Why Donor Engagement Matters | A Mini Guide

As a fundraising professional, you already know that your donors are some of the most important supporters of your cause and mission. Without your donors, you wouldn’t be able to fund any projects or make any meaningful changes. That’s why it’s important to foster your donor relationships and actively work to get to know them better.

Taking the time to better understand your donors will improve their donor engagement experience. But what exactly is donor engagement? And why does it matter to your nonprofit?

Even if you think you’ve perfected your donor engagement strategies, it’s always a good idea to occasionally review your processes and determine whether you’re maximizing all engagement opportunities. Read on to gain a foundation for donor engagement through the following commonly asked questions:

  1. What is donor engagement?
  2. How can donor engagement improve donor retention?
  3. What are some donor engagement strategies?

With each year comes more ways to connect with your donors. It can be hard to keep up with the newest communication and engagement trends! Take a look at our guide to get a better sense of how you can improve your donor engagement strategies and your nonprofit fundraising. Let’s get started!

Qgiv-Auctria-Why Donor Engagement Matters A Mini Guide_Header 1.jpg

What is donor engagement?

Many nonprofits make the mistake of equating donor engagement and the fundraising communications you send. Donor engagement encompasses much more than that!

To put it simply, “donor engagement” is every interaction, process, and action that makes up a donor’s history with your organization. For example, donor engagement includes each time a gift is made, each instance an email was opened (or ignored!), and every time your donors interact with you or with each other. It encompasses the whole relationship between the donor and your organization.

Just like every nonprofit’s communication strategy is unique, your donors’ interactions with you and your donor engagement strategies will be unique as well.

It’s a good idea to get a sense of where your donors are already active. Consider the various experiences and campaigns your nonprofit has hosted over the years and the different platforms you know your donors use. Get a sense of how your donors engage with your nonprofit by reviewing:

  • Your email marketing strategy. How often do people open emails? How often do they ignore them? What kind of emails get responses?
  • The type of fundraising events you host. Which event has the highest attendance rates? How are people reacting to the event once it is over?
  • Social media platforms. Where are your donors most active on social media? Which platforms are better for you to invest your time in? What kind of posts get the most interactions from your supporters?

Depending on your organization, you might have additional engagement metrics to review, like volunteer data or direct mail campaign results. Once you better understand what donor engagement looks like to you, develop your strategies based on those metrics. For example, you may look at your email marketing engagement metrics, notice that readership has fallen off, and choose to segment your audiences to create more targeted content that is more compelling.

Donor engagement is all about focusing on building relationships and growing the long term value of a donor. It doesn’t depend on getting gifts and donations now! Rather, it focuses on developing a positive donor relationship that will pay off in the long run. Invest in your donor relationships early and provide a stable foundation for future engagements and possibly future gifts. This will improve your donor retention.

Qgiv-Auctria-Why Donor Engagement Matters A Mini Guide_Header 2.jpg

How can donor engagement improve donor retention?

Having a donor engagement strategy is key to increasing your donor retention rates. Donor retention is when a donor who has given before, gives again.

A good rule of thought is to aim for that second donation. According to one study, only 19% of new donors tend to give again after their first donation. But once that donor makes a second donation, there’s a 63% chance that they’ll give again, increasing the likelihood of donor retention by three times!

According to Qgiv’s donor retention guide, your donor retention rate has a huge impact on your ability to fund your mission. Retaining donors has been proven to be much more cost-effective than acquiring new donors! Without prioritizing your donor retention rates, you won’t be able to effectively grow and raise sufficient funds, especially if you’re spending money on new donor acquisition efforts that don’t pay off in the long term.

Here are some common ways to increase donor engagement efforts and improve donor retention:

  • Thanking donors. Make sure always to send your donors a thank you letter after they’ve given to your organization. It’s important that they know how much you appreciate them. This continues the positive relationship and creates a higher chance that the next time they give, it’ll be to you!

  • Sharing impact stories. Donors want to know that their efforts are making a genuine difference for your cause. No one wants to give money and not know where it’s going. Make sure to share impact stories and go in-depth on how your recent fundraising efforts have helped your mission.

  • Include recurring gift options. Adding the option of a recurring gift can help increase funds raised as well as make someone a more consistent giver. It encourages a donor to make a larger gift, just split up over a certain time period. Sometimes people want to give a lot but don’t have the means to do it currently. Offering recurring gifts lets people donate a little at a time.

  • Offer different ways to give. People might be more likely to donate again if there are multiple channels to do so. For example, offer text giving to your supporters so they can donate from their mobile devices while on the go! Donors’ decision to give is largely an emotional one; if it’s easy to give when inspired, they’re less likely to put off (or forget) to give.

Donor engagement and donor retention are two concepts that go hand in hand for fundraising professionals. The more engagement opportunities you offer, like ongoing communications and opportunities to interact with you online, the more ways donors can continue their relationship with you. Those ongoing relationships open more opportunities to make gifts.

On top of that, showing donor appreciation and sharing impact stories can inspire first-time donors to donors to give, too. This is because they already know that you’ll be doing good work and that you value the people who support you.

Qgiv-Auctria-Why Donor Engagement Matters A Mini Guide_Header 3.jpg

What are some donor engagement strategies?

Every nonprofit has its own specific needs and goals, so there’s no one best donor engagement strategy to follow. It’s recommended that you take a look at where your donors are currently already active and then focus your efforts on that sector.

However, there are a couple of moves you can make that can enhance almost any strategy and supplement your existing engagement efforts:

Prospect outreach.

Prospect outreach is a strategy fundraisers use to learn more about their donors and identify those who are likely to be high impact donors. From there, nonprofit professionals can segment their email recipients and send targeted marketing content to those high impact prospects. That way, they get something more specific than just a broad monthly newsletter.

Most nonprofits will invest in some sort of prospect research tool in order to do this. The prospect research tool then screens your donor database, checking for these two types of metrics:

  • Philanthropic indicators like charitable giving, affiliations to other nonprofits, and political giving.
  • Wealth markers like real estate ownerships, stock investments, and business affiliations.

The philanthropic indicators give us a clue into how likely a donor is to give to your organization (giving affinity) whereas the wealth markers hint to how much a donor might give (giving capacity). **Having both high giving affinity and giving capacity means that the donor is likely to become a major donor. **

If you want to learn more about how prospect research can affect your donor engagement strategies, check out Double the Donation’s guide.

Social fundraising.

A great way to supplement your donor engagement strategy is to host a social fundraising campaign. For example, conducting a peer-to-peer fundraiser is one cost-effective way to empower your supporters to fundraise on your behalf. This is an extremely engaging fundraising method and can turn your volunteers into life long supporters.

Here’s how a peer-to-peer fundraiser works:

  1. Recruit a group of volunteers to fundraise on your behalf.
  2. Create individual fundraising pages for each volunteer. On these pages, volunteers can write about their connection to your nonprofit and why they want their friends and family to give. Most nonprofits depend on peer-to-peer fundraising software to create these pages: click here if you’re interested.
  3. Create a deadline and fundraising goal so that volunteers have something to work towards.
  4. Encourage volunteers to share their individual pages on various social media sites.

This not only raises awareness for your cause by reaching a wide audience but it also helps your supporters further connect with your cause. Through the entire campaign, they’ll learn more about your mission and become increasingly invested in reaching your fundraising goal.

You can also use gamification elements to further engage donors. This is a way to make the fundraiser a competition, and there are lots of different ways to do it. Try using badges to reward participants who reach certain fundraising milestones or add leaderboards to track the most successful fundraising teams. You can even publicly display your volunteer’s progress as further incentive!

In-person events.

Consider hosting an in-person live event to supplement your various donor engagement efforts. Hosting an event is a great way of interacting with donors and supporters in person. Having face-to-face time with your donors is important!

Donors prefer building relationships with people at organizations, and this is an opportunity to humanize your organization. It also gives you a way to get firsthand insight into your donors preferences, ideas, and passions—all valuable information that can help you improve communications and other engagement opportunities. .

It’s important that you plan for an event in advance, especially if it involves ticketing and event registration. To help you organize the schedule and plan out the event, consider looking into an event management tool that will help you spread the word about your event, encourage registration, and share information with your attendees.

It’s easy to create an event to supplement any existing fundraising campaign. A great idea is to host an event thanking the donors who contributed to your recent fundraiser. This can happen once you’ve reached a pre-set fundraising goal and can act as a token of appreciation to your donors after the campaign. It’s also a valuable opportunity to show donors what they achieved with the money they donated to your cause.

There are a multitude of ways to sharpen and supplement your existing donor engagement efforts. Prospect outreach, social fundraising, and hosting in-person events are just some of them!


It’s always a good idea to think about how you can better engage your donors. Donor engagement is more than sending out a newsletter every month; it’s getting to know your donors and determining which engagement channels would provide the most benefit for both them and your organization. Hopefully, after reading our guide, you have a better sense of how to engage donors, increase donor retention rates, and build relationships that will last a lifetime.


About the author:
Abby Jarvis is a blogger, marketer, and communications coordinator for Qgiv, an online fundraising service provider. Qgiv offers industry-leading online giving and peer to peer fundraising tools for nonprofit, faith-based, and political organizations of all sizes. When she’s not working at Qgiv, Abby can usually be found writing for local magazines, catching up on her favorite blogs, or binge-watching sci-fi shows on Netflix.