Digital Donor Stewardship: 4 Tactics to Build Better Relationships Online

Philip Manzano • May 02, 2019

We all know donor stewardship is about relationships. And when people think of relationships, they often think about in-person connections – and maybe phone calls.

But have you considered the digital world?

Most people would agree that digital connections are seen as colder and less personal. While there is truth to that, they still have an important role in donor stewardship, and the best part? Digital efforts scale easier than anything else you could do. You can continue to steward your donors just as well with these tactics with 100 donors or with 10,000 donors.

These 4 tactics will help you connect better with your donors, ensuring they’re going to support you over the long haul, and most importantly, become advocates for your organization.

Digital Donor Stewardship Tactic #1: Email Automation

It seems like an oxymoron to put donor stewardship and automation in the same sentence, but bear with me.

One of the biggest things I see lacking at many nonprofits is the ability to show appreciation to their new donors quickly.

You know it’s important to send a note in the mail, maybe it’s hand-written, and maybe even a phone call – but this process is slow. For some organizations, maybe yours, it can even be weeks until a proper acknowledgment has been made. If this sounds like you, you’re leaving a huge opportunity on the table.

When is someone MOST excited to be engaging with you? It’s during and just after making their donation. You can capitalize on that good feeling, and elevate it by immediately interacting.

In addition, we assume your communications and programs are so good that there’s no such thing as “buyer’s remorse” for your nonprofit. But on some level, every donor will take a split second to think, “did I make the right choice with my money?” email automation, you’re able to set up a trigger for when they submit a specific form, make a donation, or simply when they’ve just been added to the list manually, to automatically send an email. Most email service providers, including Keela, MailChimp, and many others will be able to do this.

The technology doesn’t matter, the important part is that you’re doing it.

If you’re not acknowledging donors right away, you’re leaving their feelings after donating up to chance. That enthusiasm they feel can be reinforced by your acknowledgment, or it might fizzle out. Automation allows you to react quickly with a personalized message to control that reflection period. By using this email to thank them, reiterate the impact of their donation, and make the conversation more personal, you’re able to reaffirm in their mind that they absolutely made the right decision.

Digital Donor Stewardship Tactic #2: Donor Feature Campaigns

A donor feature campaign is when you take the time to feature the story of one or more of your donors through your content online.

You may have done this in some capacity in the past. Perhaps you had a big donation come in, or a corporate sponsor, and you felt inspired (or obligated) to share about it in an article or newsletter.

But I want you to think about this as a critical strategy for consistent donor stewardship online, regardless of the type of donor, and here’s why:

  • It shows them that you appreciate their contribution beyond just a thank you note.
  • It gives them more reason to share the experience, and your nonprofit, with their family and friends. Inspiring more of that good ol’ word-of-mouth.
  • It builds a sense of community and your supporters get to “meet” the other people involved in your organization.
  • It shows your entire community that you value and appreciates donors in general, even if everyone won’t be individually featured.
  • It’s entertaining! We would be nothing if it weren’t for our people – and I’m sure your donors have some interesting stories. Ask them questions, and feature those stories.

As an example, check out this fantastic article from Doctors without Borders. One of their supporters, a doctor, and painter, held an event to sell his paintings at a cafe in Vancouver to fundraise for the organization. A unique story that showcases a donor and their dedication to the mission.

So you’re convinced. You need to make this a regular activity. Donor feature campaigns can be as simple as mentioning and thanking them on social media, as elaborate as a video interview, or anywhere in between.

Just remember, that you’re doing this to build community as well as connect with that individual donor.

Digital Donor Stewardship Tactic #3: Reporting and Story-Based Content

So you’ve thanked your donor, and you’ve told them how their money will be used. The other essential piece of stewardship is actually reporting on what you’ve done. This is when things get real.

If you can prove that the money did get put to good use, then you’ll have people lining up to come back and donate.

There are a number of ways to do this, the most common is an annual report. But I would urge you to think about your overall communications and content strategy and see if you can provide reporting and success stories on a more frequent basis. With only 1 chance out of the year, an annual report often gets filed away and doesn’t keep donors inspired throughout the year.

Reporting on the success of programs and your impact should be done at every level of content, starting with micro-content on social media. You can share simple pictures or a quick message about “helping 200 children” at your event, for example.

To take it deeper, share articles on your blog every month about the impact that donations and volunteers are having. These “results” can be a mixture of data, the numbers of impact, and the emotion and stories.

And then the final level would be right into that long-form annual report or even video summaries of programs or events. The key is really to think about consistency, and painting the picture of impact throughout all types of content.

Digital Donor Stewardship Tactic #4: One-to-One Video and Audio Messages

While not a common technique (yet) it’s one that I can’t leave out. There are several ways you can send direct, personalized messages to your donors that aren’t a phone call or letter in the mail.

Thanks to the smartphone in your pocket and a few handy apps, you’re able to send direct messages to your donors like never before.

Audio messages can be sent through text, or through direct messages on Instagram (a nifty feature I’ve been playing with recently). Personally, I’ve been using audio messages to connect a little more deeply with new followers by saying hello and asking a question. However, it’s not always easy to find your new donors on Instagram, which means there might be a better option for nonprofits.

In light of people feeling less personally connected online, and content marketing that can only go so far with generic “about us” or “thank you” videos, one-to-one video messages is the next big shift. Apps like Bonjoro or Loom allow you to quickly record a video with your smartphone or laptop, host it on their platform, and send a link to your new donor to watch the video.

You see, receiving a video that someone recorded just for you is an incredible experience. Not only because of the gesture, but because of the content and personal connection, it creates.

I believe this is really the beginning of a new wave of online communications.

You can see in this example how The Y was able to thank their donors Lyn and Rick through a personalized video.

If you’re looking for something to stand out with your donor stewardship, I believe personalized video is how you can do it. It’s taking online connections to the next level, one that’s infinitely more personal than before.

How many of these tactics are you using? Do you feel that you can really create proper relationships online? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

About the Author

Joel Harrison’s mission is to spread ideas that help people rally together to change our world. He is an entrepreneur, writer, podcaster, and the founder of Methodic Content, a nonprofit marketing agency providing creative services and communication strategies to nonprofits.

Instagram: @joelmharrison

Twitter: @joelmharrison