Here at ioby, we believe in the power of small groups coming together to fundraise for big change. Through this step-by-step guide, we’ll outline the steps to cultivating meaningful relationships with donors that will sustain your work over the long haul. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel with each project you launch, so let’s dive in and make those dollars stretch as far as they can, block by block!
Introduction: Why is it important to spend time on donor engagement?
As a neighborhood leader, we know you have a million tasks to focus on. Whether it’s crafting a social media post or getting coffee to learn from a community stakeholder in your city, engaging with donors can often slip to the end of the to-do list. You already received the money—isn’t that what counts? This makes complete sense, but cultivating donor engagement is essential for a few key reasons.
First, let’s start with a definition. Donor engagement refers to the dynamic ways you keep financial supporters engaged over time. A few examples are thank-you notes, annual reports, volunteer days, or fundraising galas—any moment that serves as a touchpoint before or after the fundraising ask.
Donor engagement is essential because it is about fostering authentic relationships. If a donor understands the vision for your neighborhood or community, they can become a trusted ally in the creation of your project. This is about moving away from transactional relationships and toward transformational ones.
Donor engagement also matters because it is far easier to raise money from someone who already deeply understands your work—and can see how far their dollar has gone to make change. Recurring annual donors can provide much-needed stability in the often “up-and-down” world of fundraising and ensure that your project will be sustainable over time.
How do I level-up my donor engagement game?
Okay, now that we know donor engagement is important, let’s walk through how to become a pro at creating an engaged network and raise money with less stress. It might be intimidating at first, but we promise that the results will pay off—and make fundraising feel a little bit more human, which is a goal we can all get behind!
Make A Plan
Like all successful projects, the first step toward raising more money through donor engagement is to make a plan. While some nonprofits use “customer relationship management,” or CRM, software such as Salesforce to manage donor relationships, you definitely don’t need anything that fancy.
If you have a spreadsheet with donors, start to research each and every name on the list and begin to answer these four questions:
- How did they hear about the project?
- Have you reached out to them about project successes in the past three, six, or twelve months?
- Do they have any other community-based relationships—such as grocery stores or local banks?
- Does it seem like they have additional capacity to give in monetary or other ways?
By answering these questions, you will be able to identify personalized ways to keep the donor engaged. Additionally, through effective research, you can identify connections that you might not have been able to see before. For example, maybe you are hosting a community dinner and see that one of your donors’ partners manages the local grocery store—potential abounds!
After you’ve done your personalized research, create a calendar that lists all key donor engagement touchpoints. This can include newsletters that update donors on your project or invitations to donor volunteer days. (We’ll get into lots more examples below!) But remember, timing is everything: as this helpful ioby post on year-end-giving emphasizes, 31% of giving happens in the month of December, and in just the last three days of the year 12% of all charitable giving occurs. In the lead up to the holidays, from October to the end of the year, 50% of nonprofits receive most of their annual donations.
So, as you’re creating your strategic plan, make sure to focus on key timing pillars that will help maximize your donations and set you up for success in the new year.
Share your story
Now that you have your plan in place, you’ll need stories to share. Storytelling is a powerful way to keep donors engaged over time as they see the transformative impact that their donations can have.
One of the easiest ways to do this is to share updates via your ioby fundraising page. If your campaign said that a $500 donation would provide three children with bikes, snap a photo of the bikes—with the children and parents consent, of course!—and kids enjoying them on a bright, sunny afternoon. This will not only prompt a feeling of joy (how could it not?). It will also show that you are a trustworthy steward of funds.
Consistently sharing your story is also essential if you hope to fundraise for multiple projects over time. If this is your goal, it is important to invite donors into the larger vision you have for your community. For example, your project is not simply about kids riding bikes—it is about increasing access to outdoor activities all while combating climate change.
By effectively communicating your vision through in-person meetings, phone calls, personalized emails, newsletters, videos, or social media posts, you will make donors feel that they are an important part of your longterm vision. This will increase giving over time, and will make those end-of-year donation requests feel less transactional and more authentic.
This might sound obvious, but writing a personalized thank you note can go a long way in cultivating donor relationships over time. If you feel comfortable, this can be a powerful moment to share why you thought it was so important to start the project in the first place.
Maybe you wanted to increase access to LGBTQ+ stories for queer youth or decrease pedestrian deaths in your city—what sparked that passion? Chances are, if someone has given your campaign, they have a passion for the cause too. Identifying where those interests align can be a powerful tool for building a network and staying in touch.
And remember: don’t stress too much about it. An authentic email is better than working on the perfect handwritten note that never gets sent. The goal is to create relationships that empower you and the donor to be yourself. Give yourself some grace if it takes a few weeks to send out a thank you note. As a neighborhood leader you have a ton going on and donors understand that—they just want to be a part of the journey, or else they wouldn’t have given!
Provide Ongoing Opportunities for Engagement
If you’re incorporated as a nonprofit, there is a clear way to keep donors engaged: board meetings. During those meetings, board members gather to hear updates about the organization, vote on key decisions, and mingle.
If you’re not incorporated as a nonprofit, you can still cultivate meaningful ways for your community to engage one another (without the sometimes-stuffy legal stuff!) This can be an excellent way to help donors feel like they are part of a broader community. If possible, in order to resist hierarchy, these events should be open to all donors, whether they donated $25 or $2,500. This could be as simple as a community picnic!
And while it might sound counterintuitive, this should not be a moment where you ask donors to give more. In order to create a truly authentic donor network, it’s essential to cultivate relationships beyond the financial transaction. This will pay off (literally!) in the long-term as people remain engaged long after a project has been completed.
Now that we’ve walked you through the key steps of donor engagement, it’s your turn to try! And remember: as a neighborhood leader, you’re an expert at bringing people together. Donors are no different from community members (in fact, they often are—and should be—the same people). You got this!
- This helpful guide from Network For Good details key tactics to cultivate donor relationships in a way that feels authentic to you.
- This article by Givesmart details the ways that you can leverage your board members’ network—or higher grassroots donors!—to meet new people and expand your fundraising foundation.
- ioby’s Guide to Making It Rain outlines the fundraising strategies of ioby leaders who have successfully crowdfunded larger budgets.
ioby is a national crowdfunding nonprofit, but we’re much more than that. We help connect leaders (like you!) with one-on-one coaching and support to raise the money they need from their communities to make our neighborhoods safer, greener, more livable, and more fun.
Have a great idea to get good done in your neighborhood? We want to help! Share your idea with us and we can help get you started.