Advantages and disadvantages of using your donor base to shape messaging for nonprofits

Scott Dubois / October 24, 2017

Donors are the lifeline for nonprofits; they believe in your mission and vision, which is why they are willing to give money and time. But what role should existing donors play in your marketing messaging? There are advantages and disadvantages of using current donors as the basis for what you say and the content you produce. In this post, we’ll explore the benefits and drawbacks of doing this.

Advantages of using current donors to shape messaging

You know who they are. You have a clear picture of your current donor profile. You know how and when they’ve interacted with your organization. You are aware of their demographic profile as well as what they have contributed. You also may have select information about “why” they contribute to your organization. It may be because they’ve been personally touched by the work you do, or it may be that their company is affiliated with your group. The reasons they chose your organization over any other could provide key insights into why others may be attracted to you as well.

They can share their story and experience. Testimonials work for nonprofits, just as they do for business. Hearing current donors talking about how they have been impacted by your group’s work is very powerful. It can move others to make a donation or sign up for an event. Autism Speaks is an inspiring example. The organization’s website shares donor stories that illustrate why these individuals chose to give to them, along with the donors’ personal stories. A recent story highlighted how a couple donated money to the charity in lieu of a fancy wedding.

The role of social media

Donors are often your most engaged fans on social media. Social media is an amazing, tool that can be used to fuel the growth of a nonprofit. Because your donors engage with your social post, your social media metrics are influenced. This drives you to continue on the path of the content or messaging they like. So, if you keep messaging in the same way, engagement can continue to increase. It may also allow you to find new donors, as your current ones will likely share your content.

Looking at your current donor profiles and their social media activity also helps you know where other like minded individuals may be. If you have high engagement on Facebook and Twitter then stay there. Start to use Facebook lookalike audiences for your paid advertising efforts. Engage back with these profiles as a way to attract other connections. Nonprofits can also tag companies they work with regularly to increase reach and visibility. All of this data allows you to target messaging on platforms that work for you.

Social media opens the opportunity for a meaningful conversation with people who are already engaged with an organization as a donor, volunteer or member. It can also draw others in who want to be part of the conversation. This creates an environment of continuous communication. 

However, there is a downside to laser focusing on engaging your current donors. It may keep you from trying new things with your content, or getting creative. As a result, you may miss the chance to connect with other potentially great supporters.

Disadvantage of focusing too much on current donors

While your current donors keep the lights on and allow you to do great things for your cause, there’s also an implied bias. They know you. They are familiar with you. There’s no need to attract them anymore (we’ll this isn’t true – but that’s a blog post for another time.) This means you become comfortable. Your messaging may become “one note” and be relevant only to current donors. This closed communication may actually repel rather than attract. This bias and lack of innovation can hurt your messaging in two ways:

Your message is unclear. If your nonprofit is very niche, many people may not understand the history or story of why what you do is important. Your message becomes muddled because you no longer have the need to explain. It may also be inconsistent. No matter what channel – email, social media, blog posts – your message should be clear and evoke an emotional response from anyone who reads it, not just your loyal supporters.

You lack differentiation from other organizations. There are 1.5 million nonprofit organizations in the US. That is a tremendous amount of competition. So you must stand out. Your message is all part of that. But when you’re just writing toward your known audience, you forget about those that haven’t heard how wonderful you are or why your cause and how you address it matter.

Nonprofit marketing has the same challenges as for profit. Depending on existing donors or customers to shape messaging can be valuable but may also deter from evolving your message and your brand. Consider the most important insights you can gather from your current donors and use them purposefully. Just remember to not let it cause tunnel vision.

Arrow Icon explore more of our thinking

Share your Legos: Why sharing resources leads to better outcomes

read more

Fixing your data blind spots: Fewer social faux pas, lower financial risk

read more

No one reads requirement documents, but we can change that.

read more