Imagine you’re in an incredibly important meeting, but the person you’re meeting with suddenly drifts off to sleep. This might make for a hilarious sitcom scene, but in reality, it’s demoralizing and upsetting. You weren’t able to keep the person with whom you’re meeting engaged in conversation. Worse, you’re probably not going to get what you’re looking for out of the meeting.
The same idea applies to your supporters! Keeping them engaged and on the edge of their seat is essential to actively building your relationships over time, which will result in an increase in donations. As such, engagement is tied tightly to the success of your overall fundraising campaign strategies. After all, keeping donors engaged is what keeps them coming back to your organization over and over again.
In this guide, we’ll cover strategies that your nonprofit can leverage to keep your supporters engaged, including:
- Segmenting your supporters
- Personalizing communications
- Identifying major prospects
- Identifying partnership opportunities
- Heading off potential lapses
- Thanking your donors
- Measuring your progress
When you keep your donors engaged, you’ll retain them for the long haul, meaning you can focus on building those relationships and spend less time and money on acquiring new donors. Plus, as donors become more committed to your cause, they tend to give more over time, helping you raise additional funds.
Now let’s dive into the strategies!
1. Segmenting your supporters
The first step to engaging your supporters is ensuring that you’re sending them the right communications. When you send out mass messages to every supporter in your database, most of them likely won’t read your messages. And if they do read the messages, they might not support your mission because your appeal is too generic to stir up the urgency and emotions that motivate supporters to give.
Instead of sending the same messages to every supporter, create specific segments in your nonprofit CRM or donor database using the data you have about your supporters to effectively reach them based on their history with your nonprofit.
For example, you wouldn’t reach out to a brand new donor right after they’ve given their first gift and solicit a donation of $100,000. You likely haven’t built a strong enough relationship with the donor to ask them to contribute a gift of this size. Plus, they just made a donation, so you could seem greedy for asking for a second gift so soon after they made the first one. Instead, you might send a new donor an information packet about your mission and a welcome letter, greeting them and telling them more about your organization.
Bloomerang’s guide to donor segmentation provides the following examples of segments your nonprofit might decide to create in your CRM.
- First-time donors
- Monthly donors
- Potential lapses
- Lapsed supporters
- Volunteers who have never given
- Donors who shared feedback
- Long-term donors
By splitting these groups of supporters into segments, you can reach out with exactly the message they need to hear to motivate them to stay involved with your mission. For instance, you could reach out to lapsed supporters for feedback, asking how your organization could do better. Then, you could use that reopened channel of communication to engage with them further and hopefully encourage them to support your mission like they did in the past. Or, you might reach out to your volunteers who never gave and inform them about how your latest campaign will make a difference for your mission, encouraging them to make a donation.
2. Personalizing communications
Once you’ve created the segments in your CRM, you can start using them to personalize your outreach to your supporters. Write messages that will appeal to the specific segment of your audience. Then, use data from your CRM to further personalize each appeal, letter of appreciation, and more.
Consider, for example, if you’re writing a letter to brand new donors. You might customize this welcome letter to say something like:
Dear [donor’s name],
Thank you for your generous contribution of [donation amount] for the [campaign name]. Your gift helps provide boys and girls in the community with access to the educational materials they need to be successful students.
We’d like to take this opportunity to officially welcome you to the School Survivor’s community. We work to provide school materials, lunches, educational opportunities, and more for K-12 students who otherwise wouldn’t have access to these resources. Our mission is to make sure every child has a chance to succeed.
Thank you again for your support. Learn more about our mission and how you can get involved at schoolsurvivors.com.
In this example, the data pulled into the letter directly from your CRM includes the donor’s name, the donation amount, and the name of the campaign they supported. For printed letters, don’t be afraid to add a handwritten signature or PS message. These personal touches show supporters that you’re not just sending the same message to everyone in your contact list. This makes them feel like you actually care about them and their support.
Draft communications templates for each segment of your supporters. Then, use data from your CRM to add personalized elements that will capture their attention and keep them engaged with your mission. This should be done for all communications, from fundraising letters to thank you messages to event invitations.
At the end of the message, include the next step the recipients can take to continue their engagement. In the example above, it’s an invitation to learn more about the organization, but you can also direct supporters to your volunteer page, next fundraising event, or advocacy campaign to keep them involved. Your communications aren’t only about engaging them at the moment, but they’re also about encouraging that engagement in the future.
3. Identifying major prospects
In terms of lifetime value, your major donors are undoubtedly the most important supporters to identify and steward over time.
With that in mind, your engagement plan for your major supporters should be robust because they’re the ones who provide the most funding to your organization.
But before you can build out an engagement plan to cultivate major gifts, you’ll need to determine who your major supporters are. There are two main aspects to this form of prospect research. You’ll need to determine:
- Your prospect’s capacity to give. Not everyone has the ability to make a major donation. However, there are certain shared characteristics that indicate an individual might be able to do so. By analyzing wealth data such as a supporter’s real estate ownership, SEC holdings, and past donations, you can estimate the amount they might be able to contribute to your nonprofit.
- Their current level of engagement. It’s rare that a brand new supporter will walk into a nonprofit and contribute a surprise major gift. Usually, your organization has to build a relationship with them and eventually ask for the gift you need. Analyze your major donor prospect’s current level of engagement with your organization. If they just attended an event last week, that’s a good sign that they want to continue building a relationship and support your mission!
Your CRM should make it easy to find these metrics. For example, Bloomerang provides a Generosity Score and Engagement Meter for an at-a-glance view of who could be a major prospect. These scores are featured directly on each supporter’s profile. Bloomerang users can also use tools like DonorSearch to further their research and learn more about these key supporters.
Once you know who your major prospects are, build a specialized engagement plan for them. This might include asking for one-on-one meetings, hosting intimate events, and writing letters for specific individuals.
4. Identifying partnership opportunities
Another opportunity to further engage both your current and potential supporters lies in partnerships. When you partner with other organizations and corporations, you have access to a whole new pool of potential supporters.
Here’s generally what the process looks like for nonprofits reaching out to small community businesses:
- Research or ask your supporters who they work for and save the data to your nonprofit’s donor database. This way, you can discover the supporters who are owners or stakeholders at the small businesses in your community.
- Engage with these supporters. Reach out to them and make sure they’re aware of everything you’re doing to support your mission and the community.
- Finally, ask the supporters if they’re open to a partnership between their company and your organization. They may be able to provide sponsorships or auction items for your future campaigns.
If you find out that many of your supporters work for the same organization, you might reach out to corporate social responsibility professionals at that company and point out their employees’ shared passion for your mission.
Partnerships allow the company to build on a corporate philanthropy program, which, according to Double the Donation, can provide a positive work environment and public image. Your nonprofit can benefit from these partnerships by gaining access to key resources like sponsorships, volunteer days, and matching gift program funding.
5. Heading off potential lapses
Those supporters who haven’t engaged with you in a while or are failing to open or read your emails may be at risk of lapsing. By building an effective stewardship program, your nonprofit has the opportunity to head off potential lapses.
Pay attention to the supporters who aren’t actively engaging with your nonprofit, then reach out to them to put your mission back on their minds. This strategy helps boost your donor retention rate and prevents them from leaving to support a different organization or, worse, simply forgetting about the importance of your cause altogether.
Some strategies you may use to re-engage donors include:
- Sending an invitation to get coffee. A personal invitation to get coffee or to attend a luncheon can make a huge difference in whether or not a supporter will continue contributing to your organization. This is especially important when it comes to high-value and mid-tier donors.
- Making phone calls. Personalization is key. Be sure you’re reaching out to supporters in the most personal ways possible, which includes making phone calls. Get them on the phone and have a one-on-one conversation.
When talking with your supporters, always ask supporters how they’d like to be involved in the future. Then, engage with them based on what they say.
6. Thanking your donors
A little appreciation can go a long way. Thanking your donors is the backbone of an effective stewardship strategy and the key to building meaningful relationships with your supporters. Donors don’t just want to give, give, give. They also want something in return, and that includes your support and appreciation for everything they do for your organization.
Take your appreciation strategy further than a single email. Show your supporters that they matter by also incorporating other methods of appreciation such as:
- Sending handwritten letters
- Writing multiple personalized emails
- Making phone calls
- Hosting appreciation events
- Sending them free merchandise
No matter how you choose to say thank you, work to ensure your supporters feel valued by your organization before soliciting additional gifts.
7. Measuring your progress
As you start to incorporate more engagement strategies into your overall fundraising strategy, track key metrics to see if these efforts are succeeding or if they need to be adjusted. For example, if you provide free merchandise to say thank you to several donors, but they all end up lapsing, you might need to rethink your strategy and show your appreciation in a different way.
You should track metrics such as the following before and after you’ve incorporated these engagement strategies:
- Donor retention rate
- Revenue raised
- Matching gift rate
- Landing page conversion rate
- Recurring gift percentage
Determine what your goals are in terms of these metrics and don’t be afraid to get specific! Just saying “I want to increase my retention rate” doesn’t define success very well. Instead, set a goal like “I want to increase the retention rate by 15%.” This will provide a motivating metric for your team to strive for.
Engagement is key to fundraising success. It’s how you build relationships with supporters and encourage them to stay with your nonprofit for the long haul. Set your nonprofit up for success by incorporating these strategies into your regular fundraising outreach and communications strategy. Then, track your success. Happy fundraising!
Author: Jay Love
Co-Founder and current Chief Relationship Officer at Bloomerang
He has served this sector for 33 years and is considered the most well-known senior statesman whose advice is sought constantly.
Prior to Bloomerang, he was the CEO and Co-Founder of eTapestry for 11 years, which at the time was the leading SaaS technology company serving the charity sector. Jay and his team grew the company to more than 10,000 nonprofit clients, charting a decade of record growth.
He is a graduate of Butler University with a B.S. in Business Administration. Over the years, he has given more than 2,500 speeches around the world for the charity sector and is often the voice of new technology for fundraisers.