In Pursuit of Engaged Donors

Here are five things you can do as part of your cultivation to increase donor engagement:

Clarity – Donor generosity depends on donors having a clear idea of what their gifts will do. If your donors are disappointed by what their gifts accomplish, there are two possibilities. One is to provide your donors with a better understanding of your mission and its limitations. The other is to look for ways to include what your donors expect into your mission.

Growth – If you want your donors to give more, you must demonstrate growth. Growth can be in the number of clients served, increased effectiveness of your mission, or both. It is best when it is humble growth. “We served 10% more clients than last year.” is better than “We are now the largest food bank in the city.” Even better is, “We reduced hunger in the city by 10% last year.” There is value in the growth. The donors can easily understand the impact their gifts are having on the problem and the community.

Change – The change needs to be meaningful, measurable, and durable. Donors prefer to be part of the solution. That means your services must prevent a problem or cure a problem. Passing out a sack of food treats the problem. Teaching people to be self-sufficient cures the problem. Encouraging people to be self-sufficient before they experience hunger is preventative.

Data – Present data that demonstrates that your anecdotes happen frequently rather than rarely. The results may be exceptional but the number of times the exceptional results are achieved should be common. In addition, never provide data unless it is relevant to the donor based upon what interests them. It should also be framed in a way that reminds the donor they want to hear the data (“I know you care about the success of our afterschool program. I hope you will be delighted to know …”). If their reaction is something other than delight, determine what numbers would delight them or if their interests are changing. Also know how they will interpret the data you are giving them. Even if it is of interest to them, if it lacks a purpose that is important to the donor, it is a waste of the donor’s time to listen, which means they are likely to become disengaged instead of engaged.

Convene – Bring small groups of donors together. They will enjoy the fellowship. It tells them that they have value beyond their checkbooks. It reinforces their belief that they are part of something important and part of something that others find important. Your conversations with them and among themselves will provide you with new ideas and opportunities. All together, it boosts your fundraising success and the sustainability of your funding stream.

Next Step:

Determine the generosity and loyalty (retention) of your average donor

Tailor each of the preceding five points for each donor

Determine the generosity and loyalty of your average donor six months after making the cultivation changes

Use the change in donor generosity and loyalty to convince your board and senior management that those measures of the effectiveness are more important than reaching the annual fundraising goal. When those numbers are increasing, you know your funding stream is becoming more sustainable, which means reaching future fundraising goals will be easier. It will make your nonprofit’s financial planning more accurate.

Having effective donor cultivation is an important part of increasing your nonprofit’s sustainability

Take It Further:

Use the same process with your volunteers

Invite a board member to each of your donor group meetings because they are donors, their presence will emphasize the value your nonprofit places on its donors, and the first-hand experience will provide your board members with new insights


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