Business woman shaking hands in meeting

For many nonprofits, donor stewardship is arguably the top priority. Nonprofit leaders and fundraisers spend much of their time cultivating and stewarding relationships with their donors, volunteers, and other supporters. Why? Nonprofits are keenly aware of the power of engagement, and the relationships they have with their supporters.

In fact, a survey conducted by Charity Dynamics and the Nonprofit Technology Network (NTEN) revealed that while most donors (78 percent) give to more than one charity, nearly half of the survey respondents (47 percent) give a majority of their annual total donation amount to the charity they feel most connected with. They also fundraise on behalf of the charity they’re most involved with (30 percent at least once a year) and embrace digital media to participate in engagement activities ranging from donating, volunteering to spreading the word about their favorite charity. The message here is loud and clear — donors are most active with the organizations they feel most connected to. And when they feel connected, they want to engage with charities beyond just giving.

The same goes for you, the small business owner, and the relationship you have with your customers. While the end goal is different (sales vs. donations,) being able to effectively engage with customers is critical to your success.

Here are four best practices from the nonprofit world that small business owners looking to ramp up their relationship building efforts should embrace:

Communicate beyond “the ask”

Nonprofits communicate with donors in many ways beyond just donation appeals. They leverage newsletters, social media, videos, podcasts, websites, and in-person events to regularly communicate with and steward their donors. In the same vein, you should leverage your communication channels for greater purposes than just selling. Look for ways to educate, inform, and entertain your customers through your marketing efforts. If you do so, you’ll naturally be the one they think of when they are ready to buy — no hard sell necessary.

Appeal to the heart and mind

Donors stay connected with organizations that engage their hearts and their minds. This is why nonprofits look for ways to get them more deeply involved. They invite donors to volunteer and join boards. While you may not have the same opportunities to offer customers, there are ways to get them moving on behalf of your business. Provide your customers with great content and experiences. Both of these make people feel connected to your business. Inspire your customers to share because when sharing takes place on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, one-to-one conversations turn into socially visible endorsements. Depending on the nature of your business, a referral program offering incentives to existing customers who refer your business to their friends may also be something to consider.

Ask for their insights

Nonprofits will sometimes host donor roundtables or form donor advisory groups to gather feedback about what is working well and what could be going better for an organization. You can do the same type of thing. Show your customers that you care about what they think and respect their suggestions and concerns. Leverage an online survey tool or host customer focus groups to gather customer feedback about your business. Just be sure to communicate out any feedback that you decide to act upon to demonstrate just how much you value their opinions.

Say thank you

Never underestimate the power of those two simple words. Donor recognition is built into every receipt for donation. For example, all donors usually receive at minimum a thank you letter for making a gift to an organization. The “thank you” may be prove to be more significant and more personal than a call from the Executive Director for a large donation. Make sure you have processes in place to thank your customers for supporting your business. Even a quick “thanks for your business” goes a long way to show your appreciation.

Join us as we celebrate Small Business Week 2013 with a special live webcast on June 14, 2013 designed to help you find your next great customer. Want to attend a live event? Find one in your area.