Donor Engagement means a lot of different things, depending on who you ask.
Some people look at it as a milestone along a path of giving – e.g. willing to tell a friend, willing to volunteer, willing to donate money, etc.
Others see it as a rating of donors to determine how to interact with them – e.g. willing to donate time, so engage with opportunities to volunteer.
The trouble is that neither of these approaches have the donor at the center, instead the organization is at the center. Donor engagement often drives your organization’s communication, marketing, and giving approach. So, placing your organization’s needs at the center can cause you to create strategies that don’t align with donor interests, causing you to miss your goals.
We find that making donors’ needs central to the engagement effort helps the organization build stronger relationships with contributors. And this, in turn, makes the donor’s experience interacting with the nonprofit more fulfilling, encouraging even more engagement in the future.
Engagement vs. Involvement
All too often, donor engagement has become synonymous with fundraising. That can lead to impersonal emails, phone calls, and direct mailers that make a hard push for cash. But what if we changed the name from donor engagement to donor involvement, what would you do differently?
Involvement is what donors really want. They didn’t come to your organization to engage with you. At some point they made a personal connection with your mission. Now it’s your responsibility to show how your unique approach can actually make a difference toward something they care about.
The beneficiary of your organization is what the donor cares about. In many ways, your organization is just a vehicle for making progress toward your mission’s goals. With that in mind, involvement is a way to bring your donors and your beneficiaries closer, in a meaningful way.
Involvement begins with getting to know your donors. The more you learn about what motivates them, the more you can personalize the experience they have with your mission.
As part of the process of getting to know our clients, we first get to know our clients’ donors. We meet as many as we can one-on-one. We also engage as many as we can in surveys. We ask deep, probing questions that help us get to the heart of why they care about the mission.
What we learn helps to guide our recommendations to clients and how they can get more involvement from their donors.
Realistic ways to involve donors (even during a pandemic)
For many organizations, donor engagement culminates at the end of the year with a gala event. These events can account for a substantial portion of the organization’s annual revenue. They also serve as a way to meet with donors in person. This year, and for the foreseeable future, meeting in person will be impossible, so we need to think differently about how we involve our donors.
Your organization’s online presence is frequently the first and most important way donors choose to interact with you. If you take a subjective look at your digital presence, what does it say about your organization and how you involve your donors?
Here’s an outline of a digital presence that is focused on donor involvement:
- Stories and testimonials show specifically how beneficiaries are being helped.
- Similarly, stories and testimonials show specifically how donors have helped to move the mission forward.
- Chat, survey, and social media features encourage donors to interact with you, so you can learn about their interest in your mission.
- What’s driving your visit today?
- Have you been personally impacted by our mission in the past?
- What kinds of outcomes would you like to see working with an organization like ours?
- Requests for support are tangible and specific.
- Requests for donations are broken out into specific initiatives that are clear about how they move the mission forward.
- Requests for volunteers show the outcome of previous volunteer efforts and the intent of future ones.
- Requests in general start with learning more about the motivation of donors.
- Downplay the organization and its intangible goals.
- Avoid features celebrating numbers of volunteers or dollars raised.
- Avoid direct reference to organization leadership and their achievements or efforts.
When these strategies are applied to website development, social strategy, and other digital engagement, donors feel more like a part of the mission. They contribute more willingly when they have a better sense of the outcomes you’re working toward together. You’ll also learn more about them, helping you to mold your organization into the bridge between your donors and your beneficiaries.