I often find myself encouraging our nonprofit clients to spend the month of February “loving up” donors and volunteers. I’ve realized that some don’t know what I mean by that. “Bruce,” they say, “We just sent them a thank you letter. Isn’t that enough? I don’t want to bother them.”

    Don’t get me wrong, saying thank you is always important. But loving up your donors and volunteers takes it a step further. 

    Your organization is in a relationship with your volunteers and donors (especially long-time donors). Just like any relationship, it takes investment of time and emotion, not just form letters and plaques. What does love look like in a donor-nonprofit relationship?

    1. It looks like getting to know each other and staying connected. Have you called a donor just to say thanks and wish them well? Have you invited them for a visit just to share some fun or interesting news – without asking for money? Do you take the time to learn about their families, business and other interests?
    2. It looks like sharing the burden. Don’t be afraid to let a donor know what you really need, and then give them the space to decide how much they can help you with your challenge. Don’t cut them off from that opportunity, or make assumptions about what they should or will do. Plus, you may some day be in a position to help carry their burden by offering advice or expertise.
    3. It looks like staying loyal. No one is saying the donor-nonprofit relationship is a monogamous one, but long-term donors and volunteers have shown their consistent loyalty and trust for your cause. Can you return the favor by showing them how they’ve become “part of the family” for you? (And maybe approach a lapsed pledge with loving concern, rather than a reprimanding letter?)
    4. It looks like being willing to be vulnerable. Have you gone to a donor for advice? Has a volunteer ever needed some of your mentoring or guidance? These vulnerable conversations do much to strengthen the bond between a cause and its supporters. Where can you be more vulnerable with your organization’s best friends?

    Still not sure how to take these big ideas and boil them down to actionable steps? Maybe these will get you started:

    • Send a birthday card to your major donors. If you run a youth-serving organization, bonus points for having kids design/sign the cards.
    • When you read something in the paper about a donor or volunteer (or their company), make sure to drop them a note or give them a call telling them you noticed and offering congratulations or encouragement.
    • Send flowers when a volunteer or donor is going through tough times. Can’t afford flowers? Send a handwritten note.
    • Visit donors at their home or place of business when you can.
    • Make it a point to learn one new thing about a donor or volunteer every time you meet them.
    • When volunteers become part of your board, consider asking “How best do you like to be recognized?” to your orientation process. Some people love public recognition, others loathe it. Respect volunteers by appreciating them in the manner they want.

    What are your favorite strategies for loving up donors and volunteers? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

    Posted by Bruce Berglund on Feb. 7, 2014
    Bruce Berglund

    Written by Bruce Berglund

    Bruce Berglund, CFRE, is the founder and President of DBD Group, a national firm providing comprehensive consulting services to nonprofits, faith-based organizations, colleges and more. Bruce is a highly sought-after writer, speaker and teacher.

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