Everybody knows that you should send a thank you note to a donor. Along with the fundraising “ask” letter, these two kinds of letters are the bookends. However these not be the only times you make contact with your supporters.

The following is a list of ten reasons you should stay in contact with your existing donors, without hitting them up for another donation.

1. Birthday Wishes

You should make an effort to find out your donors’ birthdays. It shows that you are considerate and thoughtful when you remember them on that special day with a nice card. Set up a tickler in your appointment calendar to remind you at least two weeks in advance, so you have time to buy a card, write a short note, sign it, and mail it. To be better prepared, I suggest you buy a stash of cards and stick them in your desk drawer, so you’ve always got one handy. Also, a quick, handwritten note shows a great personal touch.

Along with the birthday cards, sympathy and congratulations notes are a nice gesture, as well. It is a good habit to scan your local paper for obituaries and announcements. In the case of a donor or a donor’s relative passing away, you will be alerted so you can send a sympathy card right away. You can also use this information to update your database.

If your donor gets his name or photo in the paper for a special award or a new position, remember to also send a note- this time for congratualtions.

2. Regular Updates on Your Organizational News

Do you produce a monthly or quarterly newsletter? Do you send out communications that are important to your families? If you do, you should consider including your donors on the mailing list. By receiving the regular newsletters, the donors can stay “in the loop” about what’s happening and feel included.

While this seems like this would be a no-brainer, I do think you should ask each individual donor if he would like to receive your newsletter in the mail (or by email). Some donors may feel that although they made a donation, they don’t want to be bothered on a continual basis. There are those kinds of donors out there. However, my experience is that the majority like to be kept up-to-date on issues concerning the organization they contributed to.

3. Advice on an Internal Matter

If a person is able to make a donation to your organization, chances are that that person has some wisdom and life experience. I have found that many donors like to be consulted for advice now and again. Be careful not to become a pest, but if you are facing a situation that needs careful deliberation, think about asking for some outside advice from your donor base. Most of the time, you can be sure that since they have already given you their money, they will also be willing to share some of their wisdom, as well. It goes a long way toward erasing any feelings a donor may have that you only care about their money.

You may want to consult your board of directors before sharing any sensitive issues with the donors. Be careful not to treat your advice request as a gossip session. This can turn donors right off.

4. Update on a Previous Contribution the Donor Made

Many times, an organization will receive a donation, the donation will be put to use, and the donor will never hear about the effects of the donation again. You have to remember that when your donor was thinking about whether or not he would donate to your group in the first place, he must have been excited by what you were planning or else he wouldn’t have given. Therefore, it is logical to assume that the donor would like to be kept abreast of any developments within the scope of his donation. Many times, a quick note, an email, or a phone call will do fine. The point is to let donors know what a significant difference their gift made.

5. Interesting News Item to Pass Along

Once you have gone through the initial process of working with a donor, you have established a bond with him. In many cases, you probably had several conversations with him, shared your own personal story with him, and learned about his life a little. In some ways, you have begun to cultivate a friendship. And just like any friendship, you have to pay attention to it or else it will wither. Therefore, I think it is wise to occasionally pass along an interesting piece of news to the donor that you think he might find interesting. This news can have absolutely nothing to do with your group or any kind of donation. It could be about sports or culture or something you know the donor likes. You know- “Saw this and thought of you” kind of note.

Be careful, however, not to send something potentially controversial and be very careful with any use of humor. People can be easily offended, and the last thing you want to do is offend one of your donors. Never go for a laugh unless you are 100% positive you’ll hit the mark.

6. Personal Story of How a Person in Your Organization Achieved Something Great or Overcame an Obstacle

One of the reasons your donor was drawn to your group in the first place was the community of people. Organizations, in and of themselves, are non-living entities. It’s not until you fill it with people that the community springs to life. At some point, your donor must have made a connection with a person or a group of people there.

For instance, if you are running a school and you have a student who won a county spelling bee or got a silver medal in ice skating at the state level or made Eagle Scout, it’s very possible that your donor would love to hear about that. Even better, make sure to share a story of a student at your school who was struggling mightily in some capacity, but through hard work and the teacher’s perseverance, overcame the challenge.

By being included in these success stories, your donor will keep that personal connection alive with your school.

7. Invitation to Go to Lunch/Meet for Coffee

Everybody’s got to eat lunch, right? I think it is wise to plan a time each month where you take a donor out to lunch or meet them for coffee. Set up a rotation schedule for yourself. During this time together, don’t ask for anything for your organization. Just keep developing the relationship you have with the donor. The more often you get together and the more often you talk about other issues, the easier it will be to go back to the donor when you need something. The donor will have seen a pattern of continuing and sincere communication from you, and that will ultimately work in your benefit.

8. Bounce a Creative Idea Off of Them

I always loved to call up a donor and share with him a crazy new idea I had for my organization. Even if it was a “pie-in-the-sky” plan with no real shot of ever getting done, I got a charge from brainstorming with donors. As I alluded to earlier, most donors became donors because they had the ability to make lots of money. This implies that many donors have an entrepreneurial streak in them. And entrepreneurs love to brainstorm- even if it never goes anywhere- it’s just how they’re wired.

Whenever I have made these kinds of phone calls and have been really enthusiastic about my idea, I have always been met in kind with energy, enthusiasm, and support. Besides, you never know, one of your crazy ideas might really appeal to the donor, and he may decide to fund it!

9. Share Marketing or Enrollment Material with Them

Whenever I would come out with a new marketing piece, I would always make sure my donors got a copy of it as soon as possible. By doing this, the donor is able to stay current with any new slogans, pricing structures, or programs. I have found that many donors like to be able to talk about your organization out in public. If they have the latest version of your marketing material, they will be able to be better salespeople for you.

10. To Inform Them if There’s Been Some Sort of Problem Within Your Organization

While this is the least pleasant of all of my suggestions, I do think it is important that you alert your donors whenever something significantly negative happens in your group. You’ll have to use your best judgment as to what the donors should know and when they should know it, but it is often better that a donor hear from you about a potentially negative incident personally, rather than by rumor or even possibly on the news.

By hearing about the situation from you first, you can explain the entire story and offer your solutions. The donor will not get this kind of thorough message in any other manner. Bad news happens- it is inevitable. However, if you desire to keep the relationship with your donor stable, you must remember to keep in touch during both the good times and the bad.

Again, you never know, a donor may actually have experience in handling a situation like what you’re going through and could offer great wisdom to you. In any regard, it’s much better to get in front of a story than to be chasing behind it every step of the way.


I strongly believe that your relationship with each donor needs to be sincere, active, and dynamic. When a person makes his first contribution to your group, it is vitally important that you develop a strategy to get to know that person much better. Don’t let an initial “ask” letter and a thank you note be the extent of your relationship with him. Look for every opportunity to make your donor a part of your community. In the long run, everyone at the school will be much richer for it.

Posted on 29 April 2011

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