4 Things Successful Nonprofits Have Figured Out

“Does this make sense, and does it get us to the right place?”

I make a point of asking myself this regularly. It’s smart to tap the brakes from time to time—pause to ensure your decisions and actions align with the place you want to get to.

How do you know if you’re on the right track at your nonprofit? Although there are many, here are four things that successful nonprofits we’ve partnered with over the years have figured out.

1. They have an internal culture of intention.

Even among the best-led, tightest teams, people will disagree about how work should get done. And that’s OK. Diversity in thought keeps an organization rich in new ideas. But at the heart of the work, there’s a passion and purpose that binds people together.

They work from the heart; believing in the power of what they do and what they can achieve if they work together.

This shared culture of intention drives everything, from marketing choices to board appointments, donor appeals to administrative functions. It also leads decisions at every touchpoint—among staff, your executive director, board members, volunteers, donors, grantees and other invested voices.

2. They focus on building relationships not meeting targets.

Fundraisers must come from a place of sincerity and put in the effort needed to create a real relationship with their donors. Otherwise, donors can feel they are nothing more than a dollar amount on your prospect list.

Anyone involved in building relationships, donor development or retention must be a person who genuinely likes to listen to people and cares about their stories—about their families, their connection to your mission, and even about their life’s work that led them to you.

Seemingly small but genuine gestures of gratitude can make the biggest impact. A simple thank-you card or phone call can have a powerful effect. In her research, Penelope Burk found that first-time donors who received a personal thank-you within 48 hours were four times more likely to give again. 

Tip: Listening is an essential skill for fundraisers to master in order to build meaningful relationships with donors. Get better at listening and probing with strategies from our three-part blog series.

3. They understand the importance of donor retention (over acquisition).

Although estimates range (from 2 to 3 times more than the donation itself to 50 to 100% more than the dollars given), everyone agrees: It costs more to acquire a donor than to retain a donor.

And retention is vital to developing the long-term relationships you need to move a donor into the major gift category or to start the planned giving conversation. For a donor to become a major giver it takes up to 18 to 24 personalized touchpoints (which equates to 4-5 years).

Tip: Not sure what your donor retention rate is? Use this handy calculator from Bloomerang.

4. They keep their pulse on emerging technologies to help their nonprofit work smarter.

New technologies can improve a nonprofit’s effectiveness. Whether artificial intelligence (ChatGPT), alternative donation methods (Apple Pay, Venmo), SMS (text message) marketing, or tools to sync everything together and automate tasks, the most successful nonprofits keep abreast of technology trends and employ those that make sense.

Tip: If technology is not in your wheelhouse, seek others to lend expertise. Elicit other potential pools of talent and resources, like a college intern, a social media consultant or freelancer hired only to put a plan in place or get key elements operational.

As I mentioned at the outset, these are just four areas that successful nonprofits have in common—there are many more. A great resource to help guide your nonprofit’s gift planning program in particular is the National Standards for Gift Planning Success, developed by a task force of gift planners and refined by the CGP Leadership Institute. The standards are a roadmap of best practices to help energize your program, focus on a strategy for your work, and engage meaningful long-term gifts for your organization.

2 thoughts on “4 Things Successful Nonprofits Have Figured Out

  1. “For a donor to become a major giver it takes up to 18 to 24 personalized touchpoints (which equates to 4-5 years).”

    Given that the average tenure of an MGO is two years, that’s quite a disconnect, isn’t it?

    Focusing on relationships vs. transactions is truly key. Great post, Nate!

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