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How to Build Successful Donor Relationships Through Email? [5 Practical Tips for 2023]

How to Build Successful Donor Relationships Through Email? [5 Practical Tips for 2023]

The most important element of a nonprofit’s fundraising efforts are donor relationships. Abila’s 2016 Donor Loyalty Study found that 71% of donors felt more engaged when they received more personalized content from the nonprofits they support. Despite this, many nonprofits have a largely transactional approach to their donors. 

The same study found that 21% of donors never receive a thank you for their efforts. As a result, the Association of Fundraising Professionals says that the gift and dollar retention rates of the nonprofits they represent are consistently below 50%.

So, What Should Nonprofits Do to Build Successful Donor Relationships?

One of the most effective ways to establish connection and stay in touch with your donors is via relationship building emails. Let’s look at some of the best ways to do so using the data, resources, and tools already at your disposal.

1. Organize and Segment Your Data

The first step from the donor database best practices is to segment the data you have for those individuals. 

For those using HubSpot, this is an easy process. The Active List tool in HubSpot allows you to segment users not only by any property for which you’ve collected data but also any activities they’ve taken. 

Common segmentation options include:

  • Lifecycle stage of donors: separate your prospects, one-time donors, recurring donors and lapsed donors into separate lists. Next, create personalized emails and use HubSpot to automate their delivery. 

For instance, someone who donated three months ago will respond differently to a new campaign from someone who hasn’t donated in three years.


Example of a one-time donor marketing automation form in HubSpot
Create a Custom Property to Track Donor Lifecycle Stage so You Can Filter Contacts in Active Lists 
  • Location and demographics: utilize the properties you’ve collected to segment your lists by their geographic location, age, income level, number of children, or any other information you have readily available.
Donor location and demographics form in HubSpot
Use Your Donor Lifecycle Stage Property and Location Information to Filter Current Donors by Location or Other Demographics


  • Campaign activity: HubSpot allows you to segment contacts by email opens and clicks, landing page views, website visits and more. You can also create custom events within your website that are subsequently tracked and used for segmentation. 
Donor engagement in HubSpot
Segment Your Contacts by How Active They Are Engaging With Your Campaigns


2. Create Unique Emails Based on Persona Profiles

Every successful donor relations strategy must have unique email templates tailored to the specifics of their donor personas. To build a strong relationship with donors, you need to answer the following questions:

  • Who are your donors?
  • Why do they donate? 
  • What concerns or problems brought your nonprofit to their attention initially?

When you know why someone is engaged with your organization, it’s easier to write messages that will resonate with them.

Do this by:

- Keeping it personal

Emails should come from specific individuals in your organization. If you want to know how to build and how to maintain donor relationships, it is advisable to use a custom signature with a photograph of the sender and personal stories to connect with each donor. Generic, marketing-grade copy fills email inboxes every day. Not only is it boring, but it’s also forgettable - people archive or delete it on arrival. Personalized messages can help overcome the gatekeeping most people do of their inboxes. 

Personalize emails in HubSpot
Customize Your Emails to Donors by Sending Them From Individuals in Your Organization and Using Personalization Tokens in the Subject Line and Preview Text to Capture Attention

- Bring guests in

Leverage your existing donor network to write personal letters to your prospects. These can be current and past donors who have seen the impact of their donations. Anyone from recipients of the donations, to spokespeople with recognizable names or even senior executives in the organization can positively help your new relationship building emails.

Leverage existing donor relationships as social proof to build new ones.

3. Write Attractive Subjects Lines

None of your efforts mean much if donors and prospects ignore the email entirely. That’s where the subject line comes in. 

Through a combination of a personalized sender email address and a captivating subject line, you can greatly increase the average rate at which people open your emails. 

Nonprofits have a higher than average open rate compared to other industries. Mailchimp reports that 25.17% of recipients open their emails and around 2.793% click the links inside. That may seem low, but when industry averages hover in the 6-12% open rate range and 0.5-1% click-through rate range, these percentages show recipient willingness to engage. 

  • Keeping it short and mobile-friendly: more than 50% of emails are opened and read on mobile devices. Your subject line should accommodate that by remaining short and to the point. 
  • Use personalization tokens: personalization tokens like HubSpot’s include the recipient’s name, location, or other key information in the subject line. This can have a tremendous impact on open rates. 
  • Avoid spam words: are you using spammy words in your subject lines? Did you know that a great number of emails to donors get flagged as spam because of their subject lines. Nonprofits regularly see as much as 12% of their emails flagged as spam, which translates to lost opportunity.

Review this list for words commonly flagged as spam in subject lines.

4. Be Straightforward With Your Intention

Finally, donor database best practices clearly show that you shouldn’t be afraid to be direct with recipients. If someone has opened your email, read it through, and is actively considering a donation, don’t be ambiguous about the next steps.

Provide a clear call to action in the form of a large, visible button and action-oriented text.

5. Build a Custom Landing Page

In addition, build a custom donor landing page in HubSpot for each email marketing campaign for donation collection. This does two things:

First, it allows you to customize the messaging of your donation form to match the language in your email. You can similarly target based on persona, demographics, and campaign activity. Smart content allows you to further customize the content on these pages based on the activity someone might take throughout the campaign.

Second, custom landing pages allow you to better measure the performance of your individual emails and other traffic sources. While you can segment activity on a landing page by source, it’s difficult to subsequently test changes. If you have one donation page that works extremely well for social media ads but poorly for email, how do you adjust it? A unique page designed only for email - or better yet, only for specific emails - is far more flexible and easier to test changes on.

In Conclusion

Good donor relationships can have a profound impact on your nonprofit. They can boost engagement, increase retention, and encourage your best donors to share your campaign with their personal and professional circles. Even just a 10% increase in donor retention can lead to a 200% increase in the long term value of your database.  But how do you overcome those donation challenges?

As a beloved marketing tool for nonprofits, HubSpot is designed to help make these changes easy to implement. Building a strong marketing platform and minimizing friction for your fundraising efforts should ideally help improve the number of donations you receive, cultivating major donors and bolstering your overall efforts. Learn how DepositFix is designed to further enhance those efforts by eliminating friction in the donation process. Schedule a demo to learn more. 

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