The Importance of Engagement & Using Data to Get Results

Today’s donors have lots of choices when it comes to the causes they support. To attract and convert supporters you need a robust engagement strategy. Good news – creating engagement practices that build strong donor relationships doesn’t have to be hard!

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

A successful engagement strategy builds trust, deepens connection and fosters an affinity to your cause. Think about it – donors are people and they want relationships that are more than superficial asks or canned greetings.

Taking the time to create a good engagement strategy will help your donor relations take off. Here’s the basics, in six key steps:

  1. Get to know your donors
  2. Get them connected
  3. Foster inclusion
  4. Deepen donor relationships
  5. Say “thank you”
  6. Show the impact

Let’s break it down!


1. Get to Know Your Donors.

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

Here are a few easy ways to get to know your donors as people:

  • Find out why they chose to engage with your mission.
  • Discover their preferred communication channels.
  • Learn about other nonprofits they support and why.
  • Uncover what kind of activities and events they like to participate in.
  • Collect key information like background, family members and hobbies and interests.

Taking the time to understand their key motivations and needs will help you focus on what’s important to your supporters. As seen in the Giving Experience Study, today’s donors are looking to support nonprofits that make giving easy, demonstrate their impact, help them feel connected to the mission, and build trust.

What’s all that mean? Here you go:

  • Ease: Simplify your donation process. With the right fundraising software, nonprofits can create intuitive and fast giving experience that makes it easy to donate and ask for donations.
  • Impact: Be sure to communicate impact in imagery, words, data, and social proof throughout the entire donor journey.
  • Mission: Find your ‘wow’ factor – something unique about your mission that would grab your Social Donors’ attention instantly. Then, focus on how you deliver your mission in a way that pulls them in and keeps them engaged. (One of our favorite ideas is using video!)
  • Trust: Build trust by storytelling, including impact statements, testimonials and program updates. Also be sure to say “thank you” early and often.

Targeting these motivators will help you attract donors and influence their engagement!

2. Get Them Connected.

After you determine how your donors wants to engage, use that information to talk to them via their preferred channels. Make it a priority to keep them well informed with regular and consistent updates, announcements, news. It’s important to share your stories outside of just asking for donations.

Invite them to events that speak to their interests and connect them with other supporters in your organization who share those same passions. Building affinity networks with your supporters deepens their connection, trust, and engagement with your mission and your results!

Also, don’t forget social media and the impact that it can have on keeping donors connected to your organization. This past year, social media was the #1 way donors found out about giving opportunities. Leverage this channel to ensure your engagement opportunities are spread far and wide!

3. Foster Inclusion.

Outside of informing supporters of your upcoming events, creating a culture of inclusion will help further build connection to your cause.

Inclusion creates a sense of belonging and enhances your nonprofit’s ability to attract more donors, appeal to wider groups and demographics, and builds trust with your cause.

Here’s easy tips to help your nonprofit foster inclusion:

  • Examine communication and participation preferences across generations and plan accordingly.
  • Consider accessibility requirements for in-person and virtual events to create a more welcoming environment.
  • Provide affordable or free ticket options (whether in-person or virtual). Consider offering “volunteer & get in free” passes.
  • Leave room for gender-neutral language where applicable.
  • Invite them to a program that they are helping support.

Finally, sharing social proof points for donors of all ages and races is just as important as physical inclusion at your nonprofit and makes every donor feel that their support matters!

4. Deepen Donor Relationships.

Donor relationships are not a one-size-fits-all situation, but they can be grouped into common engagement segments. Here are four main types of supporters and a few examples of ways to  deepen your relationship:

  1. Casual donors:  These donors may be primed and ready to take their commitment higher with a donation that supports a specific initiative that they’re passionate about.
  2. Loyal supporters:  The next step may be for loyal supporters may be to volunteer for your organization, such as a scheduled monthly activity or special event.
  3. Donors with large influence:  Individuals with deep connections in your community or a large social following would make amazing  Ambassadors  for your cause.
  4. Highly involved individuals:  These individuals may have a talent or skill that would make them perfect candidates to serve on a committee or even your Board of Directors.

The key to deepening these relationships is to find ways and opportunities to connect these donor groups with your organization year-round.

5. Say “Thank You.”

Thanking your donors is one of the easiest and most important things you can do to help them stay engaged. If they don’t feel that your organization is grateful for their support, they may go find a another worthy (and thankful) cause to give to. Practicing meaningful donor recognition is a must for today’s donors! Here are a few ways to show your appreciation:

  • Share Impact: Add a gift impact or “thank you” section to your donation form.
  • Send Thank You’s: Take time to write a quick thank you to show donors that you value their contribution, no matter the size.
  • Year-End Touchpoints: Reconnect with your donors at year-end. Show them your accomplishments for the year and how their donations helped fuel your mission.
  • Use Social Media: 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.
  • Leverage Video: Send a video of you or the appropriate person thanking your donor

Add your personal touch in a variety of ways is a simple step to deepening the connection of your donor base.

6. Show the Impact.

Nothing helps to solidify a good donor relationship more than showing them the impact that they’re having within your organization.

Based on the findings of the Giving Experience Study, donors say organizations that demonstrate impact well do so by:

  • Showing who the cause helps through multi-channel marketing with videos, pictures, and testimonials.
  • Giving concrete examples of how their money is helping you achieve your mission (e.g., your $40 donation feeds one person for a week).
  • Being transparent about finances and operations (services vs. overhead) and regularly communicate results.

Make sure you review your communication strategies, channels, and messaging to make sure you are clearly and regularly sharing impact with your donors.

However you choose to show the impact they are making, be sure to make it personal and authentic. The more donors feel that they are truly affecting change at a personal level, the more engaged they’ll be with your mission.

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

Have you ever heard the saying “what gets tracked, gets measured?” Well, we like to take it one step further and say “what gets tracked, gets measured. And what gets measured, gets results!” When focusing on donor engagement, ensure your engagement plan includes tracking data and putting it to work to deepen donor relationships.

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

These components include:

  • Biographical and contact information.
  • Donation history.
  • Events attended vs the ones they were invited to.
  • Volunteer hours and communication history.

Ask yourself, how are you keeping this information? Are you consistent?  Are you tracking data efficiently?

You can also take it a step further and collect other donor information, such as satisfaction and interest surveys to make data-informed decisions on what your supporters want and need.

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.
  • Research the communications to these groups and 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. Then, add that to your list of KPIs. Look for a donor management system with an engagement scoring system built-in to get started even faster.

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

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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