Whether they are small monthly contributions or major gifts, donations from grateful patients make your healthcare institution’s work possible. But all too often fundraisers get caught up in the numbers and forget about the people behind the donations, meaning they focus on fundraising results rather than on cultivating lasting relationships.
If your institution doesn’t keep this big picture in mind, you’ll miss out on the many benefits of strong donor relationships, like getting to know the people who have a passion for your cause, having your donors contribute to your work in additional ways (such as attending events and volunteering), and being able to turn to your donors for advice and feedback. Not to mention, you’ll also miss out on additional donations!
To help you focus on the people that power your mission, we’ve created this guide to give you some tips for building better relationships with your donors. Let’s dive in!
1. Conduct donor research to get to know them.
Prospect research is the process of learning about potential new donors for your institution, but you can also use this process to refamiliarize yourself with your grateful patients. The main thing to remember about prospecting is that you’ll look for capacity (wealth) and philanthropic (affinity) markers.
A few examples of capacity markers are:
- Real estate ownership
- SEC transactions
- Business affiliations
- Political giving history
And a few examples of philanthropic markers are:
- Previous donations to your institution or similar institutions
- Personal information like values, interests, or hobbies
- Nonprofit involvement history
Again, it can be tempting to focus solely on capacity information, especially if your institution has a big campaign coming up. But by looking at philanthropic markers, too, you can understand the basics behind why a donor gives. Both types of markers provide a fuller picture of your donor and what makes them tick, giving you foundational information on which to start building a strong relationship.
Once you’ve learned about your donors’ markers using prospect research tools, what should you do with the information? According to DonorSearch, you can store it in each donor or patient’s profile. A donor profile is a living document where you keep a record of everything you know about your donor, including notes on each interaction you have with them. It serves as the source of truth for your team to reference when communicating with that individual.
2. Host engaging events.
Events are not only vehicles for fundraising but can also be memorable experiences that bring your institution and its donors together to celebrate your cause. By hosting engaging events, you can get more face time with your grateful patients and prospects, learning more about them as people and creating memories with them that can strengthen your relationships.
According to CharityBids’ guide to nonprofit event planning, to plan a truly engaging event, you should follow these steps:
- Set goals and objectives early.
- Create an event planning committee.
- Decide on a budget and timeline.
- Identify your event’s target audience.
- Handle details like securing the right venue, hiring a catering company, and booking entertainment.
- Promote your event.
- Recruit volunteers to help run the event.
- Plan your post-event follow-up activities.
As you’re planning your event, you may decide that a new type of event would really wow your donors and get them excited to RSVP “Yes!” Consider fun event ideas like a family-friendly field day, VR game night, virtual art class, a dance-a-thon, or event gamification through an app. A fresh event idea can make all the difference in boosting attendance so your institution can interact with as many donors as possible.
3. Reach out often.
A strong donor communications strategy allows you to check in with your donors and prospects on a regular basis. And the more you talk to your donors, the more likely it is that your institution will be top of mind when your donors consider institutions to give to.
Here are some tips for leveling up your communications strategy:
- Use the communication channels they respond well to. Some donors will prefer to receive communications from your institution via email, while others will only see your messages if they come through on their social media feeds. Make an effort to learn what communication channels they prefer to use, and segment your donors accordingly. You should also adhere to patient privacy rules and regulations.
- Take an interest in their lives. Your communications don’t always have to be about fundraising campaigns or your programming. Sometimes the best thing you can do to strengthen a relationship is to flip the script and take an interest in what’s going on in your donors’ or patients’ lives. So, at your next event, ask your donor how their child’s school year is going. Or, when a grateful patient comes to volunteer, ask them what TV show or book they’re currently enjoying. This will help your institution come across as more human!
- Acknowledge what is going on in the world. Your institution doesn’t operate in a vacuum. Just like your donors and prospects, you’re affected by what is going on in your local community and the world at large. For example, say that you know your donors are feeling the pressure of inflation. You could acknowledge this in your communications and encourage other ways of contributing to your cause besides donating. Being thoughtful of both the good and the not-so-good that donors are facing will show that your institution is mindful of their needs and circumstances.
- Encourage responses. The best kind of communication goes two ways, so encourage your donors to respond when you reach out. You might offer a contact form on your website, or encourage commenting on your social media posts. Make sure you get back to these messages quickly.
To find out if your communications strategy is working, ask your donors! A short survey or online poll can be an effective way to gather feedback that you can use to improve how you’re reaching out and can demonstrate that your institution wants to communicate in meaningful ways.
4. Communicate impact.
While your development office likely tracks fundraising metrics to help with strategy improvements, you probably also track metrics related to your institution’s results and impact on its beneficiaries.
Share this information with your donors and prospects—doing so can reinforce the importance of being involved with your nonprofit, and build trust as they see that their contributions are making a difference to your beneficiaries.
How you choose to communicate impact will be especially important. Consider sharing statistics and metrics about your institution’s success in a visual format, like an infographic in your annual report or with a slideshow during your next event. If appropriate, you can also ask some of your patients to provide testimonial-type stories that explain how your work has made a difference in their lives. But remember, however you decide to communicate your mission’s impact, aim to inspire!
5. Always say thank you.
A little thank-you can go a long way in helping you strengthen your relationships with your patients and prospects. After all, when donors feel appreciated, they’ll not only be inclined to give again but also have more positive feelings about your specific institution.
And remember, it doesn’t matter what size gift a donor gives. Everyone should be thanked for contributing to your cause. Here are some fun ideas for thanking your donors of every level:
- Write a classic handwritten thank-you note.
- Create thank-you videos that feature your staff members or beneficiaries.
- Host appreciation events.
- Send branded merchandise (such as t-shirts, stickers, or hats).
Whatever strategy you choose to run with for thanking your donors, make sure to personalize your thank-you message and mention the donation date and amount. This specificity will help your thank-yous feel unique and genuine.
Avoid the pitfall of focusing too much on fundraising numbers and donation amounts—put the relationships you have with your donors first!
Use the advice in this mini guide to rethink how you approach your donor relationships and make positive changes. Remember, your donors can also give you feedback about how you’re doing, so don’t be afraid to ask. Good luck!