What if I asked you to sell me a pen, how would you respond?

Will you tell me about the pen?

Would you tell me that each tip was hand polished to perfection for a smoother writing experience? Would you tell me about the millions around the world who use it as their go-to writing instrument?

Or will you ask about me?

Will you ask why I need a pen, how much it’s worth to me, what is important to me in a pen I own?

If you chose the second set of questions, let’s get on with the rest of the article. If you chose the first, go ahead and read about the analogy here and come back to the article.

The pen is not the hero of this story. I am. Or to sound less self-absorbed, anyone buying the pen is the hero. Your goal here is to identify why the pen is important in a person’s life and sell them on the emotions attached to those needs, not the pen itself.

You take anything that is important to you, a pen, a place, a restaurant, a friend — there are a few common threads that tie together the emotions that make it important — trust, need, presence, and uniqueness.

You trust your pen to not leak ink, you need it to take down notes, it’s there on the desk when you need it, you’d prefer a certain type of pen over others.  But importance is not objective. The wheel wasn’t important until it was invented, water is more important when you’re in the desert. It is subjective. And because it is subjective, you as a nonprofit can use those common threads to become and remain important in a supporters life.

The below steps offer five ways to get people to love your cause— and how to maintain a long-term relationship and remain important to supporters.

Cultivate a personal relationship

You can’t reach out to a supporter and act like they mean the world to you without knowing anything about them. The first step to cultivating a personal relationship is getting to know more about your supporters. Your initial signup to every consecutive interaction with the supporter is an opportunity to do just that. To get started, ask supporters to fill in a survey form during the initial sign up. On subsequent interactions, keep collecting more information about their interests, motivations, willingness to donate etc. If you’re using phone calls or text messages to converse with supporters, experiment with software solutions that have in-app surveys to record supporter data. Once you have data on your supporters, do a basic segmentation on your donor list based on supporter type and interests. For example, if you’re a child right’s organization, supporters who care about more about education rights should receive communication that’s different from those who care about healthcare. The point is to align your communication with what the supporter cares about. Follow up your segmentation with outreach that has a personal and authentic tone of voice i.e sound human.

Email services like MailChimp can help you set up drip email campaigns that send out emails based on the actions of a supporter — if a supporter chooses a particular interest in your survey form, it can automatically trigger future communication based on that response. That should help you set a personal communication channel that is also scalable.


Trust is hard to develop, easier to maintain, and difficult to get back once lost. Anyone who supports your mission does so because they believe that the combined effort of your actions can change the world. Earn the trust of your supporters by making sure they know that you are in fact changing the world. Your impact should be evident on your website as well as your outreach material. Beneficiary stories, volunteer stories, financial reporting, donation tracking all work together to create a transparent culture around your nonprofit that supporters grow to trust over the long term.

Keep in touch

That age-old saying, ‘Out of sight, out of mind.’ seems apt here. Your scope of engaging a supporter is reducing day on end with the ridiculous amount of new content being put on the internet every minute. And if you can’t find a way to stay connected to your supporters, it won’t be long before they lose interest or worse yet, forget that you exist. A best practice is to diversify the channels and type of content with which you connect with supporters. Email and social media outreach should go hand in hand with other communication channels like phone calls, text messages, direct mail, and peer-to-peer. Content should be a healthy mix of beneficiary stories, event invitations, thank you notes, fundraising appeals, blog posts, updates, and call to actions so as to not appear monotonous. Choosing multiple channels ensures that supporters are not overwhelmed over certain channels. It also extends the reach of your nonprofit to people who are more comfortable with a certain channel of communication. If budget restrictions are stopping you from trying out new engagement strategies, first experiment with tools that offer a pay as you go model. When you see returns from new channels, scale up your outreach.

Passion is contagious

A good looking website, an all-powerful CRM, a polished marketing strategy are all secondary to a passionate voice. If you can convey passion in your engagement with supporters, that goes a long way to getting them excited about the cause. Passion gives people a glimpse of the human side of your nonprofit. And that passion is often enough to sell people on the idea, the idea that something is worth caring about. Check out the Twitter feed of Habitat for Humanity for a few good examples —they have a healthy mix of content on their page, both created and curated with each post coming with a caption that exudes a passion for the cause. A supporter going through the nonprofits social media page would be left without a doubt that the people behind it care about what they are doing.

Mutually beneficial relationships

Most of life involves give and take that is driven by a need to have mutually beneficial relationships. That need is a big factor in what makes something important in a person’s life. Why nonprofits need supporters is evident. Why do supporters need you? The data that you collect on them helps reveal that. Identify the underlying needs that brought a supporter to you and connect with them through those needs. Some people may just look for the tax rebate that comes with a donation. While others may be supporting you because they identify on a personal level with the cause. Other reasons include — a tradition of giving in the family, religious beliefs, to feel good about themselves, to feel empowered in the time of crisis, or fulfilling a social commitment. Identify the need and connect through it.

When dealing with names on a list, we sometimes forget the real people behind those names. While the quality of your online engagement won’t be on par with actual conversations, the above-mentioned steps offer a practical way to treat the names on your list as important and in turn remain important to them. The basics are simple — take the time to know the person, be open about your successes and failures, remember to keep in touch (without appearing needy), and make sure both sides are benefitting from the relationship.

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