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Sustained Donor Engagement

November 29, 2010

A few weeks ago, OrangeGerbera had the privilege to help produce and speak at an event called Fundraising Fuel. By all accounts the event was a success. Sharing the stage with us were five brilliant fundraising and entertainment professionals who shared strategies for improving engagement at fundraising events through “infotainment”, new event formats, social media, viewing events as performances, and clearly demonstrating a solvable problem.

For our part of the day’s agenda, I spoke about sustained donor engagement, a method of donor relations that assumes we’re always working to further develop our relationships with our donors, and not only interacting with them in a series of asks in the form of events and solicitation letters.

A link to the summary information we sent out after the event has been included at the end of this post.

A high-level summary of the talk went something like this:

1. Fundraising is about relationships and developing genuine relationships with donors is similar to developing genuine relationships with friends. You don’t only reach out to friends when you need something from them, and the same should be true of your donors.

2. Plan for other types of events and touches (see the PDF) beyond the traditional fundraising event. Do this to take advantage of heightened donor engagement without the funny feelings associated with money, and to improve the results of fundraising events/asks when they do happen.

3. Look for and leverage unique and interesting characteristics of your organization to create opportunities to build deeper, more meaningful relationships with donors. Regardless of whether you’re in a cool space, serve the latest hip cause, or have nothing but a “boring” office full of workers to share; identify what draws donors to you in the first place and build on that. The PDF includes a simple exercise to help work through this with your team. My talk included examples, which I’m happy to provide upon request.

4. Pepper these activities throughout the entire donor relations cycle, develop repeatable processes and use the time and energy of every volunteer (especially board members!) to increase your staff’s capacity to support sustained engagement all year, and help fill the voids left by poor donor relations.

The benefits of this system include:

1. More donor loyalty when the tough times hit.
2. Less donor fatigue and attrition.
3. Higher, more effective utilization of your board.
4. More manageable workload for your staff.
5. Greater donor relations.

We wrapped the day with a Q&A panel and “genius bars” spread around the room.  One question directed to me during the panel was something like “What is the proper ratio of staff and volunteers to donors to be able to support successful sustained donor engagement?”

Caught off guard with this excellent question, my answer at the time was “Uh… good question. It depends on the types of activities and donors you have.” While this wasn’t the absolute worst way in the world to have answered, in hindsight I definitely would have answered differently. How would you answer this question?

Fundraising Fuel Handout (PDF)

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