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9 nonprofit communications best practices that stand out

December 10, 2021
Two nonprofit professionals sit with a laptop and coffee to discuss nonprofit communications best practices and how to implement them.

Whether you’re soliciting donations via email or mailing event invitations, a strong communications strategy is the key to raising brand awareness and inspiring meaningful support for your nonprofit organization. 

In this guide, we’ll walk through nine nonprofit communications best practices that will help you engage supporters and pursue your purpose.

1. Create a nonprofit communications plan.

With everything you have on your plate, it can be difficult to remember when you need to send out a thank-you note or follow up with every individual donor.

That’s why pre-planning is crucial. Not only will a nonprofit communications strategy guide your outreach efforts, but it will also provide concrete, measurable objectives so that you know what you’re working towards.

A successful communications plan should include:

  • Objectives: Consider the goals that you hope to accomplish through your outreach efforts. For example, do you want to raise awareness for your cause or engage a larger audience? These objectives will help you stay on track.
  • Timeline: Create a content calendar that includes what message you plan to send, when, and to whom. Your team will be able to refer back to this calendar as needed.
  • Channel(s): Every communication channel is unique. Will you communicate primarily through social media, direct mail, email, text, or a combination of channels?
  • Evaluation: Gather KPIs, such as email open and conversion rates, so you can evaluate what’s working well and what needs improvement.

Although building a communications plan can be time-consuming, your messaging will be more consistent and effective as a result.

2. Know who you’re contacting.

The next step in nonprofit communications is deciding who to target through your outreach efforts. Are you looking to contact a group of potential new donors or loyal supporters who have donated consistently over the years? In order to understand each group’s preferences and motivations, use donor segmentation.

Start by applying filters in your fundraising software, like Bonterra Donor Engagement’s Guided Fundraising solution (formerly Network for Good), to segment donors based on their giving level, communication preferences, and engagement history. Defining these segments will help your organization create content that is relevant and engaging for everyone.

3. Tailor your communications.

Whether you’re writing a thank-you letter or an invitation to an upcoming event, it’s important to personalize your communications. Your supporters are much more likely to pay attention, feel appreciated, and take action when you speak to them directly, rather than sending out a mass appeal.

Fortunately, you don’t need to write unique messages for each donor to reap these benefits. Simply addressing them by name and mentioning their past involvement will help build stronger relationships.

You can also tailor your communications to the well-defined segments that you made earlier. These segments may include:

  • New donors: For a first-time donor, reiterate your appreciation for their gift and welcome them to your cause. This is your opportunity to tell them about your purpose and encourage them to give again.
  • Major donors: If you have a major donor program, chances are you’ve already been sending out major gift-related communications. If not, create a mailing list with your major donors and regularly communicate the impact of their generosity.
  • Recurring donors: Send regular messages to monthly donors thanking them for their continuous support and informing them about the progress your organization is making through your initiatives.
  • Lapsed donors: Communicating with a lapsed donor is all about convincing them to rejoin your cause. Tell them about your current programs and ask how you can improve upon their past experiences.

Tailored communications are key to maximizing your nonprofit’s outreach efforts.

4. Leverage a multichannel communications approach.

Donors may indicate that they prefer to be contacted via specific channels. Use these preferences in combination with how you know other supporters like to engage with your organization to craft a multichannel communications approach. Reach as many people as possible by leveraging multiple mediums like:

  • Phone calls
  • Texting
  • Social media
  • Email
  • Direct mail
  • Paid ads

Combining these communication channels provides multiple touchpoints for interaction and increases your chances of reaching your target audience. 

5. Use a conversational style.

We all respond more positively to messages that sound personable and friendly. Donors are no different. Imagine that you’re speaking with your donors face-to-face and write your message in the same voice and style.

Do you use contractions in everyday conversation? Do you start sentences with conjunctions? If you have an informal voice, your nonprofit communications should match. Read your writing aloud and make edits until it sounds natural.

While it may seem insignificant, the grammar and style choices you make combine to create your nonprofit’s brand voice. When supporters receive your message, they’ll be able to recognize almost immediately that it’s from your organization.

6. Be donor-centric.

When donors feel valued, they are more likely to take meaningful action. That’s why all of your communications should be focused on the donor.

Rather than talking about your nonprofit’s accomplishments, position your donors as the heroes who help you pursue your purpose. It’s as simple as using first and second person to address donors. For example, instead of saying, “Our nonprofit saved 100 pandas this year,” try saying, “Your generosity has helped save 100 pandas.” Using “we” and “you” language treats donors as your equals.

7. Be specific.

Donors appreciate a thank-you. But they have an even greater appreciation for a thank-you that updates them on how the projects, programs, and campaigns they’ve given to are progressing. Since you’ve segmented your contacts, it will be easy to share specific updates with the right people.

Consider this highly-specific example:

“Last month, you showed your generosity when the kids needed it most. Your contribution helped to build 12 new schools for children in need. Today, you can help make an even greater impact by helping build new computer labs in each of these schools.”

Keeping the communications relevant will help keep your donors engaged.

8. Include a call-to-action.

Invite supporters to deepen their involvement by including a clear call-to-action (CTA) in every message. This could include any action that supports your cause, from donating to signing up for an email newsletter.

Here are some helpful tips for getting started with CTAs:

  • Keep it simple. CTAs should make it clear what you want readers to do in as few words as possible. Keep it brief and attention-grabbing.
  • Convey a sense of urgency. Use actionable language to encourage immediate conversions. For instance, you might include a powerful CTA that inspires donors to “Join the fight against hunger” or “Save the children today.”
  • Make it stand out. Place your CTAs in strategic locations to ensure they are actually seen by your audience. For example, if you’re reaching out to donors through email, consider putting the CTA in the subject line.

Believe in the power of a donation button or compelling statement. When done correctly, effective CTAs provide donors with a quick and easy way to lend their support to your cause.

9. Encourage feedback.

Soliciting feedback from donors will make them feel like valued partners and help to improve their engagement and retention. After you accept a donation, consider:

  • Sending out a survey to determine your donors’ communication preferences.
  • Asking for more personal information, such as their birthdays or updated addresses.
  • Asking for their opinion on your donor stewardship program, giving societies, and fundraisers.

With this constructive feedback, you can work toward deepening the relationship between your organization and its donors.

Next steps: Get started with nonprofit communications best practices

Following these best practices will result in communications that resonate with supporters. Just remember to track engagement metrics and make improvements that align with your recipients' preferences and interests. Not only will your donors feel valued, but they will also be more committed to the long-term success of your organization.

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    Donor Engagement
  • Nonprofits
  • Digital communications & marketing