What causes some nonprofits to receive reliable funding and bring in revenue that enables growth? There are many factors at play, but a strong communications strategy is one of the most essential components.

Fundraising relies on building relationships with supporters, which means nonprofits looking to earn more should focus on their approach to donor communication.

A communications strategy is all about understanding why people donate and utilizing that knowledge to talk to your supporters. So, why do people donate to charity? While reporting on your nonprofit’s effectiveness is important, it’s more impactful to connect with donors through their values and identity. 

In this guide, we’ll break down how to develop your messaging, create your plan, coordinate your staff, and start communicating better with your supporters and community.

1. Define and refine your workflow.

One of the most vital things to do in nonprofit marketing communications is to create a solid workflow. How do you and your team get things done? 

At a small nonprofit where your staff members wear many hats, it’s easy for things to fall between the cracks. To stay organized, you need a streamlined way to communicate internally and get things done.

Identify your team

This may seem simple, especially if you’re a small team or a team of one, but it’s important to make sure you know who’s on your communications team and assign each person a specific role. You may have turnover or changing roles and responsibilities, so hammering out who is on your team and what they are responsible for makes it much easier to communicate with each other.

Use these strategies to build a strong communication team: 

  • Identify your members. For smooth communications, you’ll want to assemble a team of people who can meet regularly. If you have a volunteer who’s awesome at creating videos or a staff member who is a social media savant, get them on your team. The more talent you can assemble, the better your communications will be.
  • Assign roles. Make sure everyone knows what their job is. Lines often become blurred at nonprofits, especially when you have lots of people filling in wherever necessary. Appoint a designated captain for every important tool of communication.
  • Create a collaborative environment. Part of building a team is also building an environment where that team can thrive. Rather than just appointing members of your staff and hoping they figure it out themselves, work with your team to create a workflow that benefits everyone. 

Remember, what works for one nonprofit’s communications team might not work for another. When developing your team’s work process, leverage tools such as project management software or an editorial calendar to assign tasks, set deadlines, and streamline communication. If you run into bumps in the road, meet with your team to figure out if there’s a better way to stay organized, whether that involves using your planning tools or not. 

Schedule a standing meeting

A communications plan is a living, breathing thing. To keep your team on the same page, schedule a standing communications meeting. You can move it from week to week as needed. How often you meet with your team is up to you, but at least once a month is a good start.

Make sure you send out an agenda so you can stay on track, and assign someone the task of taking and distributing notes. This will develop a sense of accountability for your team and create a reference for them in case anyone forgets what was decided at a meeting.

2. Develop several key messages to motivate supporters. 

Key messages are broad, high-level concepts and statements about the work your nonprofit does. People ultimately care just as much about what you do as why you do it. Your key messages are your nonprofit’s why, and they will resonate with supporters who share similar ideals, principles, and values.

To build connections with supporters that lead to donations, long-term retention, and even advocacy on your nonprofit’s behalf, purposefully weave these key messages into your communications plan. 

Most often, these messages are in your nonprofit’s mission statement. However, programmatic priorities may change from year to year, so think about the driving force behind your nonprofit this specific year. For example, an environment-focused nonprofit dedicated to promoting biodiversity might highlight a specific species or stretch of land they plan to focus on protecting this year. 

3. Identify opportunities for timely messages. 

Your overarching communications strategy will focus on your key messages, but there are also opportunities to connect with donors over time-specific events and news. For example, you might share with your donors:

These messages allow you to get more into the nitty-gritty of what your nonprofit is all about. They provide supporters with specific examples of your nonprofit’s values and how you’re putting them into action. 

4. Choose your communication channels. 

What channels are you using to talk to your supporters? Your primary communication channels will include a few standard tools, such as your website and social media accounts. But don’t overlook other important but more unorthodox channels for your nonprofit. For instance, if your nonprofit has a brick-and-mortar facility and in-person touchpoints through your lobby are frequent and important, be sure to include them in your communications plan. 

5. Research your audiences.

Who are you talking to? This step is a jumping-off point for audience segmentation. Break down your audiences into specific categories that go a bit more in-depth than just “donors” and “non-donors.” 

Your list of different audiences will help you further hone in on who you’re talking to and how you’re speaking with them so you can make your communications feel more specific and personal.

What is audience segmentation?

Simply put, audience segmentation is separating your general audience into groups so you can talk more specifically about their interests and the relationship they have with your organization.

People respond better to communications when they feel personal. This goes beyond a personalized greeting in an email. Personalized communications also involve referencing supporters’ past involvement history and making reasonable donation requests. For example, you would want to avoid emailing a major donor a request for $20. 

Kwala’s guide to donor communications recommends a few ways you segment your audience to ensure you appeal to their specific interests:

  • Age
  • Donation frequency
  • Donation size
  • Donation type
  • Volunteer status

When you send an email, tailor it to each of your donor lists. You don’t need to send a radically different email, but changing a few lines to be more specific to the audience can make a huge difference in your response rate. 

6. Set your communications goals.

To measure the success of your communications, you’ll need to set goals specific to your communications efforts. Think about how your communications efforts can assist your larger goals. For example, here are a few common goals nonprofits often have for their communications strategy:

  • Increase their social media presence
  • Expand their email list
  • Experiment with new promising communication methods like video
  • Improve their website traffic
  • Increase brand recognition 

Choose a goal, then break it down into actionable steps. For instance, many nonprofits often aim to increase supporter retention. You might then specify that you will do this by improving your donor appreciation strategy. 

After doing some research, you may then decide to first start with your thank-you letters. eCardWidget’s donor thank-you letter guide emphasizes the impact this approach can have on retention: “[Letters show] donors that you’re putting effort into your relationship with them and that you care about making them feel good about their choice to donate to you.”

Essentially, a personalized thank-you letter allows you to connect with donors through their identity and values, as discussed previously. 

From there, you might then monitor your retention rate for new donors or experiment with differently worded thank-you letters to see if one of them has a stronger impact on your audience. 

A strong communications plan has consistent messages, is tailored to your donors, and helps your nonprofit accomplish its future goals. To get started planning your communications strategy, assess your organization and your audience to connect with them on a personal level through their individual values and interests.

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