Generous Donor = Engagement + Culture

Every nonprofit can have generous donors. The precursors are having engaged donors and a culture that supports the mission, encourages engagement, and recognizes the value of donors.

A low percentage of donors are engaged (typically less than half). Since engagement is an important precursor to generosity, increasing donor engagement has the potential to be beneficial to every nonprofit. Luckily, engagement can be built but only if you are willing to meet with the disengaged. When you show how much donors mean to you by taking the time to meet with them, it will give them a reason to engage with your nonprofit.

With appropriate attention and feedback, engagement will grow. Since the donors are passionate about your mission and clients, the feedback must be centered on the donors’ passion. When you thank a donor, ensure the thanks is related to the donor’s impact on the mission or clients (“The weekend retreat you helped fund made the following changes in the women who attended…”). The impact must be mission, client, and donor centric. Telling them about women when they care about youth is unlikely to raise their engagement. It may even lower their engagement if they think you are ignoring their desire to help youth.

Appropriate rewards build engagement. Rather than a new tote bag, make the reward mission or client centric (“Here are two tickets to the June graduation ceremony.”). While the donor may never know which graduate they helped, knowing one of the graduates is there because of the donor’s help is emotionally rewarding.

Involvement builds engagement. Personally invite supporters (rather than sending invitations) to participate in activities, that are directly related to the mission and clients. For example, “Your donation helped three clients find jobs. Please come to The Newly Employed Clients Party.”. The best-run fundraiser is all about the mission and clients.

Making people feel important engages them. One-on-one cultivation is a great way to tell people how important they are as long as the cultivation is about the mission and clients rather than the donor’s next or last gift. Part of every cultivation session should be information sharing. Tell the donor about significant current or pending mission and client activities as well as soliciting the donor’s feedback. The communications can be done by email but in most cases it lacks the personal touch that makes it engaging. Shortcuts are rarely engaging. A short cut says that saving money is more important than investing in an important person.

Culture is also important. It is easy to have a disengaging culture. Some of the attributes of an engaging culture are:

Board – The way the board talks, thinks, and acts sets the tone for the culture. If the mission and clients are obviously at the heart of everything the board does, it focuses the culture on what the donors value. That is engaging for donors.

Values – Your leadership needs to celebrate the values that it thinks are important. There are many values that are important to your donors and board. Your board needs to make it a point to celebrate those shared values. It helps to reinforce the strong connection between your board and donors. It tells your donors they are associated with the right nonprofit.

Intentional – Donors are attracted to a nonprofit because of the potential for shared values, the promises of the mission statement, and the needs of the clients. If the board talks about what needs to be done but is inconsistent when taking action or distracted by money or something else, it is easy for the donors to feel the board is insincere.

Priorities – Most boards say they are committed to being donor, client, and mission centric. However, many nonprofits are structured to optimized efficiency, set budgets with costs being more important than effectiveness, and write policies that emphasize activity rather than results. This approach suggests to outsiders that the sustainability of the nonprofit is more important than the nonprofit’s purpose. Since serving the purpose engages donors and other stakeholders, it is the effectiveness with which the purpose is served that determines a nonprofit’s sustainability and donor engagement.

Accountability – When the board holds everyone, including themselves, accountable for their impact on the mission and clients, donors engage. They know their gifts will be used to advance the mission and help the clients succeed. This also implies that all of the success measures and goals are mission and client centric.

Next Step:

Focus on donor engagement

Create a culture that fosters donor engagement

Use donor engagement, the growth in new donors, and the growth in donor generosity as indicators of your board’s cultural development success

Nonprofit boards are seldom aware of the impact their conduct, policy setting, thoughts, and assumptions have on fundraising. Fundraising is often seen as something others do. It is often seen by the board as a necessary activity but a distraction from the real business of a nonprofit.

Fundraising is central to a nonprofit’s existence. The strength of the connection that is developed between the donors and the clients is central to having an effective mission and successful clients. Without engaged donors, many resources are lost trying to replace donors who drifted away, looking for donors who will be engaged, and trying to find new donors to make up for the limited generosity of the current donors. In other words, if your board spent more time doing what is necessary to have engaged donors, it would be unnecessary for your board to spend time trying to balance the budget.

Take It Further:

Remind your board that the engagement of your donors is the key to having the generosity your mission needs


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