5 minute read

Whether you’re new to fundraising or a seasoned pro at making the ask, you probably know the key to developing a consistent stream of donations isn’t just about slick appeal letters or having an especially charming way with words. It’s about building relationships. Once a donor connects with a nonprofit and makes that initial gift, they’re much more likely to donate again if they’re engaged with the organization.

The value a repeat donor brings to a nonprofit is immense. According to the 2018 Fundraising Effectiveness Project (FEP) (a joint project between the Association of Fundraising Professionals and the Urban Institute), 21.8% of retained donors that were studied increased their gifts, 14% gave the same amount, 18.6% gave less and 45.6% lapsed.

Plus, getting donations from returning donors is way more cost-effective than recruiting new ones. Nonprofit Quarterly reported that first-time donors cost a nonprofit up to five times more than returning ones.

What’s the moral of the story here? Engagement, engagement, engagement. Don’t think a nice response message with a heartfelt thank-you is enough to keep a donor coming back. It’s a good start, but it’s just that: a start.

There are about as many ways to engage with donors as there are donors if you get creative enough—I’m going to give you 15 ideas to get your wheels turning. They’re all a little different, but the one thing they all have in common is none of them involve asking for money. Making the ask is important, but it’s not the only way to turn your donors into loyal constituents. How about trying one of these:

1. Invite them on a tour of your workspace for a behind-the-scenes look at what goes on.

2. Host a happy hour. Partner with a local bar or restaurant to host an after-work cocktail hour for donors to mingle with your staff. You can put several spins on this: Ask if the business will donate a certain percentage of the sales to your org (you are, after all, bringing them business). Ask donors to invite a friend to learn more about your nonprofit (expanding your reach). Treat donors to appetizers on you, simply as a thank-you for their generosity. Do what makes sense for you and your donor base and have fun with it.

3. Get more active on social media. How often do you post, tweet or share industry news on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn? These are not necessarily great channels for fundraising, but they’re perfect for engagement—as long as your constituents are there. Invite them to connect with you if they’re not, then be consistent.

4. Provide volunteering options. Some of your donors might be open to a simple one-time activity; others may be up for an ongoing commitment. Some may be behind-the-scenes people while other may prefer to be out front. Just remember to promote a variety of volunteer opportunities for all different personality types.

5. Send birthday cards or anniversary notes (e.g., “We’ve been in this together for three years! Thank you for believing in us.”) signed by your staff.

6. Tell lots of stories. In your newsletter, on your website, at events, on Instagram stories and your YouTube channel—wherever you can. Your donors give money because they want to make an impact. Show them their impact.

7. Host a donor appreciation brunch and don’t say one thing about money, unless it’s to thank them for what they’ve already given.

8. Ask them for testimonials. Social proof is powerful—when prospects see donors who are committed and passionate about your organization and its cause, they’ll be much more likely to join in. Your donors have significant value beyond their wallets.

9. Ask a donor who’s also an influencer in your community or niche to take over your Instagram or Twitter account for a day and share about your organization from their perspective. That’ll both increase reach and awareness for you as well as boost their sense of loyalty to your organization.

10. Include a donor spotlight on your website where you feature a story about one donor each week or month, maybe twice a month. Whatever is most doable, go for it—just be consistent. Every feature is one more opportunity to engage one-on-one with another donor. Over time, those opportunities all add up to a big impact.

11. Open up comments on your blog and end each post with a question, inviting donors (and other online visitors) to respond and join the conversation.

12. Introducing a new initiative? Campaign? Physical location or space? Have a naming contest and invite your donors to suggest names, then award the winner with a prize.

13. Ask them for feedback—often. Everyone likes to know their opinion matters. What do they think of your newsletter? Your last event? Your thank-yous? Your online donation process? What would they like to do on your website that they can’t?

14. Evaluate your welcome email or email series. Are your new donors sufficiently onboarded? Do you provide opportunities for them to engage with you beyond giving money? Do you drive them to your website for resources and more information? If not, redo your welcome email. Making new donors feel included early on is important to keep that momentum going that caused them to give in the first place.

15. Say thank you. Already did? Say it again. And again. Never let your donors feel for one second that you take them for granted or view them as an ATM or open wallet. Gratitude will serve you in a multitude of ways—plus, it just makes you a nice person.

One of the things we do at Firespring is not only offer ideas for donor engagement (though we have a bunch more, just ask us), we also create the right kind of tools you need to grow your mission through engagement. Every website we provide comes with the software you need to drive awareness, raise more funds and ultimately better engage with your supporters in order to build those lasting relationships we all covet. If you’re not captivating and engaging donors with your website, you run the risk of losing them—and a website with a revolving door is a frustrating endeavor.

You can learn more about the Firespring platform with a totally free test drive. Book your ride today.