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Development Dilemma: Engaging Donors

In our weekly column, consultants with decades of nonprofit experience answer your questions about fundraising, boards, strategy and more. To ask a question and be featured (anonymously!) in the column, email your questions to info@twbfundraising.com.

This week’s question will be answered by Heidi Waltner-Pepper.

The Dilemma

I currently work in a small development shop and have to wear many different hats but I know I need to spend more time with engaging our donors. Do you have ideas on how best to do this?

Heidi’s Response

Finding the time to develop specific donor stewardship and cultivation activities which build engagement is critical to the growth of your fundraising program.

A book that I highly recommend that goes into great detail about the importance of building relationships with your donors is Keep your Donors, The Guide to Better Communications and Stronger Relationships by Simone Joyaux. In this book, Simone Joyaux outlines four steps in relationship building:

  1. Respect and understand the needs and motivations of your constituents
  2. Meet their needs if they are in keeping with your organization’s values, mission, and vision
  3. Communicate your programs and activities and their value to the constituents
  4. Follow-up and nurture the relationship.

While you do not have to develop a complicated plan to pursue each of these steps, you should include some very basic activities to help with donor engagement. Here are some ways to build your relationships and engage your donors more effectively.

  • Say thank you in a timely fashion. Best practices today promote a 24-hour turnaround time to acknowledge a gift. Having this kind of follow-up sends a message to the donor that they are both important and appreciated.
  • Invite the donor to observe a program. If this isn’t attainable, send them a video clip, interesting news article, or a personalized note. Look for opportunities that you can connect the donor directly to your mission or the beneficiaries of it.
  • Meet in person. Ask the donor to meet with you over a cup of coffee or find another reason to meet up. Once you have the meeting, share with your donors about how their support furthers your mission. Give them concrete examples of why their support is important. This meeting also offers you the opportunity to ask your donor to share why they care about the organization. Take the time to listen to their interests and understand how they connect to your mission. At the end of the meeting, you should have a call to action planned – you can do this by providing a menu of activities or ways that they can get involved with your organization. When donors better understand all their options for involvement, they can see themselves in various roles and pick ways to get involved that are meaningful to them.
  • Be creative, authentic, and regular in your communications. Engaging donors is really all about building relationships like you do with anyone else. Relationships need to be nurtured and cared for. When you take the time to listen and get to know someone, they will be actively engaged with you and your organization.


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