The Importance of Engagement & Using Data to Get Results

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Being in nonprofits for 10+ years, I quickly learned that the engagement of your supporters goes a long way to help fuel long-term nonprofit success. Another thing that I learned is that engagement doesn’t have to be hard. You just have to learn the basics and decide to do them right.

The Importance of Donor Engagement

Donor Engagement: What Is It and How Can You Foster It?

As the title of this blog suggests, engagement is important, but successful engagement is a multistep process that centers around the following five steps:

1. Get to know your donors.

A crucial step in any good relationship is laying the right foundation. When it comes to donor relationships, we have to take the time to get to know them.

Find out why they chose to engage with your organization, how they want to be communicated to, and the level of involvement they want to have. Have they had any other experiences with other nonprofits? And was that experience a positive or negative one? Don’t forget key biographical information such as their background, family members and hobbies and interests.

2. Get them connected.

As you determine how your donor wants to engage with you and your organization, use that information to connect them with the right outlets within your organization. Make it a priority to keep them well informed with regular and consistent communications.

Invite them to events that speak to their interests and connect them with other supporters in your organization who share those same passions. Also, don’t forget about social media and the impact that it can have on keeping donors informed on what is going on with your organization and the ways you are serving your mission.

3. Deepen the relationship.

Donor relationships are not a one-size-fits-all situation, and based on the foundation that you built, you will know when the time is right to take the relationship to the next level.

For some donors, the next logical step is to ask them to volunteer for your organization, such as a regular activity or special event. For others, they may have a talent or skill that would make them perfect candidates to serve on a committee or even your Board of Directors. If someone has been a casual donor, maybe they are primed and ready to take their commitment higher by asking them to make a monetary gift that supports a specific initiative that they are passionate about.

Lastly, for those who want to financially support your organization more than they are able to do personally, they may be perfect candidates to lead an individual giving campaign (aka peer-to-peer fundraising). The key to deepening the relationship is to find a way for your donor to continue to connect with your organization on that deep emotional level.

4. Say “thank you.”

Thanking your donors is one of the biggest things you can do to help them stay engaged. If they do not feel that your organization is thankful for them and their support, they will eventually move on.

Saying ‘thank you’ needs to be personal and can come in the form of a phone call or visit, but why stop there? Add your personal touch in a variety of ways such as sending a video of you or the appropriate person thanking your donor. Use social media to give them a shout out and share with others how your donor’s support is helping you to fulfill your mission.

5. Show the impact.

Nothing helps to solidify a good donor relationship more than showing them the impact that they are having within your organization. Make the time to invite them to see their support in action. Some ideas include taking donors on a facility/site tour or inviting them to a program that they are helping support. Maybe their donation helped to purchase a critical piece of equipment, or introduce them to someone who has been personally impacted by their donation.

However you choose to show them the impact they are making, make it personal and authentic and don’t be afraid to make the experience exceptional for the donor. The more they feel that they are really affecting change, the more they will feel engaged with your organization and mission.

Using Data to Get Donor Engagement Results

Tracking Engagement, Gathering Data, & Putting the Data to Work

Have you ever heard the saying “what gets tracked, gets measured?” I like to add my own spin to and say that “what gets tracked, gets measured. And what gets measured, gets results!” When nonprofits begin focusing on donor engagement, they have to take into account that their engagement plan must include gathering and tracking data, as well as how to put it to work to make educated decisions.

Before we jump into how to track engagement, let’s take a look at what makes up each component of a donor “profile” or a 360 view of how they are currently engaging with your organization.

These components include biographical and contact information, donation history, events attended versus the ones they were invited to, volunteer hours and communication history.

Ask yourself, how are you keeping this information? Are you consistent? If you don’t have a donor management system, something I would suggest is investing in a donor management  tool (like Charityproud) to help you keep consistent records on your supporters. Besides keeping complete records on your supporters, you can take it a step further and collect other information, such as satisfaction and interest surveys, that helps to make data-informed decisions on everything from communication to marketing strategies.

So, what do you do with this data?

  • Look for the naturally occurring groups that emerge such as major gift prospects, volunteers that have never made a monetary donation, and irregular donors.
  • Conduct a communication audit and research the communications to these groups, as well as review how you are communicating overall with your supporters.
  • Develop a strategy for each of these groups. Examples include developing a cultivation cycle for major gift prospects or creating an action plan for reengaging lapsed donors.
  • Make a list of the items that you wish to measure your performance with. These are known as KPIs or key performance indicators. Some KPIs include donor retention rates and conversion rates from prospects to committed donors.
  • Think about developing an engagement score system that helps you quickly identify how engaged your supporters are and adding that to your list of KPIs. Look for a donor management system with an engagement scoring system built-in to get started even faster.

After you review your data and develop your KPIs, your next step should be to establish what your baseline is for your KPIs and develop SMART goals (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound) on how you would like to move the needle forward in the right direction. Get the right people on your team in developing these goals and share them with your Board. The more that you communicate them, the more accountable you will be to others in achieving them.

Engagement isn’t hard, but it does take work. By making engagement a priority within your organization and making each of these steps work for your organization will have a big impact on your donor engagement, which increases retention and helps to solidify your organization for the future.

My personal belief is that when you do the small stuff right, you get big results! Engagement basics are one of the keys to big mission outcomes.


About the author: Jessica Cooper, Client Account Manager, Charityproud

Jessica Cooper brings 12 years of membership and nonprofit experience to her role as a Client Account Manager with Charityproud, specifically working with clients on how to streamline their processes and use data to help engage with donors and members alike. Prior to working with Charityproud, Ms. Cooper spent 10+ years at the Greater Kingsport Family YMCA and worked with her team to develop their association’s plan for member engagement, leading to a 10% increase in member retention.

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