Breaking up is hard to do…when your donors are engaged.

Date Published
Kathy Giles

Neil Sedaka said it best, “Breaking up is hard to do”. When donors stop giving or when they stop interacting with you, they are in fact breaking up with you.

But when your donors are fully engaged and invested in your mission, the act of breaking up becomes much harder on the donors’ part. The goal of developing a donor relationship is to get him/her to feel the impact of a potential breakup and “think of all that we’ve been through”.

Alright, enough with the song lyrics. Creating a donor engagement strategy takes work and planning. It also requires commitment at all levels within the organization, because it can take time and resources from across departments. It also needs to become part of the overall and ongoing communication plan.

A synonym of engage is involve. When we think of donor engagement, think about how we involve the donor as a participant within the organization. It is about generating action, not just on the part of the organization but for the donor as well.

We want an action beyond donating, because the more donors interact with you – the more engaged they are. The more engaged they are – the more loyal. The more loyal a donor is – the more his/her lifetime value increases. You get my point.

Below is a list of ten ways to engage your donors to help them become participants within the organization with the goal of developing more valuable donors:

  1. Invite them to events.
  2. Ask their opinion/give them surveys. Here are tips on how to create a survey.
  3. Ask them to sign a petition.
  4. Call and thank your donors (stewardship and engagement!).
  5. Ask for volunteers (this can be long-term volunteers or short-term for a specific need or event).
  6. Ask your donors to share their story as to why they support you.
  7. If you have a calendar, holiday card, or something similar, allow your donors to vote on what image to use for the cover. To build anticipation tell them to check the mailbox to see if their choice was the winner.
  8. Share when you will be out in the community at a fair or event and ask donors to stop by.
  9. Hold a conference call or webinar for more loyal donors to give them updates on new initiatives within your organization.
  10. Ask for supporters to share original artwork or a written story of something that is connected to your organization. For PBS stations it could be a character from a favorite children’s program, for an animal shelter it can be a favorite pet, even for a hospital or health-related organization it can be artwork that represents how it is helping. You can then use the entries and/or the stories to share through email and on social media to build a stronger community presence.

You can see from this list, the options for how to engage your donors is broad and virtually limitless. And your organization most likely has some unique ways you can involve your supporters and make them feel more connected.
But you do have to understand your audience and what you want them to get out of the specific engagement. Are you looking to invite donors above a certain giving level to an event? Or do you want to learn more about a new donor through a thank-you call? It could also be to fulfill a real need by asking your broader donor base to volunteer at a community event.

The recipe for a good engagement strategy is (in order):

  1. Target Audience
  2. Purpose/Expected Outcome
  3. Channel/Tactic
  4. Message

If you can focus on these four elements, you are on your way to creating an engaged donor base.

And even a negative response can be okay. If someone RSVPs with a decline to an event, this is still a win because the donor actively took the time to respond. If a donor provides critical feedback to a survey, this is a great opportunity to directly respond to that donor; taking time to respond most likely signifies a strong interest.

Always remember, “Breaking up is hard to do,” and we want donors to feel the impact and loss of ending their relationship with your organization.

About the Author:
Kathy Giles
Director of Client Management, Agency Services

Role at the Company

As an Account Director with Agency Services I work with clients to develop their direct response, annual giving, and membership programs. I am responsible for the strategy, budget, creative oversight, planning, and results reporting for each campaign as well as ensuring we are meeting all client expectations. I also work to build the client relationship to not only retain the client, but to also look for opportunities to increase activities with clients, through any of our three business areas. And new business is always on the radar!

What excites you about your work at AFG?

With the three divisions, we have more opportunities to support our clients. We can extend the services offered to provide more full-service-oriented solutions to current and prospective clients, allowing AFG to become more involved with a client’s program. This also allows for more growth and learning, on a personal note.

What’s something most people don’t know about you?

To feed my love of stories and storytelling, I went to school for film production, with a concentration in documentary film. I have had the opportunity to work on a few documentaries including one for the United Nations on the history of interpretation where I was able to visit several embassies and spoke with the amazing people in the UN Interpretation Service.

Today, I get to tell the stories of the non-profit clients I work with.

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