October 28, 2013  |  by Brianna McKinney

Solved: 5 Donor Problems Nonprofits Face

I read a brief article today in The NonProfit Times and it inspired me to write this post. Having worked with many nonprofits, including volunteering my time on the management side, the issue it addressed sounded all too familiar. Nonprofits are so busy carrying out the missions of their organizations that, despite their good intentions, they sometimes ineffectively communicate with a variety of constituents, or fail to do so entirely.

The article addressed issues specific to a nonprofit’s donor audience, citing 5 Donor Problems for Nonprofits from the book “Almost Isn’t Good Enough” by Wayne Elsey, founder and CEO of Soles4Souls. What I find exhilarating is that each of these five issues can be addressed with consistent and relevant communications efforts, enabling nonprofits to do more great work towards positive social change. Outlined below are the five issues and a brief overview of how a few essential marketing and public relations efforts can help nonprofits address them with finesse.

Donor Problem: “I can’t find you online.”

Solutions: SEO (Search Engine Optimization), Content Marketing, and PR (Public Relations).

A simple acronym for a not-so-simple endeavor, SEO involves link building, keyword research, inbound linking, meta tagging, and more. Fortunately, there are some other things you can do to move the needle if you don’t have budget to hire or contract an SEO expert.

Content marketing and public relations activities hugely support SEO initiatives for nonprofits as they provide meaningful content for search engines like Google to find. Blogging, video creation, and social media are three forms of content marketing that are excellent for creating and sharing information and stories about your nonprofit online. Historically, organizations have been rewarded by Google based on the amount of content they produce and the density of the keywords found in that content. Today, with Google’s latest major algorithm update, Hummingbird, the search engine is rewarding better and more relevant content over the sheer volume of content. The good news here is that while nonprofits certainly need to create fresh content often, there’s no need for a hair-on-fire, must-post-five-times-per-day panic.

Additionally, the PR initiatives of press release writing and dissemination, as well as pitching articles to be written by professional journalists create links back to your site from credible, third party sources. This is called inbound linking and is an important variable that is used to rank websites. Nonprofits also have access to Google AdWords via the Google Grant program, allowing them to advertise on Google. There are so many other ways to make it easy for your donors to find you online, but hopefully this gives you a good starting point.

Donor Problem: “I don’t understand what you do.”

Solution: Messaging, Messaging.

Think you already have this nailed? Consider the following. You love your nonprofit and live and breathe its mission every single day. You know the ins and outs of all you do, including the messiness that comes along with nearly each and every staff member wearing multiple hats to stretch your limited budget. The problem is that because of this combo of passion and organized frenzy, nonprofits often can’t see the forest for the trees (as they say) and the messiness seeps into their messaging.

Crafting messaging for your own organization is hard. I know this not only because I’ve seen it with each and every client for whom I’ve created messaging, but also because I am in the process of repositioning my own company’s message. It’s much easier and more effective to outsource this piece to a 3rd party communications organization that can offer a less biased perspective. It is for this very same reason that we go to our trusted friends for advice when facing challenges and choices in our personal lives. Boiling down what your nonprofit does into one simple and concise message that is easily understood by anyone will help position your organization seamlessly in all communications efforts. It will also help your existing donors share your story and value with ease.

Donor Problem: “It’s difficult to get more information.”

Solution: Be transparent and available.

Proactively providing easily digestible information to constituents is key to spreading a nonprofit’s mission and work. Be transparent on your website – the more information you provide, the better. If you’re having trouble coming up with what to include, get together with your colleagues and brainstorm the questions most asked by your donor base, including donors, donor advisors, and foundation grantmakers. Then, answer them through content on your website. Foundation grantmakers in particular research information about a nonprofit directly on their website, rather than relying on information from third party certification organizations such as the Better Business Bureau (Nonprofit Quarterly).

Once you make information more available on your website, tell current and potential donors it’s there. Use all of the communications channels at your fingertips to do drive your audience to your newly-improved website: email, direct mail, social media, a blog post, video, and more. Communicating using all of these channels allows members of your audience to engage with you based on their unique style and preference.

Additionally, be available. If a potential donor contacts your organization to request information, get back to him or her within 24 hours. A phone call is optimal, as additional questions often come up that can be best answered through a conversation. In today’s online world, a call also adds a personal touch that can separate your nonprofit apart from other organizations the donor may be considering.

Donor Problem: “I never hear from you except when you want me to give.”

Solution: Give as much as you receive.

While nonprofits obviously cannot literally give back to donors in a monetary way, they can certainly keep them apprised of how their donations are serving their communities. For example, start a newsletter that regularly communicates with your donor audience throughout the year to keep them emotionally connected to your organization. In this newsletter, include success stories, pictures of your work, past event reports, upcoming events, and volunteer opportunities. Map out a calendar with deadlines to help your organization make it a priority. I’d recommend sending a newsletter like this once per quarter, at a minimum.

Also, acknowledge that not all of your donors are online or enjoy email communications, particularly our elderly population. Direct mail is an excellent way to make sure you keep all donors informed on a consistent basis, and should be used in addition to online communications. I can attest to this as for one of the nonprofit organizations for which I have volunteered in many capacities, I know of a very large donor and volunteer who cannot stand email. This key donor very often refuses to read it and we therefore communicate with this individual almost entirely by phone and direct mail.

In this era of economic recovery, donors are carefully choosing where to give their money. When they know their donations of are being utilized wisely and for a cause they believe in, they are more likely to continue giving.

Donor Problem: “It’s impossible for me to get involved beyond giving money.”

Solution: Smart segmentation.

Nonprofits likely have their contact databases segmented by contact type, with two separate segments being donors and volunteers. This makes sense on the surface as it is sometimes assumed that donors donate because they have no time or interest in volunteering, and volunteers do so because they have time and are lacking funds to donate. This is not the case, however, and separating the two audiences and communicating with donors about donations and volunteers about volunteering is likely stifling your organization’s donation potential.

A third database segment is needed – volunteers AND donors. The 2012 Bank of America Study of High Net Worth Philanthropy noted that 89% of wealthy individuals volunteered their time to nonprofits in 2011. This means that yes, your donors DO want to volunteer! They just need the information to help them get involved. When a nonprofit can further engage a donor as a volunteer, that donor becomes primed for giving additional donations. Through their volunteerism, they deepen their commitment to the organization and begin to believe more in its mission and work.

By investing time and/or funds in proactive marketing and PR efforts, nonprofits will very likely discover how increasing donor communication translates into an increased volunteer base, increased donor retention, larger donation amounts, and increased donation frequency.