Donor Engagement: How to bring more meaning to your fundraising campaigns

By Haylin Belay

The Brief
We’ve all seen the commercials. Cute, sad puppies and cute, sad children are attention-grabbers, sure, and when every dollar counts towards your fundraising goals, so does every page view. But, as recent heartstring-tugging, if adorable, campaigns have illustrated, “attention” isn’t always enough. Effective nonprofit fundraising is really stewardship—the nurturing of individual relationships over a period of time. And the first step to establishing any relationship is engagement.

In a recent post for Bloomerang, Dante Cook writes about going beyond clickbait by attaching “meaning, experiences, and stories” to your brand. Cook argues that the incessant and daily stream of horror we all see on TV and social media “has created a de-sensitized culture, numb to the harsh realities of hurt and pain happening around the world.” To break through, nonprofits must learn how to empower their audience to create change.

So how does Cook’s case study, charity:water, engage their audience? For starters, charity:water stands out—and “not because they’re the only nonprofit whose mission is to provide clean and safe drinking water to developing nations.” It’s not their mission that defines their brand, it’s how they work with their donors. 

“For charity:water, it’s not their mission that defines their brand, it’s how they work with their donors.” 

To help drive engagement, charity:water makes donations personally meaningful. One of their signature initiatives is their birthday campaign, in which participants ask for donations in lieu of birthday gifts. This works, Cook argues, because it allows people who have never heard of charity:water “to attach meaning and an experience to their story” and to their donation.

In other words, by creating a narrative, they lay the groundwork for a relationship. The org then nurtures that newly formed connection through follow-up. They provide regular check-ins for supporters explaining exactly where their donations have gone, who has been helped and how. By staying engaged with donors, the org solidify these relationships, converting one-time givers to lifelong supporters. 

Just like commercial brands, nonprofits can increase their audience engagement—and maximize donations—by making the fundraising process feel intimate, unique and personally meaningful. That means more engaged, committed and emotionally satisfied donors who are more willing to give because they feel a personal connection to “their” organization. No cute puppies required. 

Haylin Belay is a freelance writer and blogger based in New York City. This is her first post for the RelSci blog.

RelSci is a technology solutions company that helps create competitive advantage for organizations through a crucial yet vastly underutilized asset: relationship capital with influential decision makers. 

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