How to Differentiate Campaign Messaging for Major Donors vs. Grassroots Supporters

Nonprofits shouldn’t recycle messaging across supporters. Learn how to maximize your campaign by customizing messages for major donors & grassroots supporters.
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When it comes to messaging for your nonprofit’s fundraising campaigns, do you know who you’re talking to? And how to talk to them?

Your organization has the support of both major donors and grassroots supporters — or at least, you aim to. But not only are those donors’ capacity for giving wildly different, but their reasons for supporting your organization vary drastically also. That means your nonprofit’s fundraising campaign messages should be tailor-made — not one size fits all.

If you want to develop sustainable streams of revenue and expand your supporter network, you must connect your donors with the information and content that matters to them. Don’t settle for an ill-fitting nonprofit campaign messaging approach that will only result in empty pockets. Weave your messages into something appealing and customized for every kind of donor.

That takes extra effort and certain skill sets. But it’s well worth it for the relationships (and smashed fundraising goals) you experience along the way.

For Your High-Dollar Donors, It’s About the Relationship

Without funding, you can’t run future nonprofit campaigns. You can’t foster your community. And you can’t solve systemic problems. This means you need long-term relationships with a network of right-fit major donors.

Those major donors need to trust that their donation will go toward a program, project, or action that aligns with their values. Plus, they need to know their investment will truly make a difference. The best way for these donors to feel confident in giving their sizable gift is by knowing exactly who and what their donation will impact. You simply can’t establish that kind of trust without first building a relationship.

How to Use Messaging Within Your Major Donor Relationships

Your connection should start with a simple, low-pressure conversation centered around what’s exciting about your organization’s work. Your organization’s founder, head of development, or prominent board member should take the lead in kicking things off and cultivating the relationship. After all, it takes certain skills to nurture a high-dollar donor relationship successfully — all while sticking to your organization’s purpose. (Sometimes major donors have their own agendas; it takes someone skilled to keep the momentum positively on track.)

The beginning of your relationship is the best time to learn why your potential donor is drawn to your cause. It’s likely your supporter has a personal tie to what you’re fighting for. And knowing this detail can better set the stage for future conversations.

For example, your potential donor could be a lifelong scuba diver growing increasingly concerned about the effects of climate change on ocean reefs — exactly what your organization exists to reverse.

Your conversation will naturally volley back and forth over time. Before long, you will get to the intersection of what matters most to your donor and what your organization needs in order to achieve its mission.

Your donor management system is perfect for tracking details and anecdotes about your supporters. The next time you see them at a philanthropic event, you can use those donor insights to deepen your bond to provide a much-needed sense of trust and affirmation.

When the time is right, you’ll get to the big pitch: either a direct ask for a dollar amount, a dollar range for specific program needs, or a capital expense. You can make your ask with a standard investor deck. Make sure to modify it with specific message points for your targeted donor, sharing the impact stats and stories that will resonate with them most.

With a clear call to action, your donor should walk away knowing exactly what their impact will be should they choose to give. They should not doubt if their values align with your organization, because they should already know. And if you connect with authenticity, they’ll likely donate.

But the first gift is just the beginning. Expect to provide thank you’s, progress updates, ongoing storytelling, and opportunities for your donors to get their hands dirty. You must nurture the relationship you worked so hard to build.

Seek Out Your Grassroots Givers’ Motivations — Then Craft Your Message

Getting your message out to your grassroots and crowdfunding supporters is fairly easy, thanks to the power of your website, social media, peer-to-peer networking, live events, digital live streams, email, and more.

But if spreading the word is easy, it’s what word to spread — and to whom — that becomes a challenge. To be effective in your asks, message your broad swath of supporters in ways that capture their attention and connect with their values and motivations.

Like your high-dollar donors, learn why your supporters engaged with your cause in the first place. You will learn a lot about what resonates with them — and can develop your nonprofit campaign messaging accordingly.

Once you know the varying values and motivations of your supporters, you can segment them into different groups. Create your messaging to appeal to each group based on their common values or interests.

For example, perhaps you found out that a subset of your supporters cares about your effort to conserve forests because of the animal habitats affected by deforestation. You could then produce stories focused on how your organization has saved a group of endangered birds. Or perhaps a group of your supporters are invested in your conservation efforts because they got sick from poor air quality as a result of nearby logging mills. Your next campaign message can talk about how your work reversed a decades-old harmful policy that clears the air.

By segmenting your various messages by your different audience subsets, you will better connect with everyone in your grassroots community.

4 Tips for Nonprofit Fundraising With Your Grassroots Supporters

It’s not enough to find out what messaging points resonate with which audiences. You have to consider the wider strategy behind your outreach. Here are four tips to elevate your asks.

  1. Reach out when something great happens. When your organization hits a huge campaign milestone, it’s a great time to reach out to your grassroots audience with a message. The impact is right there for them to see. The momentum is shifting. People are excited!

  2. Ask for a recurring donation. What are the best donations? The kind that keep coming. That’s what makes recurring donations so great. People can set it and forget it — and you secure another reliable revenue stream. Win-win!

  3. Engage before asking for money. Sure, you want your supporters’ donations. But you’d get nowhere without their other forms of engagement — telling their network, sharing your content on their social media, and volunteering at your events. Instead of immediately asking for money, welcome supporters to your cause by getting them involved in other ways. As you nurture your relationship and work supporters up the engagement pyramid, you may find that making your ask gets easier because they are more invested.

  4. Send updates often. You’re at the forefront of news and education surrounding your cause — let your grassroots givers know about it. Prove your impact and inspire their involvement by keeping your supporters up to date with the state of your mission. Create and promote scroll-stopping content that hooks them and makes them come back for more. Think of your consistent updates as equal parts informing, educating, and inspiring.

The Power of Messaging in a Hybrid Nonprofit Fundraising Campaign

Some projects require the power and passion of every one of your supporters. Bringing your high-dollar donors and your grassroots givers together for these capital campaigns not only increases your dollar count, but it also brings people together — something you can’t put a price on.

Large capital campaign strategies usually start by securing funding for a majority of the goal. (For example, 10 donors may be asked to commit to $3.75 million out of a $4 million campaign.) The larger donation conversations happen in the same relationship-based way they would for any other nonprofit campaign.

About 9-12 months later, the grassroots givers and community crowdfunders are called upon to bring the campaign home.

Doing it this way kicks off the campaign with great momentum, galvanizing support both behind the curtain and in the community. It’s a way to drum up public support as it energizes the community with excitement and a sense of ownership over the project.

Your messaging strategy for this campaign is a healthy marriage of the two: A relationship-based, personal approach with your high-dollar donors plus key messaging points that appeal to different groups of grassroots givers.

Cultivating and nurturing donor relationships is the lifeblood of your nonprofit’s fundraising. Without connecting to your major donors and grassroots supporters alike, those relationships are much harder to sustain. Getting at the root of why they’re giving can unlock your custom messaging strategy — and pave a path forward for maximum impact.

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