How to Build an Effective Supporter Communication Cadence

19 Oct 2021 By Roger Devine

This is a guest post by Sandra Davis of Donorly

Whether you’re a fundraising professional or a parent volunteer for your school’s booster club or PTA, you know how important it is to have a community of supporters to help you fundraise,market your events, raise awareness about your cause, and work toward accomplishing your organization’s goals.

It’s obvious, then, that your supporters are essential to your organization’s success. But sometimes mission-driven organizations struggle to retain donors, and a lot of that is due to inefficient communication strategies. To hold onto your supporters, you have to communicate with them regularly and establish a consistent cadence.

This may seem like a no-brainer, but setting up regular, substantive communication with your supporters can be challenging, and raises many questions— How often should you communicate with your supporters? Are you reaching out enough? Should you be doing more? What is the most effective way to contact your supporters? What should you say?

This post is meant to help you answer all of these questions and more. In this guide, we’ll walk you through the following steps to creating and implementing a great communication cadence:

  1. Identify your supporters’ needs
  2. Take a multichannel approach
  3. Personalize your communication
  4. Create a communication calendar

As you explore these different steps for effective communication with your supporters, keep in mind that you can incorporate many of these strategies into just about any marketing campaign or fundraising plan, and at any stage. Let’s get started!

  1. Identify your supporters’ needs

The first step in designing your communication cadence with your supporters is working to anticipate their needs. Your organization will only be successful at communicating with your supporters if you understand what information they want from you, how frequently they want it, and in what form they want to receive it.

Be proactive in learning how best to communicate with your supporters. Here are three tools you can use to better identify your supporters’ needs:

Donor Database

Even if your organization doesn’t use a formal CRM, you likely still have access to supporter data like contact information, participation history, and donation history. You probably also have a school or nonprofit website that can give you useful information, such as insights on how visitors arrive at your site. Use information like this to start identifying useful trends.

For example, if you notice a number of parents at your school responded to last year’s online auction invitation via email, you might decide to create an email newsletter to let them know about upcoming fundraising events. Similarly, if your nonprofit notices your volunteers tend to sign up for shifts through links on your Facebook posts, you might focus your communication efforts on that platform.

Supporter Surveys

Why not ask for input from your supporters? Send out a survey via email or text, or post it on your social media. Ask supporters how often they want to hear from your organization and their preferred methods of contact. To encourage your supporters to fill out the survey, put the names of people who complete the survey in a raffle for a small prize, like merchandise or discounted event registration. By going straight to the source, you’ll be able to gain valuable insights into your supporters’ communication expectations. Plus, the people who take the time to fill out the survey will likely be some of your most dedicated supporters, so you’ll be able to trust that you’re getting information from people who really care about hearing from your organization regularly.

Focus Groups

Whether your organization works with a fundraising consultant or you’re a group of parent volunteers, you can employ some creative research tactics to better understand how to communicate with your supporters. One of these tactics is hosting a focus group. Simply gather a group of volunteers from your support base and set up a time to talk with them. We recommend you share some of your planned communication materials (like a draft of a fundraising letter or a few social media posts) and ask them for their thoughts about those materials.

You might ask them the following questions:

  • What makes you want to keep reading this message?
  • What makes you want to stop reading this message?
  • How could we improve this message to better connect with you?
  • What are some other things you’d like to hear about from our organization?
  • How often do you want to receive updates from our organization?

A focus group may sound like a formal way of researching your supporters’ needs, but you can keep it casual and still get valuable feedback about your communication strategies.

As you try out these tools to learn how your supporters like to receive communication from your organization, remember to keep an open mind about what forms of communication your supporters prefer. We’ll talk about this more in the next section.

  1. Take a multichannel approach

You can’t plan out your supporter communication cadence without assessing what communication methods you’ll be using. After all, a form of communication that resonates with one of your supporters might not work as well with another. You’ll likely pick up on trends like this as you conduct research, allowing you to segment your support base into different groups based on communication preferences.

Once you know what supporters in each group prefer and respond the best to, you can cater your approach to those preferences. According to Donorly’s article on fundraising strategies, it’s important to take a multichannel approach when it comes to communicating with your supporters. You want to make sure you’re reaching the most supporters you possibly can, and that means spreading your communication efforts across different channels.

Plus, as you utilize different communication channels, you’ll be able to reach your supporters at different frequencies, varying how often or how quickly you reach out to them. Direct mail, for example, takes much longer for a supporter to receive than a text message.

Here are just a few of the channels you might use to communicate with your supporters regularly:

  • Social media: Platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter all appeal to different audiences, but they each offer a unique way for you to connect with supporters. For example, tweets can help you get quick updates out to your support base during a school fundraiser, while a more image-driven platform like Instagram might be a great place to share the results of your fundraiser after the fact.

  • TV/radio ads: If you have the budget to make a TV or radio ad, you can rely on video editing, music, and audio to help put some emotional force behind your message and reach your supporters when they’re relaxing at home or commuting to work.

  • Email: Email is a great platform to get a lot of information to your supporters quickly. It’s also an inexpensive and easy way to connect!

  • Direct mail: According to Meyer Partners’ article on direct mail for nonprofits, direct mail is usually dismissed as an outdated form of communication. But in reality, it’s a great way to reach your supporters, especially your supporters who are older because you can send supporters letters centered around emotionally compelling narratives. Plus, it provides a unique, tangible experience.

  • Print materials: Posters, brochures, and flyers can be a little expensive to produce, but are great at catching supporters’ eyes, especially when they’re displayed or distributed in public places. Try asking local businesses, like retailers, if they are willing to display your print materials in their storefronts or on their buildings.

  • Phone calls: Directly calling supporters is a great opportunity to make one-on-one connections that strengthen relationships and help donors feel more connected to the cause. Phone calls also give you the room to update supporters on your fundraising progress and even make fundraising asks.

There’s no shortage of options when it comes to choosing what channels you’ll use to communicate with your audience. We suggest choosing a few that you can really master and use to reach your supporters at different times and for different reasons. No matter what channels you choose, make sure you’re putting your supporters’ needs first. One way you can do that is to personalize your messages.

  1. Personalize your communication

Think about the last time you received a birthday card. When you opened that card, you likely found a personalized message inside from the family member or friend who sent it to you. Now imagine opening that same birthday card and seeing only the printed text on the inside— no personalized message, no signature from your loved one. It would feel a lot less personal, wouldn’t it?

The same goes for communication with your supporters. Supporters who’ve donated to your cause, volunteered with your organization, or attended one of your fundraisers want to feel like they matter to you. Even when you’re communicating with them frequently, they don’t want to feel like they’re just a bank or a source of free labor. That’s why it’s important when planning out your communication cadence to build in a strategy to personalize your messaging as much as you can.

Here are two strategies you can use to personalize your communications:

  • Use your supporters’ names. Use your CRM or list of supporters to learn their names. Include them in the salutation line of your marketing messages. Starting an email with “Dear Darla,” or “Hello Mike,” will mean much more to a supporter than something like “Dear Donor.”

  • Acknowledge past donations or participation with gratitude. You should always seek ways to let your supporters know that you appreciate their past efforts to get involved with your organization. And this doesn’t just mean sending donor thank-you notes, though you should. Make sure _before_soliciting a donation or volunteer work from a supporter that you acknowledge their past support. Try writing something like, “Our PTA truly appreciates all your help last year in the first-grade summer reading program” or “Thank you so much for supporting our mission to preserve the rainforest with your donation of [specific dollar amount] in April.”

The more personal and specific your messaging can be, the easier it will be for your supporters to feel connected to your organization and your mission, and the more receptive they’ll be to your communication as you establish a healthy cadence. And, when they feel connected to your organization and look forward to hearing from you, they’ll support you far into the future.

  1. Create a communication calendar

Once you’ve identified your supporters’ communication expectations, determined the outreach channels you want to use, and developed strategies to personalize your communication materials, you’re ready to put your supporter communication cadence into action.

But instead of stuffing envelopes on a whim or pulling the trigger on a batch of emails when you get around to it, we recommend you build a little more rigor into your communication cadence by scheduling out your messaging.

You can do this by creating a communication calendar that will help you do the following:

  • View the year as a whole and mark dates for key events and campaigns.
  • Identify when you’ll reach out to your supporters to let them know about upcoming opportunities, thank them for donating, solicit volunteer work or donations, etc.
  • Plan in time you may need to draft communication materials and review them with your team before sending them.
  • Set target dates for sending your materials

Here’s an example of what this might look like in practice: Say your school will be hosting a virtual fundraiser in September. You might use your communication calendar to plan out when in August you’ll design and/or draft your posters, review them with your team, print them, and hang them up, giving you plenty of time to get the word out before the day of. Understanding the timeline around postering will also inform how and when to incorporate other communication channels, such as email invitations and social media posts.

Planning your communication efforts with a calendar can help you stay organized and communicate consistently. It can also give you the headspace to ensure you’re creating quality communication materials that will resonate with your supporters.

It can be difficult to know how often your organization should be in contact with your supporters, especially because you don’t want to overwhelm them with too much outreach. As you follow these steps to build an effective supporter communication cadence, make sure to focus on how you can build lasting relationships with the people who want to see you accomplish your mission. Good luck!

About the author:

Founder and President Sandra Davis leads Donorly with 30 years of fundraising experience and leadership. Sandra has consulted on numerous capital campaigns, led strategic planning and feasibility study efforts, and managed board development and recruitment efforts, _p_lanned giving, special events, and annual giving programs. Under her leadership, Donorly has grown to support the fundraising efforts of over 75 clients to date.