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Using All The Tools In The Communications Toolchest

Y’all, we’ve got to change our ways.


Here is a sampling of things I have seen Houston nonprofits do:

  • Hold events without a communications plan to engage the participants after the events are over.

  • Allow programs and development to communicate separate messages about the nonprofit's activities and mission.

  • Send emails without thinking through why they are sending them or who they are going to.

But by far the biggest problem I see repeated by nonprofit after nonprofit is focusing its attention on one communications tool, usually social media, while ignoring the other tools that are available to them.


It's like a carpenter carrying around a bag full of tools but only using a hammer. Or like trying to cook gumbo using only one ingredient.


If you read my blog, you know I am a believer in an integrated approach to nonprofit communications. So, I was excited to read The State of Modern Philanthropy 2022, produced by the online fundraising software company Classy.


While the study is largely a self-promotion for Classy’s services, it looked at donor behavior that resulted in more than a billion dollars in nonprofit donations. The results demonstrate the way communications platforms need to interact with each other to support overall fundraising goals. It stresses the way nonprofits can use website, event, social media, and email channels to acquire and nurture donors. Among the insights:


Website – Use your website, especially pages dedicated to specific campaigns, as the focal point of fundraising efforts. Everything should push, pull or lead people to your donation page.

Social media – While social media doesn’t really generate donations, it introduces people to your brand and your mission. Posts should include calls to action that bring people to your website to learn more.

Events - Events, especially peer-to-peer events, prompt people to make that all-important initial donation. The study says, “peer-to-peer fundraising converted at 47%, the highest rate of all campaign types.”

Email – A cold email to a stranger won’t be that effective, but, if you are trying to spur an existing supporter to go ahead and donate, email is your most effective option. The study looked at what prompted people to make an online donation. It found that 29% of donors go directly to your website to contribute. Those are loyal donors who know what you do, where to find you and are ready to contribute. If only everyone was like that! For the rest of your supporters, use email. The study found that 27% of donors click on an email link to find your website and donate. No other communications tool even came close.

Mobile Vs. Computer - The study also stressed the importance of thinking about mobile devices when you build your communications plans. That is especially important for peer-to-peer events, perhaps because people are more likely to communicate with their friends through text and personal emails.


Looking at the big picture, you want to:

  • Introduce people to your organization;

  • Encourage them to make a first donation; and

  • Nurture the relationship so that they see the impact of their generosity and are motivated to continue to support you.

No one communications tool can accomplish all of those things, but each of them has a purpose. Successful fundraising plans really are like gumbo – you blend all of the ingredients together and you produce something that is better than any one of them alone.

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