We get it–it’s a tough economy and fundraising becomes a little more challenging when everyone has a tighter grip on their finances. The generosity of empathetic donors shrinks when people are worried about their jobs. Inflation across the board means that people are spending more on everyday needs, leaving less for giving.
If you’re worried about meeting your funding goals, don’t give up. The key to fundraising in 2023 is engagement. The good news is that technology is providing more opportunities for rapid engagement than we’ve ever seen before. Data has made strategy easier to identify. And a values-driven culture is primed for building reciprocal relationships.
There are five key things that you can do to engage donors this year:
But first, let’s talk about why engagement is your bread and butter.
What is Engagement & Why is it Important?
Engagement is a measure of how responsive an audience is. In the non-profit sector, it’s a direct correlation to donor activity. The only question is–how do you get it?
The simple answer is connection. However, fostering a genuine sense of connection between a donor and an organization is a little more complex. It takes transparency, authenticity, and consistent communication to build a relationship.
Whether you are networking for business, dating romantically, or nurturing donors for fundraising–the basics of how humans connect are essentially the same. With that understanding, donor engagement is one part building relationships and one part creating opportunities.
Donor relationships foster a sense of familiarity and trust that get donors to participate in opportunities. But really, it’s the opportunities to experience that connection in the physical world through interactions, events, and other experiences that continue to fuel that relationship and turn it from a mutual interest to a financial commitment.
And there it is–the elephant in the room–finances.
The economy might be recovering slowly, but you have more to work with than you think. Here are five things that you can do to get your donors engaged.
1. Boost Visibility
First and foremost, make sure that your organization is active on the appropriate digital channels. We live in a world where everyone has a smartphone in their pocket and 24/7 access to the internet.
When we think of something, our first inclination is to look it up online.
Play into the home field advantage by establishing a presence in the digital world. When potential donors look up your organization, they need to find something that tells them that your organization is actively doing the work they want to support.
Pick Your Channel
There are dozens of options, ranging from your website to popular social media channels. If you’re new to digital outreach, start simple. It’s far better to focus on one channel consistently than to be inconsistent on a handful of channels.
All you need to do is post one thing every single day. That’s it.
So what can you do right now that will help engage your donors? Sit down and create a quick content calendar for 30 days that identifies different types of content you can post that don’t involve asking for money.
This might be things like:
Pictures from Recent Events
Quotes from Key Staff Members
Thank You Notes from Beneficiaries
Personal Anecdotes from Community Interactions
Rough Video of your Service in Action
Important Tip: Authenticity is paramount. If you want engagement, focus on sharing content that highlights the work you’re doing and presents opportunities to get involved. That’s how you get their attention. Save the solicitation for donations for other opportunities.
Update Your Website
Another key element of maintaining visibility in the digital world is a fresh website. Your website is your digital home. Regardless of your presence on other digital channels, your donors will always find their way here–and they’ll be most comfortable giving here.
Take a moment to carefully evaluate your website.
Is the design modern and user-friendly?
Do the pages load quickly?
Is the content recently updated?
Does the About Page truly capture what you do–and elicit warm and fuzzy feelings?
Is it easy to find options for donating to or getting involved with your organization?
Is there a variety of media like blogs, pictures, and video?
Is it easy to share content from your website on social media channels?
Here’s what you can do right now: Audit your website and add some fresh content so that the base of your digital presence is ready to receive driven by other outreach activities.
2. Provide a Way to ‘Do’–Not Just ‘Buy’ Participation
Like consumers, the modern donor is interested in authentic, hands-on involvement in your organization. If you want their money, you’ll need to take a hint from the trend of experiential marketing to understand what these donors really want from your organization.
In the long run, you’ll be able to diversify your aging donor base by appealing to millennial and Gen Z using this tactic. While you may be hesitant to aggressively pursue younger donors because of the perception of their earning potential, keep in mind that you’re feeding a pipeline of future donors. Whether they can give a little or a lot, all donor relationships are worth nurturing.
For example, a Canadian non-profit organization that raises awareness and provides support for those experiencing homelessness staged a car with sleeping bags in a streetside pop up experience to show complacent residents how those experiencing homelessness might live.
Here’s what you can do right now:
Design a Pop-Up Experience to Engage on the Street
Organize a Community Volunteer Day
Put Your Logo on Merchandise & Add a Shopping Feature to Your Website
Design a Sponsorship Package that’s Relevant to Your Organization
Host a Live Event or Behind-the-Scenes Tour
Invite Donors to an Open Board Meeting
3. Create Shareable Stories
Turn your biggest successes into visual tools that drive donor engagement. Seeing the ‘good’ in action is the next best thing to being actively involved. This takes a variety of media and a winning format that balances hard-hitting emotion with a feel-good finish.
However, when done well, these stories provide the inspiration that you need to get engagement.
When you find a good story, write up a rough draft that sets the scene explaining the hardships that the client was facing and how they were introduced to the organization. Then, detail the services that the organization offered, highlighting how these services were possible through active donors. Then share a before-and-after style of the client's transformation that leans on your organization as the agent that made the change possible.
This story is just the first step. Don’t stop here.
Next, make sure that your story has the key elements of a truly shareable story:
The first component of a great story is relatability. Your audience needs to be able to connect with the services that your organization provides to understand the importance of the work that you do. Helping them connect with your “why” shows them you need donations to continue offering that value.
The second component of a great story is feelings. Your audience needs to be able to experience the value that your organization provides. The best way to do this is to use emotions. The right words and images, sometimes paired with other immersive elements like music or color, can invoke feelings of awe, curiosity, wander, delight, fear, anger, or suffering.
While not all of these are positive emotions, each is powerful in the right context. For example, highlighting the fear of an elderly person suffering from poverty presses on the pain point at the beginning of the story. Then, highlighting the relief they feel when their rent is paid or there is food in the cabinets provides a feel-good solution. These two conflicting emotions are equally important to the story.
The third component is the real clencher. The insinuation of exclusivity that really seals the deal, making a story shareable–and potentially viral. You need to find some way to work in the feeling that the audience is getting an inside scoop straight from the source. Creating this feeling isn’t as difficult as you might think because you are already the inside source. All you need to do is add 1-2 sentences that suggest you’re letting them in on a secret that is relevant to the story.
If you’re looking for inspiration, St John's Program for Real Change does a great job of telling their stories using real value, emotion, and an unabridged look at a personal journey of transformation.
Here’s what you can do right now: Look over your existing success stories and donor marketing materials and make sure that these stories include practical value, emotion, and social currency, and revise as needed.
4. Take Notes from Viral Influencer Marketing Campaigns
Influencer marketing uses the built-in trust of an existing relationship to get engagement. Influencers are personalities or people on social media who have gained a lot of attention–and a loyal fanbase.
The magic in influencer marketing campaigns for non-profits is like a megaphone that extends your donor message from a small pool of a few hundred to a much larger pool in the tens-of-thousands.
It’s good for boosting visibility and raising awareness, as well as potentially attracting new donors. Take some inspiration from the viral success of the organizations behind the ALS Bucket Challenge that produced more than 17M creator videos and garnered more than 10B views.
Here’s what you can do right now: Get on your favorite social media channel and identify a short list of influencers who might align with the values that your organization supports. Brainstorm a few ideas for partnering to co-create content and start reaching out.
5. Get the Right People on the Phone
As much as everyone is focused on exploring digital channels to engage donors, there is still value in genuine human connection. The steps outlined above don’t eliminate the need for thank-you notes and phone calls. As you continue with these traditional strategies, keep in mind that authenticity is more important now than ever before. Take a closer look at your traditional outreach activities and see if you can find ways to make these interactions a little more genuine.
Here are a few fixes for common red flags:
Ditch scripted calls in favor of real conversation
Put your board members on the phone instead of lower-level employees.
Tell a story instead of listing reasons
Offer flexible giving options
Focus on the experience instead of how much donors are giving
Consider adding a membership program to bolster retention
Choose strategic corporate partnerships
Sometimes the most effective way to engage donors is to go back to the basics. Offer personalized thank yous with handwritten notes and one-on-one calls. Nurture repeat donations through membership programs and newsletters, but remember that you need to offer value through transparency and activity. Your audience is typically happy to support your cause, but they need more value in the interaction than an ‘atta boy’ for their generosity.
Here’s what you can do now: Review your traditional outreach channels through the lens of authenticity. Look for ways to make connection more meaningful and then choose a couple action items to implement right away.
Final Thoughts on Engaging Donors in 2023
It’s a new year and time for a new strategy. Don’t let the bleak financial forecasts keep you from achieving your fundraising goals. Although donors might be a little more conservative with their funds, they still have money and are willing to spend it when they feel connected to something meaningful. The key to getting your donors to take that action is engagement.
This year, it’s time to revamp traditional outreach to be a little more concerned with engaging our donors. It’s time to embrace multiple channels and make your digital presence a priority. It’s time to stop wishing you were more engaging and actually become more engaging by telling stories and sharing the content that matters with your donors.