them how the story will be used so they can be comfortable knowing we aren’t going to cross any moral or confidentiality lines. Consider asking for a little testimonial/statement in your remittance device and then have a volunteer make calls to follow up and get more info.

There are a few critical elements to a donor communication chart – but the most important part is to have one and use it! Make sure it has the purpose of the piece specified, the recipients, the segments, and the drop date listed. This will not only help you keep track of what you did before, but also eliminates some of the chaos if you agree on these areas ahead of time. Segmentation is the most difficult and time consuming part of donor communication, but also the most critical. You MUST talk to your donors in the way they identify with you. If they’re a volunteer, thank them for their time! If they’re a major or monthly donor, acknowledge their support before asking them for anything else. It’s okay to ask people to give more than once, but if you don’t start with gratitude, you won’t get very far.