I’m like a broken record on this point, “raising more from your donors means engaging your donors more.”

But what does donor engagement mean?

A lot of times people assume this means events, phone calls, and volunteering. Sometimes it does. But those are just engagement tools. So let’s back up a bit and talk about what is engagement, in it’s purest form. Simply, engagement is when a donor understands the IMPACT, EMOTION, and NEED for resources of your organization. When they understand those things, donors will find a way to help that makes sense for them (donating money, introducing you to resources, or volunteering).

So, to answer the question we started with, how do you engage your donors? The answer is, it depends. I know, I know, not helpful. But let’s look at what it depends on:

1. Who are your donors? One of my clients attracts young, tech-savvy Millennials to their cause. In their case engagement takes place online in short sound bites designed to recruit small donations from friends. Another client attracts more established donors, meaning their engagement strategy revolves around in-person touchpoints.

2. Who are you? What are your fundraising assets? If your organization is a museum, your biggest fundraising asset is what is contained in your physical space. Your job is to get as many people to interact with those assets as possible (events mostly but also see LACMA’s Instagram feed for a brilliant example). If you are a domestic violence shelter, LACMA’s strategies obviously don’t work for you. Rather you need to focus on the stories from your work.

3. What are your Staff and Board’s capabilities? Look, no fundraising idea is a bad idea. But not every fundraising idea is a feasible idea. I once had a Board Member who was dead set on getting our ED on Oprah. But unless that Board Member could make the phone calls necessary to make that happen, it was not a feasible idea.

Usually I suggest making a list titled “What are we good at?” and comparing it with what your donors priorities are. See any matches? Start there. One client went through this process and realized they were really great at communications and events. Only their donors were time-crunched and event attendance was historically poor. So they launched a plan to engage donors through smaller local events run by volunteers. Using their expertise in event planning, they made an event toolkit, that made volunteering to be an event host easy and fun.

4. Finally, just keep in mind that with everything you do, try to communicate your impact, emotion, and need. A domestic violence shelter I worked with released a book of pictures of just the hands of people they had helped along with a short story of impact. Later they asked their donors to “lend a hand” by donating. They hand imagery was powerful emotionally, the stories showed the impact, and the ask expressed the need to open a new location. It was hugely successful.

Thoughts? Questions?

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How can we engage our donors?

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