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Tuesday, January 16, 2018

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The new keys to success in fundraising today: Engagement (Part 5)
Mal Warwick

January, 2011

To understand the concept of Engagement, you need to get your head around a new way of looking at donors.

Most of the time, we think of donors as just that: people who send us money. But donors may have multi-faceted relationships with us—for example, as volunteers, as former staff members, as providers of in-kind products or services, or as direct beneficiaries of our work. For them, and possibly even for us, those other aspects of their relationships may be even more important than their financial support. And even donors who are now only donors may be able to contribute more meaningfully to our work in non-financial ways than they do as donors. So, don’t think of Engagement in a narrow way as a means to get more money from them. Take a holistic view. Think of the possible benefits for both parties in a broader relationship.

Four routes to donor Engagement

  • Volunteering. First, if your organization offers volunteer opportunities, you have one of the easiest and sometimes the fastest routes to donor Engagement. People who volunteer for a charity are three times as likely to contribute funds as those who don’t. But that’s only one aspect of the picture. Most analysts in the U.S. value volunteer service at $15 per hour, so a person who volunteers, say, three hours a week throughout the year is giving an extra contribution worth more than $2,000 that year. However, some volunteer programs require highly trained and specialized skills that may be worth many times that much. That’s probably a lot more than the value of all their financial contributions.

As you know, running a volunteer program isn’t easy. And it’s absolutely essential that your volunteer program provide a rich and rewarding experience. That takes skill and entails management and training costs. But take care: A badly run volunteer effort can turn people off just as quickly as a good one can turn them on.

  • Advocacy. Now, the second route to donor Engagement is advocacy. Increasingly, with the continuing growth of email and the Internet as an inexpensive way to involve supporters, grassroots advocacy efforts, or campaigning, is becoming an ever-more familiar way for charities to recruit new supporters. It’s become equally important as a means to broaden their relationships with people who already support them. But it’s a mistake to think of advocacy as consisting exclusively of sending out email action alerts. There are far more meaningful ways for your donors and other supporters to engage in advocacy on your behalf. For example, they might print out, sign, and mail actual letters—on real paper! Or make telephone calls. Or attend meetings or rallies or demonstrations . . . or walk picket lines . . . or join delegations of citizens to visit legislators . . . or even climb up the side of a high-rise to hang a banner! All this is advocacy—and those few people who choose one of these more active ways to support you are worth their weight in gold. They’re certainly worth paying a lot of attention to!
  • Consultation. Yet another route to Engagement is to consult your supporters. Keep in mind the old axiom about major donors: “If you want advice, ask for money. If you want money, ask for advice.” Donors always feel appreciated—and more involved in your work—when you solicit their views. And of course you can do that not just by phone but by email, direct mail, face-to-face at events, or in informal focus groups.

But don’t limit yourself to asking for your donors’ opinions. Use the most appropriate channel to acquire meaningful personal information: what motivates their giving . . . which of your programs is most important for them . . . whether your organization is a top philanthropic priority. In other words, the sort of information that will help you tailor your fundraising appeals more closely to their individual interests and giving habits.

  • Access. For some donors, however, there’s simply no substitute for face-to-face contact. Giving them access to staff members, or in some cases the members of the board, can be a huge incentive for some people to give, or give more. And supplying them with the email address and direct phone number of their own personal contact on the staff will enhance their feeling that their support is truly valued.

Direct access like this won’t just pay off in increased giving. Perhaps equally important, it will lead to positive word-of-mouth for your organization. Favorable “buzz” like this can be invaluable—1,000 times as valuable as any advertising you might pay for. That’s what we’re learning from studies in the new field of word-of-mouth marketing. Buzz leads to wider public awareness of your work and even to new donors.

Remember: People will listen to friends and acquaintances with less skepticism than they will if you’re making the same claims!

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To learn more go to Mal Warwick's site at



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