Looking for new ways to engage with your donors?

Tasi Gottschlag • Dec 12, 2019

Getting your donor’s attention can be difficult.

How can you really engage your donors? Looking for fresh ideas? This is not the place to find them, but what I will give you is far more valuable. 


I want to ask you to consider who your donors are. They are mothers, sisters, friends, dads, grandparents, daughters, and sons. They are people. We often assume that others have it all together, that other people think clearly and logically about all they do and it’s only us with the whirl of anxieties, emotions, and moods that cloud our judgment. 


Everyone faces these internal battles in some way, some more consciously than others. The reality is that people are motivated by the same thing, the way something or someone makes them feel. Whether that’s power, prestige, or more socially accepted things like generosity and community involvement. The fact is, people do things that make themselves feel good. It makes a donor feel good to contribute, they help a cause they feel connected to. So if you really want to engage with donors, think about ways you can make them feel.

People talk about emailing donors, about effective communication with donors and the importance of storytelling. While all of that is technically spot-on, it’s the cool, rational way to say, ‘help your donors feel’. Remind them how they felt when they made that first donation, remind them again and again.

When you drop off a bag of clothes at a local shelter how do you feel? Relieved your closet is less cluttered, free from the guilt you may feel putting these same clothes in the garbage? What about slightly energized by the idea that someone may benefit from your donation? You feel pretty good. 

Now just imagine if you received an email three days later with a thank you note from the shelter referencing a few of the key items they were most excited to receive from your donation bag. A week later you get another email with a photo of three ladies from the shelter trying on your clothes with a smile on their face. I’m guessing you would run to your closet to find more. You would feel amazing! You would be giddy with satisfaction, you would feel connected to your community, and eager to do more. 

To clarify you don’t rush out to donate again because of email communication or because the information was told in a story format. It’s entirely because of how those things made you feel. (I would argue that a shelter that takes this approach by dedicating one staff member to this initiative would see 10x the donations… but that’s another post)

Consider this: the most generous people, the ones that dedicate their lives to helping others, do it because of how this life path makes them feel. You could call this selfish or human nature, but the thing is it doesn’t matter. Everyone wins! 

You are in the business of helping people feel good by giving them a way to help others. It’s pretty much the best business there is. You are not asking people to give money to get nothing, you are asking them to give money to feel amazing. Now that’s where you come in. It’s your job to make sure they do feel amazing. That is what your donors are buying each time they contribute.  

If you want to engage more donors, think about ways you can make them feel good. Make the extra effort to show them how they helped, who they helped and how this impact can change their community. Make them feel it by getting personal. This is what they purchased. Consider them, their busy lives, their fears, anxieties, and challenges, then consider the fact that they took time and resources to donate to your cause, help them feel amazing about that choice. The satisfied customers will return again and again.

I remember once I had an old crate that my dog no longer used. It was large and expensive and probably could have sold it for a hundred dollars. But instead, I chose to take it and some blankets down to my local pet shelter as a donation. I asked if they needed these things and they said: “Sure, just drop it out back, we’ll get it eventually.” 

I left that day feeling frustrated. Did they care? Did I actually help anyone or did I just foolishly forfeit $100? I wasn’t exactly flush with cash. I felt guilty for being irresponsible with my own money. I have no doubt the shelter staff had no intention of making me feel this way, they were probably busy and stressed with everything on their plate. But I never did donate there again. 

It wasn’t a conscious decision. I just felt, subconsciously, that my contributions would be more valuable elsewhere. I tell this story simply to show how important it is to work hard to make your donors feel good. If you do nothing else but work hard to show them how appreciated they are and how much impact they have made, you will grow your organization.