Swimming and Standing
With Thomas Jefferson

Susan E Mangels Senior Vice President Consulting Services at AC Fitzgerald Author

Susan E. Mangels, Ph.D, Senior Vice President of Consulting Services

In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock.”

Happy birthday (on April 13th) to Thomas Jefferson!

Jefferson’s dual approach is helpful for nonprofits like yours that seek to build affinity and loyalty with donors. Your donor communications should stand upon principle by conveying your mission clearly and fully—while swimming with the current by engaging each donor on his or her own terms.

The second point is probably the trickiest. By personalizing your approach and communicating with supporters according to their preferences, you show them that they matter. You show them that you care. You’re able to connect with them deeply and paint a vivid and memorable picture of the difference they’re making.

So how do you achieve this dual approach?

Strategically align your communication content with the priorities of your organization.

  • Limit the themes you cover to your key initiatives. Anything more could breed confusion.
  • Be clear. Talk about your program benefits using (at most) eighth-grade vocabulary.
  • Don’t try to say everything. Share one idea per communication.
  • Tell donors what you do, why it matters, why they are important, and why it is urgent that they support your particular endeavors now.

Style your communication methods in ways that each donor wants to communicate.

  • Pay close attention to how major donors communicate with you.
  • Snail mail can be attractive for both older generations and millennials, as research shows.
  • Email is more prevalent today for donor communications, but be sure to personalize whenever possible.
  • Many donors love personal phone calls, and a handwritten note almost always gets opened because it is so unique.
  • Listen to your donors. Keep notes in your database and portfolio about how each one likes to communicate.

With these considerations in mind, use varied methods and timing to develop your strategic game plan for communicating your mission and its benefits. Stand like a rock, swim with the current.

Susan E. Mangels, Ph.D. serves as Senior Vice President of Consulting Services at AC Fitzgerald. She uses her expertise in fundraising, management, and leadership development to oversee our consulting efforts and deliver exceptional service to clients.

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