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The definitive guide to building a successful nonprofit

Community building is essential for nonprofits, because you can’t move the needle on important social issues without an engaged and committed supporter base. Here are our 9 tips for connecting with supporters and empowering them to fight for your cause along with you.

The definitive guide to building a successful nonprofit

1. Put relationships at the center

Your biggest asset as an organization is your people, so it’s imperative to understand who they are and how they prefer to communicate.

Think about how you build relationships in real life. Your initial conversations are all about information sharing and realizing common interests. Keep track of the information you've learned about your supporters and then use it to build stronger relationships.

2. Create various ladders for taking action

When it comes to outreach strategies, a common approach is the “ladder of engagement.” This concept emphasizes the need to move supporters along a pathway of actions that build on each other over time.

The most important part is to realize that not everyone is going to follow the same pathway. To truly move your people to action, you'll need to create multiple points of entry for potential supporters. For example, imagine a ski resortthink about all the different runs that exist on a single mountain. Not everyone has the ability (or desire!) to ski the black diamond, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t another run they would enjoy.

Nonprofits almost always immediately focus on asking people to become donors. But there are many other ways supporters can engage with an organization outside of donating. And they're just as valuable in the long run. Get creative, and think of clear asks that could build over time.

3. Empower leaders at different levels

Resource constraints are one of the biggest challenges nonprofits face. Limited time and money often make it difficult to get the word out about new programs, maintain relationships with donors and volunteers, etc. What if other people could help you with all that? Hint: They totally can.

It may seem counterintuitive, but people actually like being asked to do things. It gives them a sense of purpose and helps them connect to the larger mission.

Peer-to-peer outreach is one of the most powerful tactics an organization can employ because it has built-in trust and validation. Think of both light-touch sharing strategies, like spreading the word about a new program on social media, and high-touch strategies, such as enabling leaders to organize their own events on your behalf. There are so many ways supporters can carry your mission forwardit’s worth taking some time to brainstorm them.


4. Work at it

When someone signs up for your email lista relatively passive form of engagement—they shouldn’t just receive your updates forever with no further other outreach on your part. They should be asked to engage more deeplyjoin a working group, volunteer, donate. And not just once a year, but on a recurring basis. And as you learn more about them, you should tailor that ask. Because as you start getting close, you should be spending more time together.

5. Use text blasts to drive donations

No matter how many emails you send, they’re not going to make a difference if they're not getting read. In fact, the average open rate for emails is between 28-33% with a response rate of 6%, while text messages have an open rate of 98% with 45% of recipients responding. That's a major differenceuse it to your advantage.

And get strategic with your timingtext campaigns work best when there is a sense of urgency (e.g. for GOTV campaigns). Include short, specific asks and follow up with anyone who gives.  

6. Encourage year-round giving

With nonprofits, donations are never consistent. One-off gifts and annual campaigns go a long way, but if you encourage your donors to be proactive, not reactive, your fundraising efforts will go further.

Start by giving people the opportunity to donate anytime and through multiple channels. This allows them to simply hop on their computers or phone, and donate via your website at anytime.

And, you can take it one step further by empowering your supporters to get more deeply involved in your campaigns by giving them personal fundraising challenges. Direct involvement in a campaign can be an exciting option for supportersand usually a welcome challenge for themselves and an opportunity to get their own communities involved.

7. Segment like you’re a marketer

In today's digital landscape, knowing your audience is especially crucial if you want to cut through the noise and reach the people most likely to support your nonprofit. Segmenting allows you to widen your funnel to grow your audience in specific, strategic ways. Get to know the traits and interests of the audience you're aiming to reachthen craft your messaging to them specifically.


8. But don’t forget to talk like a human

The thing that motivates people to engage substantively and for the long-term, with deeper investment over time, is a human conversation—a relationship. That means people like receiving emails from peoplenot from organizations. When writing your donation request emails, think about the person in your organization your supporters would prefer to hear from—it’s likely your ED, a program lead, or the board chair. Ensure you're personalizing your asks with tools like smart fields.

9. Keep track of everything–not just fundraising

The means of communication you use to engage your supporters and the public have a memory. Just like your face-to-face relationships, you should reach out to people consciously aware of all the ways they’ve engaged with you in the past.

If someone visits your website, signs up for your email list or attends a webinar, all those records should be aggregated so that you have one, comprehensive relationship with that individual. Otherwise communication won’t feel tailored or natural. Building strong supporter relationships is impossible without a clear sense of who those individuals are to your organization.


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