The 5 Steps of Donor Engagement

Successful non-profit organizations need to build deep and sustainable relationships with their prospects. Doing so requires a system — fundraisers that meet new donors and make asks without a plan usually find those donor relationships to be short lived.

In order to reap maximum benefit from those in your fundraising universe, it is important to understand how to walk your fundraising prospects and donors through the 5 steps of donor engagement:

1. Getting to Know You

The first step of donor engagement is getting to know the donor, and letting them get to know you. This step often takes the shape of a non-ask event, an introductory meeting set up by a friend of the organization, or a tour of your facility. It is a chance for the donor to hear about your mission, your work, and your successes.

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At this point, some prospects will opt out of further engagement, because they are not interested in your organization, or because they are more interested in another organization, and want to spend their time and resources there, or because they are not ready to commit to supporting a non-profit.

For those that do show some interest, the next step is…

2. Getting Involved

The next step of donor engagement is inviting your prospects, who have already gotten to know your charity, to get involved. This might be by making a donation, but my preference is to get prospects involved, at this step, by asking them for either their time (as volunteers), or for their advice and ideas. Most prospects that you call after an introductory meeting or tour will expect you to ask them for money, and will be pleasantly surprised to hear you ask for their advice on building a stronger organization, or for their help working the registration table at your next event.

Let the donor lead… and let them decide how they would like to get involved. My favorite question to ask at this point is, “How would you see yourself getting more involved with our work?”

At this point, some prospects will opt out of further engagement, because they don’t have the time or resources to help, or because they are just not interested.

For those that do get involved, the next step is…

3. Financial Support

At this point, it is time to ask for a small gift to your organization. Ideally, you held an introductory meeting or invited your prospect to a tour or other non-ask event. You got them involved as a volunteer or advisor (and utilized them… meaning that if you asked for their advice, you followed up with them and asked other questions, several times over the course of a few month). Now, it is time to ask them for a small gift, either as part of an event, a fundraising campaign, or annual appeal.

At this point, some prospects will opt out of further engagement, because they don’t want to make a financial gift to your organization, or because they would rather give their money to other organizations (or, for an extremely small subset, because they don’t give to charity).

For those that do make a gift, the next step is…

4. Access to their Network

Once someone does make a gift to your non-profit, keep them engaged as volunteers and advisers. Stay in touch with them, and continue to answer any questions that they have. Then, ask them to help you by introducing your organization to more people that might be interested in supporting you. Ask the donor to open up their own Rolodex and personal network to help you find additional support.

This process can take any of a number of paths: the donor could hold a small non-ask event to introduce you to his or her friends. The donor could send out a letter or e-mail for you, or could invite colleagues to take a tour of your facility. Similarly, the donor could invite their friends and family to your annual fundraising event. For particularly well-connected donors, this step might entail joining your board of directors or development committee.

At this point, some prospects will opt out of further engagement, because they want to support you, but don’t want to get so involved as to introduce you to their contacts. Other prospects will be uncomfortable with the prospect of making such introductions.

For those that do make introductions, the next step is…

5. A Major Gift

If someone has gotten to know your organization, had made a gift, and has introduced you to their network of friends and colleagues, and if that person has significant enough personal (or business) wealth, now is the time to make a major ask.

The ask might be a large multi-year annual gift, an endowment gift, or as part of a capital campaign. No matter the type of ask, by now you should know enough about the donor to craft an ask that appeals to their own personal likes and dislikes, and you should have enough of a relationship to feel comfortable making this call. (For more guidance, see Major Donor Fundraising 101).

Some prospects will opt out of a major gift, others will give. In either case, continue the process by constantly cultivating these donors, seeking access to their networks, and keeping them informed of your fundraising and organizational activities.

Photo Credit: Andy Maguire