13 Effective Nonprofit Donor Engagement Strategies
Every contribution made to a nonprofit is essential, but recurring donors are every nonprofit’s most valuable contributors.
Recurring donors are the loyal stalwarts who give every year or month without fail. They cost less to acquire than one-time donors, and they give 42% more annually. In addition, they’re substantially easier to retain year over year than one-time donors.
And over a lifetime of giving, recurring donors can contribute more than four times what one-time donors give. Three cheers for recurring donors.
But soliciting recurring donations isn’t a set it and forget it proposition. They need contact, communication, love, and gratitude. What they need is engagement.
What is Donor Engagement?
Donor engagement refers to every interaction between your organization and your donors as part of your overall donor management strategy.
It includes all the methods and activities that you use to ensure donors feel heard, that their communications are personalized and relevant, that they are thanked for their donations accordingly and sincerely, and that they are asked for future contributions at the right time in the right way.
Well thought out and executed donor engagement and stewardship plans have positive benefits beyond standard donations as well. Engaging with donors can help secure in-kind giving, such as gifts of property or volunteer time, as well as bequests.
It can also encourage less tangible support, such as sharing your messaging with their networks, which expands your access to new donors, and potentially to future recurring donors too.
13 Effective Nonprofit Donor Engagement Strategies
So, engaging your donors is great, obviously, but what are some strategies to add to your donor management plan to help get the job done? Let’s take a look at our 13 favorite nonprofit engagement strategies.
1. Tell Impact Stories
Share stories with donors and supporters (via email, social media, and your website) that let donors know how their contributions are being used to help beneficiaries. Be sure to relate these stories back to your overall mission in order to forge a connection between the individual donors, your organization, and the people you are helping.
If you have the resources, you can include testimonials and interactive visuals in your communications to hold donors’ attention and diversify the layout of your content—a big wall of text can be hard to read all the way through.
2. Use Multimedia Tools
The literary advice of Anton Chekhov still holds true for donor engagement: show, don’t tell. So instead of writing long Facebook text posts or emails about everything happening at your nonprofit organization, use multimedia tools like video, infographics, photos, or interactive content as key facets of your content strategy.
Feel free to get creative as a means of capturing the attention of your audience so that they actually engage with your content, rather than just firing it straight into the trash.
It’s also a good idea to ensure your multimedia content meets or exceeds accessibility standards so that everyone on your contact list is included. And be sure to outfit your content with your organization’s brand and logo wherever possible; if it gets shared on social media or elsewhere, you may get a boost from new supporters.
3. Nurture First-Time Donors
Although recurring donors are your most valuable supporters, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. First, you need to find a way to convert one-time givers to recurring donors, and the best way to make it happen is with a donor stewardship plan. It’s like leaving a trail of delicious breadcrumbs for new donors to follow toward their next donation.
A donor stewardship plan gives you a framework to engage donors virtually or by phone, or by snail mail. It could guide your team to know which one-time donors to communicate with, at what times, and what to say.
4. Send Personal Thank You Messages
When someone makes a donation, it’s not just polite to say thank you; it’s essential. No matter the size or frequency of contributions, always say thank you sincerely, expressing gratitude and providing some information on what that donation means to your mission.
Send a thank you letter after every donation, at the end of a campaign, and annually to keep your organization on your supporters’ minds and to reinforce the emotional connection you have with them. And if you need a little help getting started, check out these templates.
Perfect Thank You Letters
We know creating a thank you letter or email from scratch can be a challenge. We have created 7 customizable templates to thanks donors, volunteers, sponsors, and more!
5. Host Donor Appreciation Events
Saying thank you in an email or by phone is a necessary part of donor engagement, but if you really want to help supporters feel closer to your cause, meeting in person is a great way to do it. Donor appreciation events are your opportunity to celebrate donors, remind them why they are committed to your organization, gather feedback from them, and maybe even do a little subtle fundraising.
Try hosting a dinner, a party, an outdoor BBQ, or a live musical performance. If gathering supporters in person isn’t an option, you might try a virtual event instead. Either way, by bringing supporters, staff, volunteers, and board members together, you’re bolstering your community, and it is bound to lead to more engagement across the board.
6. Personalize Your Communications
In a perfect world, every communication you send out would be personalized. And while that’s unrealistic, you can certainly try your best, and it’s worth it: click-through rates are significantly higher for personalized emails because supporters feel that you are paying close attention to their needs.
If you’re using Keela, which offers end-to-end communications workflows, you can easily segment your contact lists to help identify groups, then create custom-tailored emails that use dynamic content to appeal to their specialized interests and preferences. When your messaging is ready to go, Keela can also help you send emails at the right time for maximum effect.
7. Use Donor Management Software
When you first start out and only have a few donors, it’s easy to keep track of their personal information and preferences in your head or maybe with a spreadsheet because it feels like you know them. But once you start finding success and have to maintain data on hundreds or thousands of supporters, a more robust tool is going to pay off. So before your data starts to snowball out of control, set up a nonprofit customer relationship management (CRM) platform.
A CRM like Keela built specifically for nonprofit organizations is more than just a database—it provides helpful insights driven by artificial intelligence and machine learning to learn more about donor behavior and tailor your engagement strategy to their preferences.
8. Implement a Membership Program
A nonprofit membership program is a strategy whereby donors are offered engagement opportunities, such as volunteering, tiered rewards, or behind-the-scenes access, in exchange for additional donations.
These types of programs help to strengthen the bonds between your organization and your supporters. Donors also perceive an increase in the value of supporting your organization because they are getting something in return.
9. It’s Time to Text
While texting is old news these days, it’s still a technology that has achieved massive market penetration, thanks mainly to the fact that everyone is on their smartphones all the time.
Fundraising by text is an effective strategy. The average text donation sits at more than $100, and 90% of fundraising text messages read in just 3 minutes, which is way better than having your message sit in an email inbox for a month.
So it stands to reason that engagement via text will work, too, especially when used in conjunction with your other communications strategies. Try sending reminders, notifications, and updates by text message during your next campaign.
10. Don’t Forget Traditional Communication
While high-tech methods of donor engagement seem to be everywhere, not all nonprofit organizations have donors who are on their phones and computers all day long. That’s why it’s essential to look at your donor data, understand your supporters’ communication preferences, and reach out to them with the methods that they are most likely to respond to.
Direct mail is still a viable option since people love to get a letter in their mailbox, and phone calls, while annoying to some, may be just the right thing for older supporters and major donors, especially when expressing gratitude for outsized contributions.
11. Put on a Peer-to-Peer Campaign
Peer-to-peer (P2P) campaigns are a strategy in which you ask your supporters to fundraise on your behalf from their networks. It’s a great way to spread the word about your cause and capture new donors that you might not otherwise have found.
But it also helps to further endear your core supporters to your mission because they have to reiterate your messaging and make it their own in order to be successful. Bonus: find helpful tips and best practices here.
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12. Be Transparent
A huge part of donor engagement is trust. Supporters trust you with their information and money, so you need to be transparent about how you use their data and dollars.
There is plenty you can do to maintain transparency, including securing accreditation from a recognized body, implementing privacy and conflict of interest policies, and most importantly, publishing everything publically and in perpetuity, for anyone to refer to, such as in your annual report.
13. Make it Easy to Give
While this is less about engagement and more about facilitating the donations that come following an effective engagement strategy, it’s nonetheless essential to say: make it easy to give.
Any hurdles that slow down the giving process could send donors away, and you’ll have to go back through your engagement plan to keep them giving month after month. Be sure that your website is written clearly and easy to navigate, your donation form is optimized, and your donation page ticks all the right boxes.
Also: Engage Your Nonprofit’s Team Members, Volunteers, and Board of Directors
So you’ve got a great stable of regularly contributing donors, and your revenue stream is secure. Job’s done; just lock the doors and go home, right? Wrong.
Engagement isn’t just for donors. There are all kinds of people involved with your organization contributing their time and talent to further your mission, and you need to keep them engaged and coming back for more if you want to make a real positive impact on the world.
So don’t forget to put equal effort into volunteer retention, ensuring your staff are enthusiastic and sustaining a helpful and active board of directors. They’ll all be happier to pitch in, and you’ll be glad you put in the effort to keep them.