News & Press: Member Insights

32 Donor Marketing Best Practices to Grow Your Fundraising in 2020

Friday, November 8, 2019  

It’s that time of year again. Time to start thinking past the holiday fundraising blitz and into your charity’s fundraising opportunities in 2020.

TrueSense Marketing is excited to share with you the top fundraising best practices for 2020. Use these tips and tactics to win, keep, and lift even more donors and move them from a transactional to a transformational commitment to your mission.

The Top 32 Fundraising Best Practices and New Trends to Help Your Charity Grow in 2020.

1. Coordinate communications within your organization across departments, partners, and agencies. In order for all parties to do their best marketing and fundraising work, it is invaluable for them to understand everyone’s roles, responsibilities, vision, strategies, and goals. Bring them all together to share their experiences and work together for the betterment of your programs and organization.
Mimi Natz, Executive Vice President

2. Beware of the next “Pretty Shiny Solution.” It’s easy to get enticed to try something new that promises to make all the difference in your fundraising efforts. Before signing on the dotted line, ask the hard questions. Have we mastered the fundamental elements of fundraising? How will this integrate with our current strategy? Will this save our team time? Who will use this tool? Even the best tool at a bargain price will be a waste of your organization’s resources if you don’t have a well-thought-out plan for using it.
Jacqui Groseth, VP, Client Development

3. Make the effort to enter your whitemail gifts into your donor database. If the donor’s whitemail gift is not recorded in your donor database, then the donor’s gift history will not be accurate, and she will not receive an acknowledgement thanking her for her gift. You want your donors to become long-term transformational supporters of your charity. Don’t lose her trust by not properly maintaining your whitemail records.
Kerri O’Neill, Senior Director

4. Plan your donor marketing investments with both an annual and long-term lens. It is critical to balance your portfolio of costs across your organization. Just like your 401K, taking a six-month break from investing results in not just the loss of the immediate $1K you would have put into the account, but the dollars you won’t see in the future. The decisions you make today don’t only impact the current year — they have the propensity to impact the future. Your direct response programs are just like a portfolio of financial investments and require a multi-faceted, multi-year view when budgeting and managing.

Ask yourselves, “What will cutting back acquisition investment do to long-term revenue, and when will I see the impact? What can I do to balance today’s need to manage costs while keeping my file healthy? Do I need to present a two-year plan in lieu of a one-year plan to help my board understand how we plan to continue to build donors and revenue — especially if severe cuts are requested in the current year?” Work with your agency to design scenarios based on impact and identify ways to replace, build, or rebuild donor value.
Britt Fouks, Managing Director

5. Create synergy with your annual fund program and your gift planning processes by seeking dual marketing opportunities to segments of donors likely to consider a planned gift. The path to planned gifts is paved with annual fund donors. Start by surveying your donors often so you can understand their current level of consideration, and ask if they would like to engage in a gift planning conversation. Data shows a little over 5% of donors have made a planned gift, but 33% said they would consider if they were asked. Furthermore, 70% of those making a planned gift did so because they were asked.
Kurt Worrell, SVP Donor Engagement Team

6. When writing search ad copy, consider what the user’s intent was when they entered their search query. If they’re searching for you by brand name, your organization’s name is likely your strongest copy to lead with. If they’re searching services that your organization provides, it’s usually more effective to lead with those services, followed by your brand name. If they’ve entered a term indicating they’re interesting in volunteering, a donation-focused ad will likely be passed over. All parts of donor marketing should center on the donor’s experience.
Mike Nelsen, SEM Manager

7. Set a clear objective, and then start your strategic thinking from the point of view of the donor. Not channel, not creative, not program, not mission. The value you provide them directly impacts their value to you. What moves your donor to action and how that action is manifested should dictate how, when, and why you communicate with them.
John Thompson, Chief Creative Officer

8. Don’t let your opinions be a backseat driver — let the data guide the strategy. Donors will show you what they like through their action. You are likely not the target audience, so let your audience’s response drive your strategy!
Megan Carder, Managing Director

9. Make story gathering part of your regular routine by sitting down with the people your organization has helped. No one can describe the life-changing impact of your programs quite like a person who used them. Interviewing those people can help you relay their powerful stories in your appeals, newsletters, and thank yous. Really dig in for specific, authentic details that can create a connection between your donor and the person they helped.
Jolene Miklas, Senior Copywriter

10. Prioritize a clean donor database. Nothing makes a loyal donor more upset than when their personal information, gift amount, gift history, etc., is incorrect. Donors want to feel like you are paying attention to them, and when data records aren’t accurate, they take notice. Your donor relationships will go a long way if you invest in a data cleanup and ongoing efforts to maintain it.
Roberta Helmstadter, Account Director

11. D x V x F > R
That is an actual formula for change — created by Richard Beckhard and David Gleicher. Three factors must be present for meaningful change to take place:

  • D = Dissatisfaction with how things are now
  • V = Vision of what is possible
  • F = First concrete steps identified that can be taken toward the vision

If the product of these three factors is greater than R (Resistance), then change is possible.

Times are a-changing in fundraising. So strategies have to change, too! It’s easy to be Dissatisfied with a stagnant or declining revenue line. The hard part is being comfortable with what it takes to change it. Work with your agency partner to form a Vision of what’s possible and to make it actionable through definition of tactical First steps. A shared vision and executable plan can stand up to the Resistance of “the way we’ve always done it” — and get you growing.
Marcy Auman, Executive Vice President

12. Remember that a single compelling story of someone helped is usually more powerful than a statistic — even an impressive statistic. Nothing will do more to help a donor understand what her gift to an organization can do than a well and simply told story of someone who was helped by that organization. The story should be as compelling as possible, and the person helped should be as relatable as possible (learn more by downloading our Storytelling How-To Guide). Tell your story in a way that makes it easy for the donor to slip into the shoes of whomever they are reading about.
Alan Hyams, Senior Copywriter

13. Create meaningful and targeted donor communications through enhanced donor care. Often donor care is focused on managing exclusions, and very little time is spent understanding what the donor cares about — let alone organizing the information in a format that supports data-driven communication that matches the preference and patterns of giving by the donor. A more robust structure for organizing donor preference and psychographics is essential to maximize the growing importance and value of artificial intelligence and affordable customization with digital and print-on-demand technology.
Paul Hebblethwaite, Senior Director

14. Stay the course in a crowded 2020. The level of marketing that takes place during an election year is overwhelming. Rising above the noise to share your organization’s message can seem daunting. But you have a great story to tell. Your organization is meeting needs in your community and people will see that. The timing of donations may fluctuate, but historically they do not take a dramatic drop if you stay the course and share the life-transforming work you do day in and day out, regardless of what year it happens to be.
Jacqui Groseth, VP, Client Development

15. Embrace ephemeral content.The increasing popularity of Instagram Stories proves that the short-lived content trend isn’t going anywhere. 500 million+ Instagram accounts are using Stories every day. In 2020, nonprofits should make sure they’re set up to take advantage of this content type, or risk missing out on impressions from engaged supporters.
Megan Cotter, Social Media Manager

16. Powerful learning algorithms will take over the world of donor segmentation, driving intelligent performance gains and more effective audience management. Simply boosting your RFM (recency, frequency, monetary) segmentation with additional variables will only result in more clutter than clarity and keep you from thinking holistically about your donor’s experience. But organizations who leverage machine learning and artificial intelligence to engage their donors and design meaningful experience pathways will better adapt to an increasingly competitive fundraising market with higher expectations on personalized experiences.
Steve Caldwell, Chief Data Scientist

17. Walk a digital mile in your donors’ shoes. Consider the people who visit your charity’s website. How easy would it be for that visitor to make a gift, sign up to volunteer, or access your 990 or annual report? Are your donation forms straightforward and mobile friendly? Do all of your internal links work? If you’ve done the challenging work of getting a prospective donor onto your site, you don’t want to dissuade their interest due to poor user experience design.
Elyse Haines, Marketing Director

18. Look at your list plan and merge reports strategically if you’re using direct mail as an acquisition channel. Are you maximizing your use of co-op models and minimizing your use of donor files? Usually the duplication rates are high across donor files and you can get those same names at a better cost from co-ops! You can also utilize gift floors and other elements of modeling with co-ops to minimize the quantity of low-value donors you acquire — which is extremely limited with selects from donor files. Additionally, many donor files on the market don’t include donors over $50 or $100. Co-ops don’t have those caps.
Jamie Veltri, Vice President of Acquisition and Media

19. Listen more. Listening makes people feel valued, appreciated, and understood, which is the basis of great relationship building. Make a goal in 2020 to listen more to your donors, board members, coworkers, family, and friends! And when it’s your turn to speak, remember what Rumi said: “Before you speak, let your words pass through three gates. At the first gate, ask yourself, ‘Is it true?’ At the second gate ask, ‘Is it necessary?’ At the third gate ask, ‘Is it kind?’”
Claire Waiksnoris, Business Development Executive

20. Make inroads to your donors through testing. Is your testing as effective as it could and should be? Are you getting the most out of your test dollars? Testing should have a direct link back to your goals and priorities, and every time a test is recommended, we should be able to describe how it will get us closer to our overall goals. Plan ahead, build the testing priorities and assess the incremental value of your testing on the overall program.
Mimi Natz, Executive Vice President

21. Use Marketing Automation Systems to deliver a seamless experience for your donors. To provide that consistent messaging and optimize your campaigns, it takes a high level of effort, manpower, and budget. Marketing Automation Systems are built to handle automation and triggered activities, and streamline online marketing tactics such as email, social media, websites, etc. Without the help of marketing automation, an organization would need multiple highly skilled individuals to perform these digital marketing functions manually.
Natasha Cygnarowicz, Vice President of Digital Operations

22. Ask for advice — you’ll end up with money. In all walks of life, all anyone wants is to be heard/validated — the same holds true with donors. Ask your donors for advice and they will tell you why they are passionate about your nonprofit, why they give, how they prefer to give, etc. Donors should be the focus in your messaging, and by asking them their opinion, they will feel important and appreciated. And when they feel this way, they are more likely to give.
Stacey Schwab, Account Director

23. Donor advised funds (DAF) continue to grow in assets and popularity among donors. Highlights from Fidelity Charitable show the following about their DAF holders:

  • $5.2BB in grants made in 2018 from the fund
  • 142,000 charities getting grants
  • Average is 10.4 gifts per account
  • Average balance is $17,670
  • 60% of gifts represented unrestricted gifts!
  • 92% of all gifts were made with the donor’s name and address to the charity

DAFs provide the donor with tax advantages and convenience. It is critical that your data processes track and recognize DAF donors appropriately. These are some of your more sophisticated annual fund donors, and they deserve special treatment. Ready to get started? Include clear instructions on your appeals of how to give from a DAF, make sure giving forms have a DAF widget, or consider creating DAF-specific appeals to this segment of your file.
Kurt Worrell, SVP Donor Engagement Team

24. Quiet your fear of over-soliciting. If you aren’t giving your donors an opportunity to add to their support of your organization, another charity will be. If a donor isn’t positioned to give at the moment an appeal arrives, that communication can still serve as a reminder that they’ve given to you before, and even share touching insights as to how their past gift made a difference.
Katie Bartman, Account Director

25. Include digital in your donor acquisition strategies. Using digital display or targeting for acquisition might not look good upfront in the P&L, but don’t count out the matchback strategy to see how many donors actually gave but used a different method for their donation.
Robin Nawrocki, Director, WIN Strategy

26. With every appeal, ask yourself if you’re giving your donor a clear way to solve a problem and to feel good doing it. If something is too vague (need, offer, impact, benefits), tighten up your messaging to be more specific.
Jennifer Miller, Creative Director

27. Online fundraising continues to grow, and email remains as one of the primary forces for this trend, accounting for 13% of all online giving according to M+R 2019 Benchmarks Report. Even though email fundraising is as big and important as it is, email revenue decreased by 8% this year. It is continuing to get harder and harder to make it into the inbox and subsequently harder to stand out. As marketers, we must ensure that our optimized email marketing strategy begins at the source — with the data. Ensure that your donor data is as up to date as possible through regular email hygiene and appends to get the most of your email marketing initiatives.
Samantha Jasnos, Senior Digital Strategist

28. Fundraising is a mindset, not a department. From your board of directors to CEO to program leaders to brand marketers, each person in your organization has a role to play in raising funds for your nonprofit. Fundraising should not be limited to the development department alone. Find ways to engage your teammates across the charity in raising funds for your important work.
Jacqui Groseth, VP, Client Development

29. Jumpstart your Facebook ad click-through-rate with video. For one of our clients, we tested videos within Facebook ads versus a standard image. Against a static image, our client’s housefile CTR jumped 82% with the video ads. Across the Facebook fans not already known by the charity, the CTR jumped 40%. Video will become more and more vital to the successful donor marketing of your charity.
Kristen Bocka, Account Director

30. The most successful donor acquisition programs relied on tried and true fundraising strategies. Measure the risk of new acquisition media channels to your overall program. If the anticipated break-even for that new channel is beyond 24 months at roll-out, ask yourself if there are other opportunities in your current media channels that you can expand first. Just because big organizations are doing it doesn’t mean it’s right for you — or even right for them.
Jamie Veltri, Vice President of Acquisition and Media

31. Care more about the donor experience than your department budget. This is hard, I know. We’re all setting individual goals — but I promise, all tides rise when you start thinking holistically! The donor has no idea that one email is coming from the events team and another is coming from the development team — it’s all coming from a singular “YOU.” Treat your organizational strategy that way, and your donors will have a better experience ... and in turn, they will love YOU even more!
Megan Carder, Managing Director

32. All of fundraising should be all about the donor. It’s easy to get bogged down with the daily grind and lose sight of the goal of donor marketing — to build long-term, deep relationships with your donors. In 2020, I challenge you to think about your donor and her experience into each decision you make. By putting her first, you’ll be on your way to cultivating a transformational relationship.
Steven Busheé, President

From all of us at TrueSense Marketing, we hope these tips help you win, keep, lift, and grow deeper relationships with your donors in 2020!


225 W. Wacker Drive | Chicago, IL | 60606