The problem that comes with having so many choices, however, is that it can be difficult to figure out exactly which engagement techniques are most effective.
To complicate the matter even further, there’s been some debate in the fundraising world as to exactly how donor engagement is defined in the first place.
While most nonprofits would agree that the ultimate form of donor engagement is making a donation, the term can also be used more loosely to apply to any time a donor supports or directly interacts with the organization.
When you really think about it, these definitions aren’t that dissimilar. Any chance to interact with a donor is a chance to strengthen your relationship with them, which will naturally result in more donations!
If you’re looking to boost your donor engagement, look no further. Here I’ll share 7 of my favorite techniques to boost donor engagement, including:
- Always be personal and genuine.
- Enlist the help of software.
- Implement a membership program.
- Get creative with text communication.
- Don’t forget traditional communication methods.
- Put on a peer-to-peer campaign.
- Host an exclusive event.
No matter what donor engagement means to you exactly, with these tips, you’re sure to see a more loyal and invested donor base.
And for more on all things donor engagement, make sure to check out Neon’s website!
1. Always be personal and genuine.
As we’re starting off our discussion about donor engagement, it’s important to keep one thing in mind throughout:
Donor engagement isn’t primarily about technique. It’s about mindset.
In other words, truly engaging your donors takes a personal and genuine approach. As obvious as it might seem, that means taking an interest in your donors as individuals and being transparent in your interactions with them.
Having the right mindset is majorly important for a couple of reasons:
- It establishes trust. When your donors know what’s going on at your organization and feel like you’re being open with them, they’ll be much more confident in supporting you.
- It will help you better target donors. Getting to know your donors on a personal level will allow your organization to better target them with more individualized engagement strategies. That way, your outreach will be as compelling and relevant as possible down the line.
Plus, quite simply, nobody likes to feel deceived or used. Take the tactic that some nonprofits have tried recently of sending their donation requests as invoices (for the full argument against it, make sure to check out Mary’s article!).
This technique didn’t just alienate donors because the organization was dishonest (if the organization can’t come out and explicitly ask for what’s needed, what else are they not forthcoming about?), but also because of what it symbolized.
Which is? If the organization is so concerned with winning a donation that they would consciously attempt to deceive their donors, then that organization is only interested in winning a donation.
While a transactional mindset might be an engagement technique in that it will initially bring your organization donations, it won’t get you very far when it comes to building the long-lasting relationships that result in more value and loyalty.
The goal of donor engagement should be to build deeper donor relationships, and that involves taking a personal and genuine approach.
2. Enlist the help of software.
While taking an individualized approach to your donor engagement is necessary (and even expected!) nowadays, doing so is often easier said than done.
Any nonprofit would tell you that it’s a challenge to keep up with hundreds, thousands, or even tens of thousands of donors.
Not only does successful communication require individualized approaches, but it also requires the information necessary to establish those individualized approaches in the first place.
Luckily, that’s where nonprofit donor databases come in. This type of software, also known as nonprofit CRM, was built to help nonprofits track all aspects of their donor relationships.
The main advantage of donor databases is their comprehensiveness. Because nonprofits can track all relevant donor data in one place, data sources can communicate with each other to give organizations a 360° view of their donors.
To take it a step further, this software allows organizations to segment their donor base into different lists based on any number of the data sources in the platform.
For example, you could segment your list based on:
- Preferred communication channels,
- Frequency of communication,
- Affinities for certain programs,
- Generational demographics,
- Affiliations with your organization,
- Preferred giving channels,
- Annual gift levels,
- And much, much more.
By segmenting your base, you can individualize your engagement strategies to better target certain groups and send them the most relevant information. When you can pinpoint your donors’ interests and preferences, they’re much more likely to engage with your organization.
Keeping your engagement techniques relevant will be much harder without the right tools, so set yourself up for success by enlisting the help of a donor database!
See how NeonCRM’s solutions can help you improve your donor engagement.
3. Implement a membership program.
Many organizations have already caught onto the fact that membership programs can really boost donor engagement.
With a membership program, donors won’t just be showing their support by giving to your organization; they’ll also be making the conscious choice to identify themselves with it.
To refresh, membership involves the donor giving fees or dues to a nonprofit in exchange for member status and the rights, perks, or privileges that come with it.
Because the organization must predetermine what their membership program will offer donors in return, these programs usually have plenty of engagement opportunities built right in.
The frequency and type of engagement opportunities you offer members will depend on your organization, but the possibilities are practically endless. For example, you could:
- Send members an email newsletter with firsthand or exclusive content they can share.
- Allow members to have internal influence at your organization.
- Provide special volunteer opportunities.
- Host members-only events.
- Give members access to special perks at other fundraising events, such as free parking or refreshments.
Additionally, what makes membership programs so great is that donors have some agency over how they choose to interact with your organization.
Since donors were aware of the benefits when they subscribed to your program, you’ll know that your members are open to engaging with your organization in the ways you’ve laid out.
No matter what you offer, having a membership program in place will provide your organization with a well-planned and appealing strategy for engaging donors!
4. Get creative with text communication.
It’s now the case that over 80% of American adults use texting to communicate.
Seeing as texting is such a prevalent communication method, your organization is missing out on a huge engagement opportunity if you aren’t yet using this method to contact your donors.
So, how does your organization get started with texting?
Now, there are many services that enable nonprofits to establish a text marketing list. Similar to email marketing platforms, these services allow organizations to send a mass text message simultaneously to all donors who have subscribed to receive these communications.
Because texting has the possibility to be so interactive, text lists can be an excellent technique for engaging donors. All it takes is being a little creative!
For example, your organization could:
- Provide donors with news about campaigns or projects.
- Send reminders to donate, volunteer, or register for an event.
- Give live updates during fundraising events.
- Challenge donors to a fun, cause-related game, like a quiz or choose-your-own-adventure-style story.
- Encourage supporters to vote, sign a petition, or complete another advocacy action.
- Share messages or videos from the people, animals, or communities you serve.
Establishing a text list will not only boost your donor engagement because it’s fun, but also because you’ll be meeting donors where they are.
In fact, your organization now has the potential to reach donors anywhere—as long as they have cell service, that is!
Get creative with your text communications, and your reach is sure to expand.
5. Don’t forget traditional communication methods.
With texting, social media, and online donations on the rise, it can be all-too-easy for nonprofits to let more traditional engagement strategies fall by the wayside.
While your organization should definitely be using all of the amazing modern technology available to you to engage donors, you definitely shouldn’t forget to use more traditional methods, too!
When I say traditional communication methods, I’m primarily referring to phone calls and direct mail.
Many fundraisers are quick to scoff and call these methods outdated. What they fail to realize, however, is that these methods are still a highly effective way to build donor relationships and win donations.
- You’re more likely to contact donors through their preferred channels. As we touched on earlier, one of the keys to engaging donors is to meet them where they want to be. Since not all of your donors will feel comfortable communicating over the computer, using more traditional methods ensures that you’ll contact more of your donors through their preferred communication channels.
- It’s more personal. Snail mail and phone calls are more intimate. When they hear your voice or see your handwriting, your donors will feel personally invested in your organization and be better able to connect with you.
It shows more effort. While online communication channels might be quicker, easier, and more cost-effective, it isn’t always a good thing. Taking the time to hand write (or even just sign) a letter or sit down and actually talk to your donors will make them feel special, because they’ll know that they’re worth the effort.
And these are just a few of the many reasons why you shouldn’t forget to include traditional communication methods in your donor engagement strategies. If you still don’t believe me, make sure to check out Mary’s more in-depth argument for direct mail alone!
The bottom line is that using traditional communications can really help you get to the core of donor engagement: establishing the personal relationships that will lead to a more valuable and enduring donor base.
6. Put on a peer-to-peer campaign.
If your organization is really looking to bring donor engagement to the next level, look no further than peer-to-peer fundraising campaigns.
For those of you that aren’t familiar with them, peer-to-peer campaigns mobilize donors to fundraise on behalf of a nonprofit.
Conducted primarily over social media and email, fundraisers will reach out to their friends, families, colleagues, and other peers to request donations and help the organization reach a set fundraising goal by the end of the campaign.
Peer-to-peer campaigns are one of the most active ways to engage donors.
Not only will your donors be working on your organization’s behalf, but because they’re doing so, you’ll also have plenty of additional opportunities to reach out and interact with them.
For example, throughout the campaign you could:
- Highlight fundraisers who have made big strides.
- Like, comment on, or share fundraisers’ posts.
- Share campaign updates.
- Assist those who need a little help reaching their goals.
If your organization wants to run a peer-to-peer campaign, start by turning to your most active and loyal donors to see if they’d be interested in participating.
By the time your campaign is over, you’ll have engaged your existing donors in an interesting new way and you’ll have a whole base of new donors to start engaging!
7. Host an exclusive event.
While digital and traditional communications are still an excellent way to engage donors, nothing can beat interacting with your donors in person.
And what’s the best way to interact with your donors in person? By hosting an exclusive donor appreciation event, of course!
Hosting an event has many, many benefits that will help you better engage your donors both now and in the future. Here are just a few:
- You can establish a face-to-face rapport. By getting to talk to your donors in person, it will be easier for your organization to build personal relationships with them. Plus, donors will be able to put a face to your organization, which can make them feel much more invested.
- You’ll get to know your donors better. Events provide you with an opportunity for extended donor interaction. By being able to talk to your donors for longer, you can learn more about them to continue honing your engagement strategies down the line. Remember to record any information you receive in your nonprofit CRM for future use!
- They make donors feel appreciated. Hosting an exclusive, donors-only event will really make your supporters feel like their contributions are appreciated. When they feel like their good deeds are being recognized, there’s a better chance they’ll keep giving!
- They’re fun! Whether it be a bikeathon, a silent auction, or a benefit concert, events are just downright fun. When donors have an excellent experience to associate with your organization, they’ll always think positively of you and be much more likely to continue supporting you.
And that’s not even to mention that events can provide your organization with a wealth of engagement opportunities. You can pair them with peer-to-peer campaigns, request that donors volunteer, share information and updates leading up to the event—the engagement opportunities are practically endless!
Host an exclusive donor appreciation event and you’ll see increased donor engagement both now and in the future.
Has your organization tried any of these engagement techniques? If so, what’s worked for you in the past? What other donor engagement techniques have been successful?
Let me know in the comments!
Jeff Gordy is the Co-Founder and CEO of Z2 Systems, Inc., the makers of NeonCRM for nonprofits. Jeff has been working with his team for the last 12 years on building the optimal fundraising, CRM database, and marketing solution for nonprofits. Before starting the company, Jeff worked for the Kidney Cancer Association and knew that nonprofits needed better software solutions to help with their many challenges.