Tracks to Success
Effective Communication with Prospects and Donors
by Judith B. Margolin
Fundraising is all about relationships; relationships are based on trust; and trust derives from productive communication. A key element of communication with prospects and donors is that it be donor-centric. In other words, you have learned as much as possible about your audience and put yourself in that individual’s shoes (having asked yourself: “what’s in it for them?”). Then you deliver only messages of interest to that particular recipient. This strategy will greatly enhance your future communications and put you on the fast track to initial funding and repeat support.
Your ultimate goal in communication is to establish a partnership with your funder. What is meant by a partnership? For the grantee, this means being sensitive not only to your organization’s own interests but to those of your funder as well. To the funder, being a full partner with you means that they have confidence in you and pride in their affiliation with and support of your organization.
Who is your audience?
The thing to keep in mind is that one message will definitely not suit all. When it comes to fundraising, your audience’s needs may be diverse:
- Individual donors often want to change the world or a little piece of it by their gift to your organization. They want to feel good about what they are doing.
- Foundations want to “move the issue forward.” They want their grant to have a multiplier effect, and they view it as an investment.
- Corporations want positive public relations, to build their customer base, provide volunteer outlets for their employees, and enhance the communities where they operate.
- Entrepreneurs, or the new breed of “social” investors, want to see results. They respond best to big, bold ideas, and they want to be “hands on” with your organization, perhaps more than you really want them to be.
- And reporters or other members of the media (not actual donors, but a gateway to increased visibility and potential future support) want a good, fresh story, which no one has reported on before.
It may well require completely different kinds of messages in a variety of formats to engage each of these audience bases.
What about your message?
There are some very simple rules about that:
- Keep it simple. Rely more on short quotes, photos, and images than lengthy paragraphs.
- Less is more. Don’t use two words where one will do. Assume the reader may not go beyond paragraph one.
- Do not send out any kind of message unless you really have something of substance to say.
- Don’t always ask for money in every single communique from your organization. Sometimes messages are just informational.
Who’s doing the communicating?
Any of the following may be communicating with prospects and/or donors on behalf of your organization: professional staff, board members, volunteers, consultants, friends of the organization, those who have benefited from your services. It is critical that all of these communicators know what to say and when to say it. Having talking points or an “elevator speech,” plus a cheat sheet that highlights your organization’s accomplishments in bullet fashion will help.
Which format will you use?
This is a highly individual question. It’s possible you will use a different communication vehicle depending both on the message you need to deliver and the audience you are targeting. There are many vehicles available to you today and lots of choices to make. Options include formal letters, personal notes, print newsletters, e-blasts, your website, social media, in-person meetings, site visits, non-business events. You will need to pick and choose carefully, and most of all try to avoid “donor fatigue” by not sending the same message over and over. How frequently you communicate with donors is something you should constantly be asking yourself. There’s a fine line between being transparent and informative and coming across as a pest.
There are certain characteristics that effective prospect/donor communications have in common. These are:
- Providing opportunities for feedback so that you can listen to your audience.
- Telling your donors and prospects only what they need to know, in a format they prefer, and in a manner that is compelling and readable.
- Telling a story whenever possible, demonstrating benefits to the audience you serve.
- Establishing a connection between your organization and the funder, so that they have the sense that they have chosen to be part of your extended family.
Good luck with future communication efforts with prospects and donors. You can do it!
This article was edited by Julie Kaufman. If you have any questions, comments, suggestions, useful tips, or are interested in writing a series for us, please email our Research team, or call our toll-free number: 877-784-7268.