Valentine’s Day was yesterday, and love is in the air! While it is commonplace to celebrate your loved ones on this day, more social sector organizations are using this day to celebrate supporters and employees. For some inspiration, my friends and fellow consultants, Tawnia Wise of Wise Resource Development and Aimee Sheahan of Sheahan Communications, and I recently shared our ideas and best practices on how to “show love” to these VIPs. For an added layer of fun, we have used The 5 Love Languages as a guide. Dr. Gary Chapman posits that everyone gives and receives love differently through words of affirmation, acts of service, receiving gifts, quality time and physical touch. He has been using this idea with couples for decades, but the love language concept applies equally to other types of relationships, including the ones you have with your supporters.

Words of Affirmation: Share Their Role in Your Mission

In relationships, words of affirmation serve an important purpose: they demonstrate that you understand the other person’s inherent worth and the unique value they bring to your relationship. When done authentically, this builds them up and strengthens your connection. The same is true in relationships between organizations and their supporters. One of the best ways to do this is to put them in the center of your organization’s mission story.

First, shift from organization-centric to supporter-centric language. Instead of giving your nonprofit all the credit (“last year our organization tutored 2,000 children”), put the focus on them (“thanks to your support, 2,000 children received tutoring”). It is a subtle but important shift that shows that they’re a valued part of your team, not an outsider looking in.

Take it one step further and literally put your supporters at the center of your mission story through storytelling. This is more than traditional donor and volunteer profiles that read like biographies. Good storytelling makes your supporter the protagonist in your mission narrative, whether they have funded your capital campaign, stuffed the invitations for your last fundraiser or been a consistent monthly giver. Talk about how their role makes an impact in your next email, social post or website story, and incorporate a photo of them in action instead of a headshot. Or ask your supporter to tell their story in their own words through a guest blog or social media takeover. Telling them you value and trust them enough to speak on behalf of your mission might be the most affirming words of all.

While words of affirmation can be powerful, we must caution you: don’t be a nag! In relationships, we don’t want to be constantly asked to do things. Nonprofit supporters are no different. A good rule of thumb is that for every ask, deliver at least three communications that thank, affirm, educate, share impact or ask for feedback. Taking a “words of affirmation” approach to your communications will be music to their ears, keep them listening and encourage them to sing your tune the next time their support is needed.

Physical Touch: Amplify the Results from Your Messages 

For donors, the love language of physical touch can be reflected in the different ways we learn. We each have a dominant learning preference. Some of us are visual learners while others are auditory learners. Some learn better through written communication while others learn more from hands-on experience. But research shows that the more ways we learn information, the more likely we are to retain it and take action. To show love to your supporters and ensure your messages “stick,” think about how to engage them through different learning styles, Here’s a quick checklist to help:


  • Are you using infographics to share your data?
  • Are you including enough pictures to illustrate your story?


  • When starting a presentation, do you have an attention-grabber?
  • When moving from one point to the other, do you signpost (let people know where you are and where you are going)?
  • When giving presentations, do you vary your tone and include points of inflection when making an important point?
  • When sharing lots of information, do you pause effectively to let listeners gather their thoughts and possibly ask questions?
  • When you end a presentation, do you share key takeaways and next steps?


  • Do you think ahead about the best form of communication – writing an email, texting or making a phone call?
  • Do you write concisely?
  • Are your emails getting opened?
  • Do you use power words and effective use of emphasis to highlight key points?


  • Do you have tours so your supporters can see your mission in action?
  • Do you have hands-on experiences to involve them in the mission?
  • Do you give handouts and share examples at events and meetings?


Quality Time: Create Quality Brand Interactions

One way we demonstrate our love to the people in our lives is by having quality interactions with them. To keep our supporters engaged, we must do the same.

For nonprofit organizations, this looks different than it does between two people. Quality interactions aren’t just at one point of contact, but across many touchpoints. In fact, recent research shows that an individual must have at least seven touchpoints before becoming a supporter. As brands, we must monitor and optimize all the places and ways we interface with supporters. Are we accurately communicating who we are, our values and how we value donors and supporters?

By keeping a strong focus on customer service, we can create a positive experience for our supporters. Here’s a sampling of touchpoints where organizations can engage donors and volunteers:

  • How do you answer the phone?
  • How quickly and effectively do you respond to social media comments and messages?
  • How welcoming and professional is your lobby?
  • Is your website up-to-date and responsive to mobile devices?
  • Do you personalize your email communications with a name instead of “Dear friend”?
  • How many clicks does it take on your website to get to your donation or volunteer interest form?
  • Do you respond to board, donor and volunteer emails and phone calls within 24 hours?
  • Do you segment your email lists and customize your communications to the needs and interests of specific audiences?
  • Do your communications help create an emotional connection with supporters?
  • Do all staff members have a mindset that they share responsibility for engaging donors and volunteers and keeping them happy?


Acts of Service: Meeting Their Unique Needs 

Acts of service is a love language in which your time and energy is used to meet another person’s needs. When it comes to your volunteers and donors, this can best be shown by tailoring cultivation plans or journeys that bring them into a deeper level of engagement within the organization. A journey typically includes five steps: inspiring them, understanding them, engaging them, thanking them and engaging them again.

Inspire them: Give potential volunteers and donors lots of ways and reasons to get involved. Inspire your audience with meaningful stories, compelling facts, your unique value proposition and your impact. At the same time, give your audience easy ways to show interest by interacting with you on social media, signing up for your mailing list, donating and volunteering. Encourage those who are already involved to raise awareness by inviting their friends to engage.

Be sure to utilize a variety of entry points and ways of sharing information (see our “physical touch” recommendations!) to capture the attention of as many supporters as possible.

Understand them: Get to know your audience. Acts of service only work as a love language if those acts meet the person’s needs. Individuals get involved in an organization for many reasons; behind those reasons is an inherent need. They may get involved because they want to make an impact on a mission they care about or because someone they care about asked them to. Or they may want to acquire new skills or receive recognition within a social circle.

The best way to understand someone’s needs is to ask them directly. Do this by utilizing autoresponders to text messages or emailing a short five-question survey when someone signs up for your mailing list, makes a donation or registers for an event or volunteer activity. Ask them why they got involved, which program interests them most and other ways they may want to engage with your mission

Engage themWhen asking someone for greater involvement, be clear – make a direct ask for a donation or volunteer commitment. Personalize it. Tailor your communications, newsletters and appeals based on their interests. Always use their name when communicating. When sending a letter through the mail, add a personal, handwritten note.

Thank themThank your volunteers and donors by ensuring that they understand the impact they have made in their area of interest. Consider other creative ways to meet their unique needs when thanking them. For example, if someone volunteered because their employer asked them to, share your appreciation of the volunteer’s impact with their employer.

Engage them againAsk for a deeper level of engagement based on their interests. For example, if a donor sponsored a child for your holiday giving tree, ask them if they would like to volunteer to help host a Valentine’s Day party for the children in the program.

Repeat these steps as you deepen your relationship with your volunteers and donors. At every step of the journey, think about how you can help meet their unique needs.

Receiving Gifts: Thank Early & Often

Much like turning individuals into donors takes seven touchpoints, likewise people do not feel fully appreciated until you thank them seven times. The love language of giving gifts is about the sentiment and energy behind the gift. In this context, the gift is the token of appreciation. You can give this gift to your volunteers and donors in many ways; the key is to make it meaningful, genuine and personal.

A great role model for stewarding volunteers and donors is John Drake, president of the Baylor Scott & White Irving Foundation. Any time something great happens at the hospital, John picks up the phone and calls his donors and says something like, “I have to share some great news with you! We wouldn’t have been able to do this without you!” His constant attitude of appreciation has cultivated a relationship of trust and respect between him and his donors.

Once a month, thank your donors and volunteers in some way. Schedule it on your calendar to make it happen. In addition to a phone call, some ideas include:

  • An email
  • A handwritten card (from CEO, development director, board member)
  • Tickets to an event
  • A personal gift (i.e., their favorite candy)
  • A note or handmade gift from a client
  • An appreciation event
  • An award or a nomination for an award
  • A donation in their honor
  • Asking their opinion


The last idea, asking their opinion, is often overlooked but is one of the most powerful gifts of appreciation you can give. When you truly value someone’s opinion, you are showing them honor and respect.

Nonprofits are in the “love business.” Employees and supporters alike fall in love with our missions but stay because they are loved back. We hope this blog inspired you to think differently – we look forward to hearing how you have been “showing the love” just a little more to supporters. For even more ideas, download the slides from our webinar in partnership with VolunteerNow & Texas Volunteer Management Conference.


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