12 Donor Development Strategies Intelligent Nonprofits Use

The 12 Donor Development Strategies Intelligent Nonprofits Like Yours Use

February 12, 2024
5 minutes
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One of the most important roles in your nonprofit is your development department. It's not quite fundraising, it's not quite events, it's not quite sales, but the strategies that Directors of Development use are the glue that gets donors from the door to the table where they can dig into impact.

What Is Donor Development?

Donor development isn't a cut-and-dried list of "10 Ways to Make Your Donors Love You and Give You Money". It's a strategic process that nonprofit organizations employ to foster and strengthen relationships with their donors—so they'll give more money. The ultimate goal of donor development is to build long-term partnerships with supporters who are invested in the organization's mission and willing to contribute consistently.

It involves implementing various strategies and techniques to attract, engage, retain, and upgrade donors over time. If you need more information after this article, take a look at our donor management guide.

How does donor lifecycle factor into your donor development approach?

The components of your donor development program include your donor's lifecycle, sometimes called a donor development journey. The average donor lifecycle typically consists of five stages: identification, cultivation, solicitation, stewardship, and renewal.

Each stage of the various stages of the donor lifecycle allows your nonprofit organization to build strong and lasting relationships with your donors. Knowing each stage allows you to make the right move at the right time so you don't end up asking a donor to marry your organization on the first date. 

8 Successful Donor Development Strategies for Your Nonprofit

Here they are! Strategies to turn prospective donors into key donors... and maybe even major donors.

  1. Create a donor pipeline
  2. Build personal connections 
  3. Show your appreciation
  4. Recruit volunteers
  5. Tap into donors' FOMO
  6. Build a membership program
  7. Hire a Director of Development
  8. Host a stewardship event

1. Build a donor pipeline

A donor pipeline is one of the most boring but useful pieces of well-structured fundraising efforts. It's literally just a list (or donor database) of potential donors, current donors, and major donors. When you have time or you need to work on donor relations, turn to that list first. 

Here are some key steps in building a successful donor pipeline:

  1. Identify your target audience
  2. Create donor segments
  3. Move donors through the pipeline.

2. Make personal connections

One of the most fun parts of being a fundraiser or a Development Director is getting to build deeper relationships with your donor community. And the more personal those relationships get, the more $upportive your donor community grows. 

3. Show your appreciation

This is where you get to put yourself into your donors' shoes and think about how you'd like someone to show your appreciation. And then you actually get to do it. Send a card, make a phone call, do something totally unique and creative!

4. Recruit volunteers

Yes, maybe your volunteers will turn into donors. Or maybe if you ask your donors to volunteer, they'll get more invested in your cause. They'll see other ways they can make an impact beyond just donating money. They can get to know your constituents and understand the unique obstacles your programs face. 

5. Tap into the FOMO

Everyone these days is itching to be a part of something bigger than themselves. No one wants to miss out on the next big thing—and what could be bigger than a better world? Use pop-up forms as a donor strategy to ask donors to give at the peak moment of your nonprofit's story. 

6. Offer an exclusive membership

Not only do people want to be part of something bigger than themselves, they also want to be part of something that not everyone can get into. And while we always favor inclusivity, building a membership program that facilitates donor relationships, encourages giving, and showcases impact could be one of your most successful fundraising efforts.

7. Hire a Development Director

If you don't have time to do all (or any) of these components of donor development yourself, it's probably time to hire someone who can turn first-time donors into your biggest donors. Some things that a Director of Development can help with (and the larger development team you have, the more they can handle!):

  1. Build and maintain a comprehensive donor database
  2. Manage consistent donor engagement
  3. Modernize current donor development strategies
  4. Run a donor cultivation program
  5. Incorporate donor feedback into donor management systems
  6. Cultivate major donors and corporate donors

Executive fundraising coach Mallory Erickson had this to say on the Nonstop Nonprofit podcast: 

"...your job as a fundraiser is to identify the people who do who share the desire to impact the world the way that your organization impacts the world ... find them and identify them and then to speak to them in that shared language." –Mallory Erickson

8. Host a donor stewardship event

It's a party, and your donors are invited. But rather than a fundraising event, this one is a stewardship event! Just a little party to show donor appreciation, make sure that they want to continue supporting your cause, and demonstrate the impact they've made possible.

Donor Development Tricks

Every magician needs a few tricks up their sleeves, and considering that donor relations is close to magical, your organization needs a couple of donor engagement strategy rabbits to pull out of your hat.

Use AI to further your donor development efforts

ChatGPT isn't the only AI on the block—in addition to Funraise's AppealAI tool, there are other tools, apps, and GPTs in the OpenAI store that your organization can use to make supporting your org a no-brainer for general donors, mid-tier donors, and major donors alike. 

Leverage your donor database 

This is hands-down the most intelligent way that nonprofits do everything involved in donor relations. From making meaningful connections for donor relationships to delivering impact reports to taking in fundraising dollars to increasing your acquisition rate and conversion rate, your donor database offers additional insight into this critical process.

Personalize donor communications

Personalizing donor communications sounds easier than it is. You can use automation and variables in your text and email marketing for nonprofits, or you can build personalized communications (which is probably the best way for major donors), or you can do a combination of both. 

Automate tasks for donor development campaigns

If you or your Development Director has a portfolio of donors to cultivate, setting automated tasks will be a key method to a smooth donor relations plan. If your organization uses a platform like Funraise, you can automate tasks based on donor activity and never miss an opportunity to appreciate a donor again. 

Donor Development FAQ (from our AI friends)

What's the difference between donor cultivation, stewardship, and development?

Donor cultivation refers to the process of building relationships with potential donors who have shown an initial interest in the organization's cause or mission. Once you've cultivated, it's time to steward: donor stewardship involves acknowledging and showing appreciation for donors' contributions. And donor development encompasses both. 

Donor development strategies for small donors

While major donors often receive a significant amount of attention, small donors also play a crucial role in supporting nonprofits. Personalized emails, requests to join a members-only program, or social media shoutouts are great development strategies for small donors.

Donor development strategies for mid-level donors

Midlevel donors are not only willing to contribute financially but also possess the potential to become major donors in the future. Invite them to stewardship events, send donor anniversary congratulations, or make a quick phone call.

Donor development strategies for major donors

Major donors, also known as high-net-worth individuals, play a significant role in providing substantial financial support to these organizations. Developing strong relationships with major donors requires thoughtful research and planning, coffee or in-person meetings, or impact-baring trips.

Donor development strategies for corporate donors

Corporate donors have the resources and influence to make big, long-term impact on various causes. However, securing corporate donations requires a strategic approach that goes beyond traditional fundraising methods, including specialized outreach and networking, sponsorship opportunities, and even matching grant proposals.

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