Donor Relations 101 – What I Learned

by | Apr 23, 2019 | Development/Fundraising, Donors

by Funding For Good

In 2017, I joined the nonprofit world after 12 years in Corporate America. My initiation to this new culture came as a Development Director for a well-established organization. Now, anyone who has been on a development staff could tell you that there are many aspects of fundraising, but at the very core of any development strategy is donor relations.

First, let me define exactly what I mean by “donor relations”. The Association of Donor Relations Professionals (ADRP) defines donor relations as “the comprehensive effort of any nonprofit that seeks philanthropic support to ensure that donors experience high-quality interactions with the organization that foster long-term engagement and investment”. In other words, how are you communicating with your donors to ensure they feel valued?

So, let’s look at three key areas of donor relations.

Gift Management and Tracking

I know what you’re thinking…this is supposed to be about donor relations, why are we talking about back office administrative procedures? I get it, this isn’t the sexiest part of development work, but it is critical to get it right. So, why is it so important?

First, you must understand where your gifts are coming from. Your ability to segment your donors based on many different metrics will lead to a much higher return on investment on all fundraising activities. If your organization doesn’t currently have a way to track all donations and donors, talk to your leadership team about investing in software to assist you and your team in managing this information. There are many great programs out there, so do some research and find one that works for your organization’s needs and budget. 

Secondly, you have obligations to your donors to use their gifts in the manner for which they were given. Having processes in place to track restricted funds vs. unrestricted funds is essential.


If the “ask” is the difficult, high-stress part of development work, then acknowledgement should be the easy part, right? Well, yes and no. The fact is, this is easy! Unfortunately, many donors never hear from the organization they gave to!

Three simple ways to thank a donor:

  • Phone Call
  • Personalized Email
  • Handwritten “Thank You” Notes (My personal favorite)

This step is one of the reasons that it is so important to effectively track your donors. There should be a significant difference in the way you thank a donor based on their giving history. First time donor? Consider creating a welcome package to send them. It can include things like staff profiles, overview of services offered, success stories, invitations to get involved, or a letter from the Executive Director or Board President. If the donor has been a dedicated supporter, tell them specifically how much of an impact they have had through their faithful giving. It is crucial that your development team can communicate the value of a dollar to your donors! Also, be sure that your acknowledgement is prompt!


We have discussed tracking and thanking donors, so what’s next? As an organization, you must have a plan to report back to your stakeholders to communicate your successes. Tell them what the impact of their gifts has been regarding the mission of the organization. Remember, they gave to your cause for a reason – show them the difference they are making!

There are many methods of communicating your organizations successes to your donors, but they will almost always fall into two categories: story-telling (qualitative) or by the numbers (quantitative). It’s essential to establish reporting for both categories because each of your donors is different. Some will really connect with the stories of those whose lives have been impacted through your organization, others will want to see the exact data showing what was done. Be prepared for both and then celebrate the accomplishments with your donors!

There are many aspects of successful development, but your donors are the foundation of your organization and your cultivation of them will ultimately decide how much good can be done. Development work can be hectic and overwhelming at times, but if you stick to these basics, you will promote an engaged and generous donor base.

To learn more about donor relations and the development coaching offered by Funding For Good, click here: Development Coaching You may also find some Upcoming Events to attend or helpful information in our Free Stuff section. Here are some related articles:

20 Days to a Larger Donor Base Series

Donor Relations that Create Donor Retention

Donor Relations Strategy | Foundation for Success

As always, Keep Growing for Good!


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