4 Fundraising Strategies for Improving Donor Engagement

Published on 9 Apr 2021 by Auctria

So much of nonprofit work is focused on fundraising, and rightfully so—with fundraising dollars, your organization can run its programming, deliver its services, purchase equipment and supplies, and more.

However, the relationship between donors and your nonprofit doesn’t solely revolve around the exchange of money. In fact, if the relationship feels transactional, your donors may feel less connected to your cause and seek out other organizations to support.

The good news is that effective fundraising and donor engagement go hand-in-hand. Think about cultivating relationships with your donors as a fundamental aspect of a winning fundraising strategy, not just a tangential component of it.

To help you improve how you’re engaging your donors in addition to asking them for donations, you’ll need the right strategies on your side. In this post, we’ll explore five of our favorites:

  1. Host a variety of events.
  2. Create an accessible website.
  3. Personalize communication.
  4. Encourage additional involvement.
  5. Ask for feedback.

While these general strategies are a great place to start, you may find that your organization needs a donor engagement approach that is tailored to its unique needs. Consider working with a nonprofit consultant, an expert in all things fundraising and donor relations that can objectively evaluate your efforts and help you implement engagement strategies that lead to strengthened donor relationships and long-term retention.

1. Host a variety of events.

Nonprofit events require an investment of time and resources to pull off, but they’re well worth the effort. In addition to bringing in donations, they are great opportunities to encourage your supporters to become more deeply involved with your nonprofit. Plus, they’re a lot of fun! You can even plan events that take the focus off of fundraising and are instead dedicated to community building among your supporters.

Try to plan a variety of events that will appeal to different donor groups. For instance, if you have supporters all across the country, planning both in-person and virtual events will give all of your donors an opportunity to engage with your organization. Note that some events naturally lend themselves to virtual and hybrid participation more than others. A silent auction, for example, can easily be hosted in an entirely virtual format, but a 5K will require a more innovative approach to move online.

In addition to virtual and in-person considerations, take the following into account as you plan your events:

  • Supporters’ ability to give. Your event fundraising strategies should take your audience’s giving capacities into consideration. If an event is targeting a very specific segment of your base, study their average gift amounts to make appropriate asks. Some events can offer giving and engagement opportunities for donors at a variety of income levels. For example, at your auction, high-value items will attract attention from major and mid-range donors whereas lower- and medium-value items can still keep your average donors engaged through the event.

  • Required technology. Whether in-person or online, events increasingly need digital support. A dedicated “Events” website page, registration forms, ticketing tools, and live-streaming software, and digital donation boxes can all improve your donors’ event experiences.

  • Activity schedule. While your events are typically focused on fundraising, an event that is solely about donating to your nonprofit is unlikely to hold your supporters’ interest. Offer a variety of activities and engagement opportunities between speeches honoring donors and calling for donations so supporters feel like they are part of a dynamic community. For instance, you might provide a delicious meal or high-end entertainment.

Remember to always follow up after your events to thank donors for attending, whether they ended up giving at your event or not. Additionally, take pictures during the event to post online and share with supporters who attended. Photos can also help market your future events by reminding donors how much fun they had the last time they attended.

2. Create an accessible website.

Your website is one of your most valuable donor engagement tools. Supporters visit your website to donate, volunteer, and stay updated on your nonprofit’s recent activities. You can further encourage engagement by optimizing your website to meet accessibility standards and increase your potential audience.

Following accessibility guidelines improves your website for all users. In addition to letting visitors using screen readers or other assistive technology engage with your website, many of the core accessibility principles revolve around creating a clear navigation system, easy-to-read text, and appealing visuals.

Cornershop Creative’s guide to nonprofit website design best practices outlines a few key principles for improving your website’s usability:

  • Add alternative text (also known as alt text) to images and transcripts for videos.
  • In addition to making links a different color, underline them so that you can help more people identify them.
  • Ensure that visitors can navigate your website using a keyboard.
  • Make text highly readable by using colors with high contrast and ensuring fonts are at least 16px.
  • Use labels and helper text outside form fields to assist visitors in filling out forms like your donation form or event registration forms.

Your website should encourage engagement, rather than be an obstacle your supporters have to surmount to interact with your nonprofit. An improved website will also lead to visitors being more eager to engage with any content you do post on the site, which opens the door for adding evergreen content such as webinars.

3. Personalize communication.

If a donor feels they have a personal connection with your nonprofit, they are more likely to stick around and participate in your nonprofit’s community. While having one-on-one conversations with every donor is nearly impossible, you can personalize your communications so each donor gets a unique experience when they interact with your nonprofit.

In addition to tracking basic personal information such as your donors’ names and contact information, use other software tools at your nonprofit’s disposal to learn more about your different supporter segments so that you can approach them appropriately.

For instance, Donorly’s guide to prospect research recommends using tools like your internal donor records, government records, and prospect generator tools to identify supporters who have the potential to become major donors. These donors will benefit from a more hands-on approach than others. This doesn’t mean your regular donors should be ignored, but rather that your nonprofit should identify opportunities to receive major gifts and look for corresponding engagement opportunities.

You can also engage donors in small ways through your communication tools. Address every supporter by name through their preferred communication channel and reference their previous engagement history to show that your nonprofit acknowledges and appreciates their past participation.

4. Encourage additional involvement.

One of the best ways to ensure your supporters remain invested in your cause is to encourage additional involvement beyond donating. As your supporters engage with your nonprofit in multiple ways, their connection to your mission will deepen and they’ll be more likely to be lifelong supporters of your work.

Here are some opportunities to plug as you interact with your donors:

  • Following your organization on social media: This is a low-stakes way for your donors to keep up with your nonprofit’s activities and interact with your organization regularly. Ensure that your social media profiles are properly branded to your nonprofit so that your donors can easily find you, and make it worthwhile by posting interesting and engaging content.

  • Volunteering: Volunteering is an excellent opportunity for your donors to get hands-on experience with your mission. Work with your volunteer coordinator to design opportunities that will allow your donors to tap into their strengths and skill sets, and that will work with a variety of schedules.

  • Participating in advocacy work: If some aspect of your nonprofit’s mission involves engaging with policymakers or educating the general public about a specific issue, you can also invite your donors to join in on these activities. Make sure to provide thorough training about how to approach advocacy work and how to talk about your mission so that donors feel equipped to help out in this way.

  • Joining your planned giving program: Planned giving empowers donors to create a lasting legacy centered on a nonprofit cause they care about. Encourage donors to learn more about your planned giving program and to join your planned giving society so that they can interact with other people who are passionate about making an impact on your cause.

Every donor is unique and will have different preferences when it comes to getting involved with your nonprofit in other ways besides making financial contributions. As you continue to get to know your donors, guide them toward the opportunities that you know will resonate with them and bring them personal fulfillment. This will encourage them to continue their involvement for years to come.

5. Ask for feedback.

The best way to know how donors feel about your nonprofit is to ask them. You don’t need to incorporate every suggestion you receive from your donors, but being asked lets them know that your nonprofit cares about their experience with your organization.

Survey the donors whose experience you want to know the most about. For example, new donors may help give insight into how they discovered your nonprofit, but they might not have formed an opinion on how they feel about their current engagement level. By contrast, donors who have been with your nonprofit for years might be less concerned about marketing materials and more interested in your event calendar.

For each major fundraising effort that you launch, take the time afterward to assess its impact on your supporters and determine how it affected engagement rates. When you create a new fundraising plan, consider past donor interactivity to set an attainable goal that makes sense with your nonprofit’s large-scale growth goals.

Keeping your donors engaged is a critical part of setting your nonprofit up for sustained success. Plus, lasting nonprofit relationships are built on meaningful interactions and experiences, not just generous donations.

Use these five strategies to improve your nonprofit’s approach to donor engagement. And remember, you can always leverage the expertise of a nonprofit consultant to further fine-tune your strategy.

Special thanks to Sandra Davis for the expert advice. Founder and President Sandra Davis leads Donorly with 30 years of fundraising experience and leadership. Sandra has consulted on numerous capital campaigns, led strategic planning and feasibility study efforts, and managed board development and recruitment efforts in addition to overseeing planned giving, special events, and annual giving programs. Under her leadership, Donorly has grown to support the fundraising efforts of over 75 clients to date.