“I think happiness is a combination of pleasure, engagement and meaningfulness.” — Dr. Ian K. Smith, celebrity physician

You will be a successful fundraising professional if you make giving fun and enjoyable for donors and engage them in ways they will find meaningful.

Gallup, the international polling company, conducted a survey of over 17,000 American donors to better understand giving behaviors. One of Gallup’s key findings was that effective engagement leads to greater donor loyalty. Gallup’s Daniela Yu and Amy Adkins report:

“… [donors] keep going back to the causes that emotionally engage them.”

Sound engagement practices will lead to strong donor retention and increased levels of giving. For example, the simple act of engaging a donor by calling to thank her for her gift can have a profound impact. Penelope Burk in her book Donor Centered Fundraising reports that:

  • 95% of study donors stated they would appreciate a thank-you call within a day or two of the organization receiving their donation.
  • 85% said such a thank-you call would influence them to give again.
  • 84% said they would definitely or probably give a larger gift.

If a simple thank-you call can have such a significant effect, imagine what a comprehensive engagement strategy can accomplish.

Effective engagement will not only enhance donor retention and lead to increased giving, it will produce numerous additional benefits for your nonprofit organization. Gallup found that fully engaged donors are:

  1. 3.6x more likely to encourage people in their life to support the organization
  2. 2.5x more likely to participate in fundraising
  3. 2.2x more likely to plan to increase their donations in the next 12 months
  4. 2.1x more likely to volunteer their time
  5. 2.0x less likely to plan to reduce their donations in the next 12 months
  6. 1.9x more likely to attend an event
  7. 1.4x more likely to donate every month
  8. 1.3x more likely to donate regardless of circumstances (for example, because of a natural disaster or humanitarian crisis)

Gallup defines a fully engaged donor this way:

“Donors are emotionally attached to an organization and believe in its purpose. These donors are strong ambassadors of the organization. They donate regularly and go above and beyond to promote and support the cause.”

Michael Kaiser, Chairman of the DeVos Institute of Arts Management at the University of Maryland and President Emeritus of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, has observed:

“[Donors] don’t join our family to be whined at…. They join because we’re inspiring and fun.”

The challenge for nonprofit organizations is to develop an engagement strategy that allows donors to experience the joy of giving, makes them a partner in the organization’s work, and tells them how their donations have been and will be used to make a real difference.

Baby Boomers may have been content to support charities based on simple brand loyalty and the organization’s mission. However, younger donors want to experience a greater sense of involvement with the causes they support. They also demand to know exactly how their money will be used by the organizations they support.

When evaluating your organization’s investment in engagement, consider all of the benefits it will receive in return.

I’m reminded of a situation I encountered years ago when working with a client, The Philadelphia Orchestra. The Orchestra was looking for fresh ways to engage donors, make giving fun, and build donor loyalty. My business partner, at the time, and I suggested that the Orchestra invite donors to a rehearsal.

The first reaction from staff was, “The musicians’ union will never go for it.” The second reaction was, “Even if the union allows it, who would want to go?” The staff was also concerned that rehearsal attendees might not purchase performance tickets for the corresponding concert.

Well, with our strong encouragement, the development team was able to enlist the support of the union. When the Orchestra offered donors the opportunity to attend an open rehearsal, massive numbers happily went. Donors loved the opportunity to have special access and to see behind the scenes. Giving grew and, rather than negatively impacting ticket sales among those who participated, concerts drew standing-room-only crowds. Now, special open rehearsals are a common practice for arts organizations around the country.

Another fun engagement offer was pioneered at The Academy of Natural Sciences. While working to build membership and annual giving programs, I suggested that the museum invite supporters to a sleep-over. Today, many museums offer sleep-over opportunities. However, when I presented the idea, it was well before the movie A Night at the Museum, and the staff thought no one would be interested in spending the night in the museum and sleeping on a hard floor.

After some further prodding, the museum tested the sleep-over idea. It was a big hit. Soon after, the museum’s membership numbers surpassed the much larger competing museum in town. And, with an enhanced membership based, the museum was able to grow its annual giving program.

All organizations can be engaging and make giving fun. Your only limit is your imagination.

As Kaiser reminds us:

“The donor doesn’t owe us allegiance. We need to earn it.”

What fun things are you doing to inspire your donors and to earn their loyalty?

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