Forming Long-Term Relationships with Supporters: 4 Benefits

Forming Long-Term Relationships with Supporters: 4 Benefits

New donors help your nonprofit grow. After all, with each new support, your nonprofit should logically see increases in total revenue coming in. However, this is only true if you’re also retaining the supporters you currently have. While acquiring new supporters is important, there are many often overlooked benefits to forging long-term relationships with your existing donors. 

Retaining supporters requires a mix of appreciation strategies, strong communication practices, and a continued dedication to fulfilling your mission. While this can take quite a bit of effort, in exchange your nonprofit will begin forming relationships that can potentially span decades and enjoy all of the benefits those long-term connections bring. 

To help your nonprofit understand how investing in these long-term relationships can make a difference, we’ll explore four tangible benefits your nonprofit can look forward to:

  1. Reliable support. 
  2. Increased value. 
  3. More networking opportunities. 
  4. Greater return on investment. 

Remember that these long-term relationships often start small. For example, a supporter who joins your recurring donations program might need to make a few donations to make up the return on investment spent on marketing to attract them to your nonprofit. However, with patience, those donations can add up to fund much more. 

1. Reliable support. 

Having to guess if your nonprofit will have enough funding to continue one of your initiatives is never an enjoyable experience. Most nonprofits experience fluctuations in revenue from month to month based on the time of year, their current campaigns, and their overall success at bringing in new donors. 

Fortunately, with long-term donors, your nonprofit can look forward to reliable support on a routine basis. Here are just a few ways your long-term donors can continually support you:

  • Routine donations. Having a stable revenue stream allows your nonprofit to more accurately plan your budget. With reliable donations, your nonprofit will be able to allocate your spending for future growth and have a cushion to fall back on if another fundraiser falls short. 
  • Campaign support. New donors want to support campaigns they know will succeed. When you host a campaign, your long-term supporters will chip in and their contributions will make new supporters feel more confident giving as well. This is especially true when your total raised is visible to supporters, such as during the public phase of a capital campaign
  • Event attendance. Events are at their most fun and successful when there are enough guests to participate in your activities, socialize with each other, and donate if it’s a fundraiser. Your long-term, dedicated supporters are often also reliable event attendees, and their regular presence at your events can help build a sense of community and make event management easier for your planning team. 

Not all of your long-term supporters will participate in your nonprofit’s activities the same way or to the same extent. But whether they’re a dedicated fan of your organization who attends every event you host or someone who quietly donates each month, their regular support gives you the ability to keep your current operations sustainable, while also looking to the future. 

2. Increased value. 

Few donors make major gifts to nonprofits they’re just getting acquainted with. Long-term relationships are essential for earning the major gifts that make up the backbone of many nonprofits’ fundraising revenue. 

Mid-level donors also tend to give more the longer their relationship with a nonprofit lasts. The longer a donor has been with your organization, the deeper their investment in your cause becomes, and the more receptive they are to requests for increased support. 

Here are a few ways you can earn more from your moderate donors: 

  • Increased gift amounts. Mid-level donors often increase their support over the course of their relationship with a nonprofit. For example, a donor who gives $10 a month will likely be receptive to a request asking for $15 a month after they’ve been with your nonprofit for a significant amount of time. 
  • Likelihood of participating in multiple fundraisers. Supporters who are familiar with your nonprofit and your usual fundraising methods may become interested in supporting you in other ways as well. This can include volunteering, but also making additional monetary contributions such as buying your merchandise, supporting you through passive fundraising opportunities, or seeing if they qualify for a matching gift.
  • Planned giving opportunities. Planned giving is not as commonly discussed as other giving methods, but it can help nonprofits gain significant funding, and long-term relationships are vital to its success. NPOInfo’s charitable giving statistics found that for donors to enroll in a planned giving program, nonprofits often need to have decades long relationships with them, usually starting in a donor’s 50s or 60s, rather than later in life. 

To track your supporters’ contributions over the years, make sure to note their donations and participation in fundraisers and events in their donor profiles in your CRM. This way, you’ll know exactly where each donor is in their donor journey and be able to ask for a donation increase at the right moment. 

3. More networking opportunities. 

As mentioned, your current supporters can often attract new donors to your cause. Seeing an active community around your nonprofit will make your organization seem healthy and successful, which will make new donors more comfortable donating. Additionally, your long-term supporters can also take active steps to grow your nonprofit network, such as:

  • Word-of-mouth marketing. If there are two nonprofits you’re unfamiliar with, you might be unsure which to donate to. However, if a friend or family member vouches for one, you’re far more likely to consider donating to it—or at least spend the time learning more. With long-term relationships, your supporters are likely to participate in word-of-mouth marketing, improving your nonprofit’s reputation while attracting new interest from their friends and family. 
  • Peer-to-peer campaigns. Peer-to-peer campaigns leverage your supporters’ relationships as they fundraise on behalf of your nonprofit. Then, rather than giving to an organization they’re unfamiliar with, new donors will give to a trusted friend or family member. Plus, with social media, your supporters will be able to reach out to a large online network of their friends and followers. 
  • Prospective donors introductions. Your major donors have made an investment in your nonprofit, and some of them may be interested in getting their similarly affluent friends and family interested in your cause. Major donors who you have a long-term connection with can make introductions between you and their personal friends, which can get these relationships off to a strong start. Plus, if you’ve discovered a potential major donor through wealth prospecting, you can see if you have any donor with pre-existing relationships who would be willing to set up an introduction for you.

Remember that donors are most likely to help your nonprofit network when they have a strong relationship with your organization. Create a positive donor experience for all of your supporters to ensure that when they discuss your nonprofit with friends and family, they’ll have many positives to share. 

4. Greater return on investment. 

Attracting new donors is expensive. For each new donor you attract to your cause, you’ll need to spend time and resources researching your target audience, creating marketing materials, and tracking your engagement rates. 

To earn another donation from a new supporter, you’ll need to go through the process again, but once a donor has already learned about your nonprofit and decided to donate, there’s no need to go back to square one. Instead, you can continue the donor journey to lead them towards their next donation. 

This means that encouraging your current donors to continue giving is ultimately more cost-effective than bringing in new donors. While you should continue your donor outreach efforts, don’t forget to keep stewarding your current donors. 

CharityEngine’s guide to monthly giving walks through a few basic strategies for identifying and stewarding long-term supporters:

  • Identify recurring giving candidates. Once you have basic information about a supporter, such as their contact and giving information, you can determine how likely they are to become a long-term supporter. For example, you might not have much success with a supporter who gave once during a peer-to-peer campaign, whereas a supporter who already gives in significant amounts on an annual basis is likely a strong candidate for your monthly giving program. If you aren’t completely sure about your donor’s eligibility for perks like corporate sponsorships or matching gifts, data appending services can help you fill in the gaps.
  • Show appreciation. After a supporter gives, show your appreciation with a thank you message. Nonprofits can benefit from setting up automatic thank you messages for supporters who donate online, but there are other ways you can say thank you, such as sending donors a card, sharing the impact their donation will make, or even calling them on the phone for a quick conversation to show your appreciation. 
  • Collect supporter feedback. Why do your donors support your nonprofit? By collecting feedback straight from your supporters, you won’t need to guess why your supporters have stuck around. Plus, the sheer act of asking can help many supporters feel acknowledged and appreciated. 

Compared to the marketing required to attract a new donor, these steps require few resources other than your time and a robust CRM system. While you should still work to attract new donors, taking these additional steps can help retain your current base and ensure you receive a return on your marketing investment. 

Your supporters ensure your nonprofit is able to continue fulfilling its mission, and your long-term supporters have made the greatest investment in your cause. By maintaining these important connections, your nonprofit can look forward to reliable support, increased revenue, and opportunities to grow your organization. Use your donor management tools to keep an eye open for ways to build and maintain these relationships with your long-term supporters. Good luck!

Author: Leigh Kessler

Leigh Kessler is VP of Marketing and Communications at donor management software platform CharityEngine and a frequent speaker on branding, fundraising, data and technology.  He is a former nationally touring headline comedian and has appeared on numerous TV shows including VH1’s “Best Week Ever”, CNN’s “Showbiz Tonight”, Discovery Channel & Sirius Radio.​ He has overseen and informed research and branding strategies for some of the most well known brands in America.