Donor Engagement: They Call the Shots

I met with an executive director of a well-known local non-profit last week and loved the conversation we had about donor engagement. In so many words, she said she let her donors set the pace. I heard about the gentleman who donates between $2,000 — $10,000 every year. She’s never met him face to face. They have one five minute phone call a year.

“He doesn’t want the lunches and visits,” she explained. Then she has the many people who give their gift of $50 or $100 every year at their big annual event. That’s it. That’s their idea of engagement. And that’s perfectly fine. She also has donors that have a standing lunch date with her every month.


I think too often nonprofits become enamored of the idea of engagement and creating this magical donor experience, when if they would listen—or observe—what their donors are telling them they might be better off.


This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t platform for the larger gift, stay top of mind with smart direct mail or nurture planned giving prospects. Good stewardship is still good stewardship. But I appreciate the development directors and execs that let their donors define the relationship and respond with tact, respect and a range of giving options.


A few thoughts on the topic …

  1. Donor preference trumps everything else. It's their place to decide how, when and how much they give.
  2. "Engagement" means something different to different people. Discern what it means to different groups of contributors and respond accordingly.
  3. Everyone doesn't want an experience. It doesn't mean they don't like you. It means they're low maintenance. Be happy.
  4. Go multi-channel to enhance your donors' experiences and give them more information. Let them make choices about giving without forcing or pestering them.
  5. Donors are savvy. When they start to feel you're working them, they'll feel worked and go somewhere else.