13 Strategies for Engaging Donors on National Nonprofit Day and Beyond

13 Strategies for Engaging Donors on National Nonprofit Day and Beyond
Updated May 11, 2023
Julie Bawden-Davis
Written byJulie Bawden-Davis
Catherine Cohen
Edited byCatherine Cohen
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When you run a nonprofit, donors are the beating heart of your organization. Their vital support enables you to fund your cause and perform the life-changing work you do.

Finding donors is only the beginning. If you want them to continue supporting your organization, you must build relationships with them. Receiving repeat donations requires you to foster those connections continuously. To do so, develop a strategy for engaging with these donors.

What Is Donor Engagement, and Why Is It Important?

Donor engagement refers to all interactions between your charitable organization and its donors. This means everything from phone calls to automated messages.

The most effective donor engagement programs focus on ensuring that as much interaction as possible occurs between donors and recipients and that the engagement is personalized.

Donors are people, too. They want to be acknowledged, even if they are donating anonymously. It’s essential to many donors that their support for your organization matters. Engaging regularly with donors allows you to acknowledge their contributions to your cause and provides opportunities to show your gratitude for their support.

While National Nonprofit Day is an excellent opportunity to focus on meaningful donor engagement, these strategies will help you nurture significant donor relationships every day of the year.

Develop a Personalized Communication System

Donors will see through a blanket engagement approach. No one appreciates being a faceless number. Developing a personalized campaign to engage with donors is critical to securing significant, ongoing donations.

If you only have a few donors, it’s easy to get to know each other and use that information when communicating with them. For instance, if a donor recently had a grandchild, it personalizes things to ask about the child when you call or see them in person.

However, when your donor list grows, you will need a sorting method to ensure personalization. An excellent way to organize this data is to create a donor database with detailed information about each donor. You can achieve this with donor management software called Constituent Relationship Management (CRM). 

Such a system enables you to enter and update essential data about donors and sort and track that information. Include in the donor data contact details, demographics, personal facts such as hobbies and family, donation history, including amounts and frequency, and preferred means for receiving communication. Use the database to personalize communication with donors. They will appreciate that you took the time to acknowledge them as people.

Segment Donors into Categories

If you have an extensive database of donors, reaching out to each one personally probably isn’t possible. Segmenting them into categories or levels helps you personalize and prioritize communication. That way, you can tailor your approach to them depending on factors such as the frequency and amount of their gift giving.

Some ways to consider segmenting include by gift amount, type, and frequency. Reach out personally to those on the list who regularly give and in large amounts. 

Segmenting by demographics can also be helpful. For instance, you can send older donors information on giving from their IRAs. 

You can also segment donors by the preferred method of communication or frequency. Another option is by activity. You can pinpoint those donors who have volunteered time at fundraising events. Send information on upcoming fundraisers to this list because they might wish to attend.

Acknowledge Special Occasions

Sending donors birthday, anniversary, and holiday cards and gifts is an ideal way to keep the engagement going. Taking the time to acknowledge their special days will further develop their relationship with your organization. Doing so also keeps your company top of mind for them.

Express Gratitude for Donor Support

Demonstrating your appreciation for donor support goes a long way toward fostering long-term donor relationships. When a donor goes un-thanked, or you don’t acknowledge their gift promptly, they may stop donating to your nonprofit.

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After every donation, send a personalized thank you letter within 24 hours. While you can do this via email, snail mail is often considered more personal and fosters a more emotional connection. If the donation was significant, write a handwritten thank you card and send it with a gift. Follow that up with a personal phone call to let the donor know what an essential and significant difference their contribution made for your organization.

Also, you can express gratitude for donor support by highlighting their donations on your website, newsletter, and social media pages. Before doing so, however, ask if doing so is something they are okay with or if they prefer to remain anonymous.

Show the Impact Donations Make

Donors are generally helping your organization with the intent of making a difference. The more you can show them how their support impacts your mission, the more likely they will be to continue supporting your cause.

To illustrate the impact donors have made, share the stories of those who have received assistance from your organization. When choosing stories to share, ensure that what you highlight echoes your organization’s values. Donors must see that their resources are helping your nonprofit accomplish its core goals.

Share the impact via videos and testimonials on your website and in newsletters. For example, if the funds went toward building a home for the unhoused, shoot a video showing the process and final results. The more real you can make the results of your donors’ gifts, the deeper the connection you’ll create with them.

Request Donor Feedback

Asking for donor input shows that you value their opinions. Donors will feel like partners in terms of the organization’s mission when they provide you with feedback about what they see working well and what could use improvement. When you do make changes you deem warranted, your donors will notice. This will further solidify the relationship with them.

Ensure Transparency

Trust is a necessary ingredient of a successful and profitable donor relationship. Keeping an open-door policy with your donors gives them the transparency required to donate confidently.

There are many ways to maintain transparency. These include sharing all the donation data in your annual report and making the information easy to access by your donors. Having official privacy and conflict of interest policies drawn up by a lawyer is also advisable. If you can apply for and secure accreditation, the designation will give donors an additional sense of security.

Hold Donor Appreciation Events

One of the best ways to thank donors is to hold events in their honor. A dinner party or outdoor event celebrating their contributions to your organization allows you to thank them in person. At such an event, also publicly acknowledge donors.

If meeting in person isn’t an option, hold an online virtual event. Before the event, send each donor a “party favor” basket that includes food and drinks they can enjoy during the event.

Whether in person or online, appreciation events are an ideal way to bring together staff, donors, volunteers, and, where possible, recipients of your services. Such a celebration allows you to build camaraderie among your community and serves double duty as a subtle call for more donations.

Start a Membership Program

By its very nature, membership breeds inclusivity and makes those involved feel a part of something bigger than themselves. A membership program for nonprofit organizations generally offers donors additional engagement opportunities in exchange for donations. This could be behind-the-scenes access to your program’s work or a tiered rewards system.

When donors get something in return from a membership program, they tend to look even more favorably on your organization and its mission.

Provide a Smooth Donation Process

You don’t want to hear from donors that they had difficulty donating—or worse, they give up and go elsewhere to give. Ensure that donating is a quick and seamless process. This will give your supporters confidence in your operation and demonstrate that you value their time.

Spend the energy and resources to create a well-organized website that is easy to navigate. There should be visible instructions on how to donate. Only ask for necessary information on the donation form. Offer multiple payment options so that donors can use their preferred method. Also, remember that some donors may not want to donate online, so make it clear that they can call to donate.

Include on your website a recurring gift option when someone donates. Statistics show that the average regular donor donates 42% more than a one-time donor. Many donors who plan on continuing to support your organization will be pleased with the convenience of setting up an automatic payment. 

The donors only have to enter their information once, and you continue to get their contributions. Make it simple for them to opt-out of recurrent giving at any time or to change the gifting amount.

Additionally, ensure that you promptly distribute year-end tax donation acknowledgment statements. Send them out via email or mail, depending on donor preference.

Hold the Hand of First-Time Donors

When you’ve secured a new donor, you want to do everything possible to help guarantee they become a longtime contributor. Start their journey with your company by sending a welcome email followed by a phone call. Thank the donor during the call and take the opportunity to get to know the person. Before hanging up, provide the new donor with your contact information. New donors will be impressed with your initiative and personalized attention.

If a staff member makes first-time donor phone calls, create a script as a guideline for what to say.

Use Care in Assigning Staff

Cultivating donor relationships is a specialized task you don’t want to hand to anyone. It would be best if you assigned donor engagement to employees who are passionate about your cause and well-versed in building and managing relationships.

Employees well-suited to cultivating donor relationships are people who are friendly, engaging, and good conversationalists. They naturally show interest in others and make people feel comfortable.

Be Grateful for Every Donor

Of course, it’s exciting to secure one-time large gifts, but remember that every donor counts. Donations, even if minor but given over months and years, add up. You also never know when a donor who has been contributing a small amount may be in the position to gift more money.

Having the philosophy that every donor counts—no matter the donation amount—creates an atmosphere of giving at your organization. The more you cultivate donor relationships, the more likely gift-giving will increase.

With some thought and planning, you can develop an effective donor engagement system for your organization that leads to robust funding. Whether you’re just starting and need to file your 501(c)(3) or you’ve been in operation for years, Swyft Filings is here to help. Visit our Learning Center for resources such as How to Start a Nonprofit When You Have Little Money and Nonprofit Fundraising Ideas in a Post-COVID World.

Originally published on October 20, 2022, and last edited on May 11, 2023.

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