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Donor Participation Project

Diversity is a Journey: Start with Questions, Not Assumptions

To cultivate diversity and inclusion, nonprofit leaders must adopt a growth mindset. Diversity is a journey, not a checkbox. It requires humility, openness to learning, and a willingness to ask questions.

According to experts, diversity training is not enough.

Real change happens when learning is applied. While 63% of nonprofit professionals completed DEI training recently, only 42% saw improvements in workplace culture. The disconnect shows that intention must be matched with action.

Rather than make assumptions, begin by asking open-ended questions to uncover challenges and opportunities. Survey staff and donors to understand their experiences and needs. Look for patterns to see where inclusion is lacking, then commit to addressing those gaps.

Build a safe space for authentic discussions by admitting what you don’t know and inviting others to share their perspectives. According to Dr. Rashanda Mahon, leaders must “give voice to concerns, challenges and opportunities” and model inclusive behaviors. This helps shift culture by creating belonging.

To advance diversity, focus on allies and curiosity, not political correctness. Allies from outside marginalized groups are needed to drive change. Curiosity enables learning; asking thoughtful questions shows interest in understanding different experiences. Avoid accusatory language and lean into discomfort, seeing it as an opportunity to grow.

At the board level, prioritize diversity and hold members accountable for recruiting outside traditional networks. Look to thought leaders in marginalized communities and invite them to shape strategy. Acknowledge their time and expertise.

Finally, highlight diverse donors and share their authentic stories. Feature them in print, video and social media to build trust and motivate others with shared identities to support your mission. Personal stories of impact inspire more than statistics alone.

Diversity and inclusion are often assumed to be “soft skills” outside the realm of fundraising strategy. In reality, they directly impact an organization’s ability to build trust, reach new audiences and ensure long term sustainability. By starting with an open and willing spirit, nonprofit leaders will make more progress in cultivating true inclusion and belonging. The rewards of this difficult but vital journey are well worth the effort.

View the full recording of this session in our Resource Library.

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Donor Participation Project

Face-to-Face Conversations Reveal Deeper Donor Motivations: How One University Learned to Better Serve Long-Time Supporters

One university in Chile realized they didn’t truly understand their long-time donors. They conducted in-depth, face-to-face interviews with 31 loyal supporters who had given for 3-30 years to discover what really motivated them to give and stay engaged over the long run.

The interviews revealed insights that surprised the fundraising team. Donors gave to support the university’s mission and institutional longevity, not for recognition or benefits. They wanted to feel like partners in the university’s impact and success. The donors craved more information about the university’s work, priorities, impacts and challenges. They wanted authentic conversations and an open exchange of ideas.

Based on these findings, the university revamped their donor communications and stewardship strategy. They now send more frequent newsletters with information about key university initiatives, impacts, and needs. They invite donors to campus for intimate discussions on topics of mutual interest. They created tailored reports for donors at all levels showcasing the collective impact of their gifts.

The new approach is paying off. Open rates for newsletters have jumped to 50% and more donors are attending campus events. Several interview participants made additional gifts after their conversations. The university’s fundraising team learned the power of asking open-ended questions, listening without judgment and speaking with donors peer-to-peer.

The university’s experience shows that even long-time supporters can surprise us. When donors become more than just sources of funding and are treated as true partners, their motivation and generosity can expand in unexpected ways. But unlocking these opportunities requires nonprofit fundraisers to set aside their assumptions and have courageous, two-way conversations with the people who make their mission possible. While resource-intensive, these kinds of honest exchanges and institutional transparency are what transform donors into lifelong champions and build meaningful, impactful partnerships. Overall, this university’s journey reflects the importance of listening well, learning continuously and nurturing relationships with care and empathy.

View the full recording of this session in our Resource Library.

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Donor Participation Project

Co-Creation: How to Partner With Donors for Maximum Impact

Co-creation is a powerful way for nonprofits to build meaningful relationships with donors and support their missions. By partnering with donors, fundraisers can gain valuable insight into donors’ passions and priorities to develop customized engagement opportunities.

The first step to co-creation is listening.

Fundraisers should ask open-ended questions to understand donors’ motivations, values, and goals. Questions like “What causes are you most passionate about?” or “What motivates you to give to our organization?” can reveal the “why” behind donors’ support. Listen for hints about their interests and ask follow-up questions. The more fundraisers understand what drives donors, the more they can partner on impactful initiatives.

With insight into donors’ motivations, fundraisers can develop a suite of engagement options at various levels.

These could include opportunities for donors to provide input through surveys or focus groups, join a donor advisory council, or participate in site visits or behind-the-scenes tours. The options should match donors’ skills, talents, and interests so they feel genuinely engaged. When donors feel their time and input are valued, they become even stronger partners.

A shared vision and open communication are key to successful co-creation.

Fundraisers should communicate their organization’s vision and priorities to set the right context for partnership. But they must also be open to donors’ ideas and feedback. Donors may have innovative solutions or see opportunities from new perspectives. An open mindset and willingness to say “yes” can lead to exciting new possibilities.

Partnership is a journey, not a single ask or interaction.

By listening, developing meaningful engagement, and maintaining open communication, fundraisers can build trust and help donors fully invest in their mission. The result is a shared sense of ownership and more profound, longer-lasting impact. Co-creation transforms donors from prospects into true partners in purpose and mission.

View the full recording of this session in our Resource Library.

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Donor Participation Project

Scrappy Innovations for Nonprofits: Doing More With Less

Nonprofits often struggle with limited resources and funding, making it difficult to invest in new technologies or major process overhauls. However, with a scrappy mindset focused on incremental improvements, nonprofits can achieve significant gains without a huge budget. By tapping into existing tools, streamlining workflows, and eliminating repetitive manual tasks, organizations can free up staff time and better steward donors—all while keeping costs low.

As discussed in a recent donor participation project podcast, several scrappy innovations can have a big impact. Using a free tool like Zapier to connect data between platforms like your CRM, email marketing, and social media tools eliminates the need for staff to manually copy and paste information. This reduces errors, provides a single source of truth for donor data, and saves many hours of administrative time. With Zapier, one nonprofit automated their gift acknowledgement process, automatically sending email or physical notes to donors.

Another innovation is using free video tools to create personalized thank you messages. Sending authentic videos, even if low-production quality, can make donors feel seen and connected to your mission. One organization sent 35,000 videos with a small student team, leading to $1 million in increased donor retention. Keep videos short, mention the donor by name, and share a heartfelt message.

Streamlining internal processes by eliminating repetition and bottlenecks also frees up resources. Evaluate areas where staff feel frustrated by inefficient procedures or duplication of work. Look for ways to use existing tools smarter, handoff repetitive tasks to automation, and bring teams together to envision an optimized workflow. Incremental improvements to a long, multi-step process can yield significant time savings.

While investing in new technology may be ideal, nonprofits can still improve the donor experience with the tools and capabilities they already have. With creativity, scrappy thinking, and a willingness to eliminate manual processes, organizations can accomplish more with less and strengthen donor relationships through personal outreach and stewardship. Continually reevaluating internal systems and reallocating resources to high-impact areas fuels ongoing optimization and success.

View the full recording of this session in our Resource Library.

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Donor Participation Project

Put Yourself in Your Donors’ Shoes Through User Testing

Many nonprofits struggle to identify what information donors really need to know about their organization. As fundraisers, we work inside the nonprofit daily, so we see everything from an internal perspective. We may not fully grasp the crucial information that’s missing for outsiders—the vital gaps preventing them from engaging with us.

User experience (UX) testing is a simple yet powerful way to get inside donors’ heads. Think about the journey a donor goes through with your nonprofit. Are there any points of frustration with finding information or a clear next step? Take a guess at some obstacles, then recruit donors to walk through that journey and provide feedback.

Start by mapping out a typical donor scenario, like making a first gift or attending an event, step by step. Come up with questions to ask at each point, such as “Where would you look for details on how we used funds from your last donation?” Or, “What made you hesitant to buy a ticket to our gala?” Then conduct in-person or virtual interviews with donors as they go through that scenario. Ask follow up questions to get them talking about their perspectives and priorities.

What you learn through UX testing can directly inform how you develop more impactful video and other content. If a donor struggles to find information about your impact and outcomes, create a video highlighting key success stories and statistics. If the process for becoming a monthly donor is confusing, make an explainer video walking new donors through how to set up a recurring gift. Addressing these “pain points” and vital gaps will make donors’ experiences with your organization much more satisfying and help turn them into vocal advocates.

Nonprofits often have the best intentions to be donor-centered, but may operate based more on assumptions than hard evidence. User experience testing offers a way to ground your communications plans and content creation in the real needs and voices of your supporters. Make the time for regular UX testing, and your nonprofit will build deeper connections with donors through video and beyond.

View the full recording of this session in our Resource Library.

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Donor Participation Project

State a Hypothesis to Guide Your Testing

Testing fundraising changes should not be directionless. A hypothesis, an educated guess, guides testing toward useful results. Crafting a hypothesis forces fundraisers to determine what they expect the outcome to be before testing begins.

To state a hypothesis, fundraisers start by identifying a problem to solve or opportunity to improve. For example, “Donors who lapse for 3-5 years rarely renew their gifts. Can we re-engage them?” This question suggests the hypothesis: “Sending a customized renewal series to 3-5 year lapsed donors will increase retention rates for this group by 15-20%.”

The hypothesis identifies what will change, renewable outreach to 3-5 year lapsed donors, and the expected impact, 15-20% increased retention for this group. The null hypothesis is that the change will have no effect or reduce retention. Testing aims to reject the null hypothesis.

A hypothesis guided testing to adding a $500 option to a donation page might be: “Adding a $500 amount to our website donation page will increase the average online gift amount by 10-15%.” The expected impact is an increase in the average gift, and the null hypothesis is no change or a decrease.

Specifying the hypothesis and null hypothesis at the outset determines the metrics, variables, and sample sizes needed for the test. The test can then focus on measuring the expected impact to determine whether to reject the null hypothesis. Knowledge of the hypothesis also prevents “data fishing,” testing multiple metrics to find any impact rather than the expected one.

While the problem and opportunity prompt the question, crafting the hypothesis and null hypothesis requires fundraisers to determine the specific change and impact they expect before testing tools are determined or a single donor experiences the change. The hypothesis acts as a compass, pointing the way to insightful results and evidence-based decisions. Overall, a hypothesis leads to strategic testing with purpose and direction.

In summary, start developing a hypothesis by identifying a key problem or opportunity. Then determine the specific change you believe will impact it and the way(s) you will measure the expected impact. Use this information to build your null hypothesis. With a guiding hypothesis, your testing will be strategic and focused.

View the full recording of this session in our Resource Library.

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Donor Participation Project

Focus on Retention Rates, Gift Amounts and Donor Subgroups Instead of Overly Simplistic Metrics

For nonprofits looking to improve their fundraising results, overly simplistic metrics like average gift amount and overall retention rate are not enough. According to fundraising analytics expert Kirk Smith, nonprofits should focus on analyzing retention rates, gift amounts and donor subgroups to gain actionable insights.

Retention rates vary widely based on factors like donor acquisition channel and years of giving. New donors acquired through peer-to-peer fundraising often have lower retention rates of 15-20% compared to 70-80% for long-time donors. Nonprofits need to calculate retention rates for key donor subgroups to understand the factors driving donor loyalty and predict future retention.

Similarly, average gift amount can mask meaningful differences in key donor segments. The top and bottom 5% of gift amounts can skew the average, obscuring the most common gift amounts that form the bulk of revenue. Nonprofits should analyze the distribution of gift amounts to see the most common values for key donor groups. This can help optimize fundraising appeals and suggested gift amounts.

Focusing on simplistic metrics like overall retention rate and average gift amount provides an incomplete picture and risks misallocating resources. By analyzing retention rates, gift amounts and other key metrics for specific donor subgroups, nonprofits can gain actionable insights to strengthen their fundraising programs.

For small nonprofits with limited resources, identifying a few key donor segments to analyze can provide significant value.

Retention rates and gift amounts for newly acquired donors, repeat donors of 2-3 years and higher-level donors are examples of subgroups that could yield impactful insights.

While advanced analytics and AI tools can help with this type of analysis, they may be out of reach for small nonprofits. But by starting with their CRM and spreadsheet tools and focusing on analyzing key metrics for a few donor subgroups, small nonprofits can strengthen their fundraising results and build the case for further investment in analytics. The key is moving from overly simplistic metrics to targeted, data-driven analysis.

View the full recording of this session in our Resource Library.

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Donor Participation Project

Engaging Donors Through Virtual Stewardship

Fundraisers today face the challenge of engaging donors without in-person events or interactions. During the pandemic, nonprofits have had to pivot to virtual stewardship to maintain connections with supporters. On a recent podcast, fundraisers from higher education institutions shared strategies for engaging leadership donors through virtual means.

A key insight was opening up existing virtual events to donors.

For example, one fundraiser found that inviting donors to attend a virtual commencement ceremony led to an increase in gifts as donors felt more connected to the school. Other options include inviting donors to virtual lectures, curriculum sessions, or board meetings. While these events were not designed specifically for donors, providing them exclusive access and the opportunity to see the impact of their gifts can be an meaningful touchpoint.

Targeted calls or video messages were also cited as a way to personally engage with donors.

One fundraiser sends thank you videos from student scholarship recipients to donors, allowing them to see the direct impact of their gift. Another fundraiser holds calls exclusively for leadership donors featuring updates from school leadership or student spotlights. These personal outreaches can help convey appreciation for donors’ support.

Re-thinking stewardship broadly was another piece of advice.

With in-person events on hold, fundraisers need to get creative through virtual gatherings and digital communications. However, they cautioned against recreating existing events virtually which may seem contrived or tiresome for donors and staff. Starting from scratch and developing a stewardship strategy tailored to virtual engagement and the capacity of the team will serve organizations better in the long run.

While virtual stewardship poses challenges, these fundraisers found opportunities to deeply engage leadership donors through online events and outreach. Overall, their experience shows that meaningful virtual engagement is possible when organizations are willing to adapt existing programs, share authentic updates on impact, and start new initiatives tailored to online interaction. Taking lessons from their experiences can help nonprofits strengthen connections with donors even when in-person gatherings are not possible.

View the full recording of this session in our Resource Library.

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Donor Participation Project

Integrate Your CRM and Fundraising Tech for Seamless Donor Experience

For nonprofits, providing a seamless experience across channels is key to building lifelong donor relationships. However, most organizations use a patchwork of separate systems to manage fundraising, marketing, and donor data. As a result, fundraisers spend countless hours pulling reports, exporting and importing data between platforms, and ensuring a single view of the donor.

There is a better way. By integrating your customer relationship management (CRM) system and fundraising technology, you can track all donor interactions in one place and trigger personalized outreach automatically.

For example, you can send an email receipt as soon as a gift is processed in your CRM. Within 24 hours, the donor receives a video thank you. A handwritten note follows several days later. Six months later, they are included in a cultivation mailing.

This type of automated, multi-channel stewardship helps build loyalty and retention over the long run. The key is choosing fundraising tools that integrate directly with your CRM. Look for platforms that allow you to match data fields between systems so you have a complete donor profile and history readily available. See if the tools offer workflow triggers and automations to follow up based on donor actions and gift amounts.

For many nonprofits, transitioning to an integratedtech stack is challenging due to data privacy concerns, tight IT budgets, and reliance on legacy databases. However, cloud-based fundraising tools and CRMs are making integration more accessible. They provide real-time data access for your whole advancement team and eliminate the need for time-intensive data requests.

With the shift to remote work over the past year, seamlessly integrated technology has become even more critical. For nonprofits adapting to virtual fundraising, integrated systems support personalized outreach at scale while keeping students, volunteers and staff employed. The key is finding solutions, like ThankView, that are tailored to the needs of nonprofits and higher ed institutions. By partnering with fundraising professionals, they can provide the right tools and guidance to boost your stewardship during challenging times and beyond.

Overall, investing in an integrated tech stack gives fundraisers a single source of truth about their donors and ensures personalized, impactful outreach that drives donor loyalty in the long run. While the initial transition requires effort and resources, the rewards of a seamless donor experience are well worth it.

View the full recording of this session in our Resource Library.

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Donor Participation Project

From Manual to Automated: Scaling Your Nonprofit’s Fundraising Efforts

For nonprofit fundraisers, time and resources are always in short supply. Manual processes limit productivity and prevent organizations from reaching their full fundraising potential.

Automation is the key to doing more with less.

Nick Prenger, CEO of the Prenger Solutions Group, shared how his firm helped nonprofit clients scale their fundraising using automation. For the Catholic Diocese of Phoenix’s $10 million annual appeal, Prenger’s team used marketing automation to convert 21% of online donors into recurring givers, significantly increasing revenue.

The first step is evaluating your data infrastructure.

Many nonprofits struggle with inaccurate or disorganized data, limiting their ability to automate. Pringer recommends starting small by automating “affirmation” emails, like thanking recent donors. These small automations have little downside if errors occur but can make a big impact. Fix data issues as you go.

With good data, you can automate more advanced fundraising workflows.

For example, automate sending a welcome email to first-time donors from your CEO or development director. Set up a follow-up email two months later highlighting the impact of their gift. Automate sending recurring giving invitations to donors as they fulfill pledge payments. These personalized touches make a memorable impression and boost loyalty and lifetime value.

Of course, legal and IT approval can be challenging. Don’t try to explain the benefits yourself.

Prenger advises having the technology vendor address concerns directly. They are best equipped to articulate how the system works and proper data security measures. Legal and IT teams simply want to ensure there are no issues, so addressing their questions thoroughly upfront smooths the approval process.

While manual processes feel familiar and safer, they prevent nonprofits from maximizing their potential. With the right approach to data, tools, and approvals, fundraising automation can scale your organization’s impact by boosting donor participation and revenue. The time to start automating is now. Your donors—and your mission—will thank you.

View the full recording of this session in our Resource Library.