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Donor Participation Project

How AI Can Help With Donor Retention and Engagement 

Artificial intelligence and machine learning tools are transforming fundraising. While AI may seem futuristic, many nonprofits are already using AI-based solutions to improve donor retention and boost engagement.

Here are three ways AI can help:

Reactivate lapsed donors.

Chatbots, like the AI Fundraising Coach, can help re-engage donors who have stopped giving. The bot leads you through a strategic process to understand why donors stopped giving and craft personalized outreach plans. For example, if a major donor’s child was rejected from your university, the bot suggests expressing empathy, taking responsibility for any mistakes, and discussing other ways the donor can stay involved. This human-centered approach, guided by AI, can be highly effective for winning back donor trust and support.  

Improve your fundraising copy.

AI copywriting tools, such as The Best Fundraiser’s Friend, can help generate appeals, newsletters, and other fundraising content. You provide information about your campaign or organization and the tool creates a draft. The results need editing but can save time and inspire new ideas. For the best results, provide background on your nonprofit’s mission, values, impact, and any details about the specific campaign. The more context the AI has, the more tailored and compelling the copy will be.  

Analyze donor data.

Some nonprofits are using AI and machine learning to analyze donor data and predict individuals who are most likely to make a gift or increase their giving. Identifying these high-capacity donors allows fundraising teams to create targeted engagement plans. While implementing AI models requires technical skills, many nonprofits work with third-party data companies and consultants to leverage AI in this way. The result is data-driven insights to guide strategic decisions about allocating donor resources. 

In summary, AI and chatbot tools can help nonprofits revitalize lapsed donor relationships, improve fundraising copy with custom content, and uncover data insights about high-value donors. As with any technology, AI has its limitations and downsides, but by starting small and taking an intentional approach, nonprofit fundraisers can find opportunities to build more personal connections and make a bigger impact. The future of fundraising is human-centered—with some help from AI.

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

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Donor Participation Project

Why Fundraisers Should Demand More From Their Technology Partners

Fundraisers often view technology as a tool for efficiency, not strategy. But technology partners can and should be strategic partners that help achieve key fundraising goals. According to Matthew Lambert, Vice President for University Advancement at William & Mary.

“When you have a culture focused on doing the right things, you’re not trying to replace it with technology, you’re trying to enhance, support and strengthen it.”

Rather than passively accepting what vendors offer, fundraisers should demand solutions tailored to their needs. As Dan Frezza, Chief Advancement Officer at the College of Charleston, said, “When considering new partnerships, this principle is always at the forefront of my mind.” When evaluating new technologies, consider not just the features and price but how the tool can support building trust and engagement with donors.

Some of the most successful technology partnerships start by identifying a human need, not a software capability. William & Mary, for example, built a custom volunteer management system with Give Campus to efficiently scale their volunteer program in a way that “allows us to maintain the culture,” according to Frezza. Look for vendors willing to co-create and evolve their product to suit your priorities. As entrepreneur Adam Martel said, “A good partnership is one where the vendor evolves with you.”

Rather than taking an “either-or” view that pits human engagement against technology, pursue an “and-and” partnership. Technology should enhance human relationships and strategy, not replace them.

When you find the right partner, technology can help broaden your reach in a personalized, empathetic way. The key is choosing technologies and partners focused on building trust and participation over the long run.

As Lambert argues, the future of fundraising depends on fostering “a long-term, broad-based group of donors who feel they have a vested interest in our organizations.” The right technology partners will share this vision and work alongside you to achieve it. But you have to demand more from them than just efficiency or software updates. You need true strategic partners in building a lasting culture of philanthropy.

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

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Donor Participation Project

How to Create an Effective Annual Calendar for Your Donors

An annual communications calendar is essential for engaging your donors and sustaining their support. To create an effective calendar, start with a blank slate and gather your team. Identify your “must haves,” like an end-of-year campaign, as well as ongoing and engagement communications. Get input from volunteers and leadership, then establish rules of engagement to streamline the planning process.

Must haves are non-negotiable events tied to your fiscal calendar.

Map these first, then add ongoing communications like gift anniversaries and thank yous. Next, schedule donor surveys, town halls, and check-ins to drive engagement. Balance the workload across months and teams.

Share your draft calendar with volunteers and donors.

Explain each item and get their feedback. Donors will feel valued, and you’ll build trust for when you ask them to give. Meet with leadership, answer their questions, and clarify the rules of engagement. For example, specify that after calendar approval, each campaign becomes a project brief with assigned leaders who can make decisions. Suggestions require stating how they support goals. Other ideas go into a file for future campaigns.

With approvals, turn campaigns into project briefs detailing objectives, audiences, strategies and responsibilities. Track action items in a project management system. Appoint leaders to oversee each campaign. Briefs drive work, and changes must link to goals. Post-campaign, review with staff for next year’s planning.

An effective calendar boosts trust and giving.

Engage donors and volunteers, get leadership support, then empower project leaders. Solicit feedback openly but require constructive suggestions. By balancing continuity, innovation and workload, your calendar will help revenue flow sustainably all year round. Planning ahead and documenting thoroughly will transform reactive “fire drills” into proactive, purposeful campaigns. An annual calendar is a roadmap to fundraising success.

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

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Donor Participation Project

Cultivating Deep Community Engagement: 4 Key Factors

For nonprofits seeking to boost donor retention and participation, cultivating a deep sense of community is key. According to research from the Donor Participation Project, successful nonprofits that have grown donor participation over time share four factors in common:

Participatory

They facilitate two-way conversations and make supporters feel like their voices matter. For example, they host interactive virtual or in-person events where donors can engage with staff and each other. They also solicit feedback and input from donors on a regular basis.

Purposeful

They bring people together around a shared purpose, not just for social reasons. The community has a reason for coming together, like advocating for a cause or participating in a volunteer program. Donors feel connected to the mission.

Recurring

They provide repeat opportunities for donors to engage over time. One-off events are not enough. Things like monthly giving programs, alumni groups, and annual events that people look forward to every year help build familiarity and loyalty.

Leadership development

They identify supporters who want to get more involved and help develop them into leaders and ambassadors. Things like volunteering, joining a committee, or becoming a board member allow donors to strengthen their ties to the organization and spread the word to others.

Nonprofits that check all four of these boxes are most likely to see donor participation and retention rates rise over time. While it requires an investment of time and resources, cultivating a deep sense of community and purpose among supporters can pay off through sustainable funding and lasting impact. The key is making donor engagement and participation a top priority, and being willing to experiment with new strategies to find what resonates most with your mission and supporters. With attention and care, nonprofits can build a base of lifelong supporters connected to their cause.

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

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Donor Participation Project

Raising Funds by Reaching Out: How to Connect with Donors of Color

Nonprofit organizations often struggle to engage donors of color and raise funds from minority communities. According to fundraising expert Patrick Callihan, the key is intentional outreach. Speaking on a recent podcast, Callihan shared several tips for connecting with and securing gifts from donors of color.

First, don’t wait for perfect data.

Even if you lack information on the demographics of your donor base, start building relationships now. Review your donor lists and portfolios for potential donors of color, then reach out to schedule meetings. Ask open-ended questions to learn more about their experiences and priorities. These genuine conversations can uncover opportunities for meaningful engagement and partnerships.

Second, focus on the issues that matter to them.

For many donors of color, supporting educational and economic opportunities for underserved communities is a top priority. Develop funding programs and scholarships that address diversity, equity, and inclusion. Explain how their gifts can make a direct impact.

Third, recognize and promote their achievements.

Feature donors of color in marketing materials, social media spotlights and donor honor rolls. Celebrate their accomplishments and thank them for their support. This visibility and appreciation fosters a sense of belonging that compels future giving.

Fourth, commit to an integrated approach.

While hosting events targeted at minority communities, also make diversity and inclusion priorities across all fundraising programs. This demonstrates your commitment to equity and justice in a holistic, authentic way.

Finally, go above and beyond to show appreciation for major gifts.

For many minority donors, philanthropy is a new tradition they are pioneering. Recognize this commitment through naming opportunities, special events and more. Your gratitude and the legacy of their gift will inspire continued generosity.

By following these principles of outreach, prioritizing issues that matter, promoting visibility and committing to integrated, holistic efforts, nonprofits can successfully raise funds from donors of color. The key is taking that first step to start building relationships based on trust, understanding and shared purpose. With time and dedication, these connections blossom into partnerships that advance your mission through new funding and new voices. The opportunity is there; we simply need to reach out.

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

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Donor Participation Project

Combating Donor Attrition: Strategies to Improve Retention Rates

Nonprofits struggle with donor retention, with many organizations losing 60-80% of new donors after the first year. This “leaky bucket” costs nonprofits a significant amount of money and time as they work to replace donors instead of cultivating current ones. However, there are several proven strategies organizations can implement to improve retention rates.

First, nonprofits should focus on donor acknowledgment and stewardship.

According to research, sending new donors a thank you call, note or email within 48 hours of their gift can increase the chances of a second gift by up to 10% and raise 33% more money. Nonprofits should also create multi-channel welcome communication streams to make new donors feel appreciated and part of the mission right away.

Second, monthly giving or sustainer programs lead to much higher retention rates.

When donors give monthly through secure credit or debit card charges or electronic fund transfers (ETF) from their bank account, retention rates jump to 60-80%. The regular contact and convenience of monthly programs foster loyalty and long-term relationships. To start a monthly program, get leadership and staff buy-in, choose a payment processing partner, and promote the option across all channels.

Third, nonprofits should invest in ongoing engagement and education of existing donors.

Send current donors updates about the impact of their gifts, hold special events, and call on them as organization ambassadors. Provide opportunities for deeper involvement through interaction with people directly served, offer behind-the-scenes access to programs, and invite input on new initiatives. Engaged donors stay longer and give more.

While donor attrition is a persistent problem, proven solutions exist. Focusing on stewardship, monthly giving, and long-term engagement are three strategies that work. By valuing existing donors and giving them meaningful ways to stay involved, nonprofits can build life-long champions and ensure financial sustainability. With care and effort, donor retention rates can be turned around.

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

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Donor Participation Project

Building a Culture of Philanthropy: Lessons from a $1 Billion Campaign

To reach William & Mary’s first $1 billion campaign goal, university leaders focused on building a sustainable culture of philanthropy. They started by gaining buy-in from across the institution, including the board, president, staff, and volunteers. With a shared vision to strengthen engagement, boost participation, and raise more money, advancement, alumni relations, and schools worked together.

Early on, William & Mary set an ambitious 40% alumni participation rate to encourage broad support. They analyzed data to see if 50% of alumni had given in the past 5 years, showing more could be activated. Focusing first on retaining current donors, they increased the retention rate from 63% to 74%. New student philanthropy and giving day programs engaged the next generation, turning 30% of senior class gifts into repeat donors.

Using a peer-to-peer model, William & Mary recruited 800 alumni volunteers to connect with fellow classmates. They also fostered student ambassadors to build a culture of philanthropy on campus. Stewarding donors with personal notes celebrating years of consecutive giving or reactivation kept them loyal.

Rather than an either/or choice between dollars and donors, William & Mary integrated efforts. While renewing current donors, they also acquired new supporters from past decades. Increasing frequency and upgrading gifts through giving societies and crowdfunding further boosted revenue.

After 6 years, William & Mary surpassed 40% alumni participation and $1 billion raised. But more importantly, they built the foundation for ongoing success. By making philanthropy an institutional priority, focusing on engagement and retention, and creating meaningful opportunities to support the school, William & Mary forged lifelong bonds between alumni, students, and their alma mater. Overall, the lessons from William & Mary’s campaign demonstrate how advancement programs can work together to establish a culture where giving back is simply what you do.

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

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Donor Participation Project

Build Genuine Relationships with Donors Through Active Listening

Nonprofit fundraisers are increasingly worried about declining donor trust and participation. According to expert Jim Langley, the fix lies in returning to fundamentals. Fundraisers need to build genuine relationships with donors through active listening.

  • Listening demonstrates that you value your donors and the time they give to your cause.
  • Ask open-ended questions about their passions, priorities and perspectives.
  • Share what you’re learning from other donors to show you’re aggregating intelligence.
  • Explain how you’re addressing concerns and frustrations. Donors will appreciate your transparency and feel invested in your shared mission.

Focus on the donor, not the dollars.

A relationship based solely on repeatedly asking for money is not sustainable. Thanking donors is important but not enough. Have real conversations where you listen as much as you talk. Learn about their lives, work and philanthropy. Look for common ground and ways to further engage their skills and talents.

Start with your longest-standing donors.

These loyal supporters deserve special attention. Let them know how much you value their years of dedication. Bring them into critical conversations and treat them as insiders. They have the potential to become key plan gift donors.

Pilot your new approach and evaluate the results.

It may feel overwhelming to revamp all your donor communications at once. Start with a sample and track how donors react. Look for increased openness, engagement and investment in your mission. Share your findings with leadership to build buy-in for relationship-centered fundraising.

Fundraising success depends on the trust and participation of your donors. To stem the loss of both, nonprofits need to reflect on how they built relationships in the first place. Applying the principles of human relationships – active listening, shared purpose, reciprocal value – to institutions can help reconnect with donors and rebuild trust. The dollars will follow in time but only if you make meaningful connections along the way. Focus on listening, and your donors will keep giving.

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

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Donor Participation Project

Meaningful Fundraising: A Bridge Between Donors and the Mission

The ARP Foundation works to eradicate senior poverty and help vulnerable older Americans live more meaningful lives. According to its President, the keys to the nonprofit’s fundraising success are building strong donor relationships and aligning donations with the organization’s mission.

“Fundraising development philanthropy is a numbers game,” he said. “You need to have a good pipeline full of donors and prospects, qualify them well, and be in front of them. Nothing substitutes for in-person conversations when possible.” However, it’s not just about the numbers. “Make sure you become a bridge builder between what the donor wants to do with their philanthropy and the message and mission of your organization,” he added.

The ARP Foundation provides that bridge. With programs supporting income, housing, healthcare, and social connection, the organization positively impacts hundreds of thousands of seniors. “Every gift to ARP Foundation can bring about transformational change in America,” its President said. Donors’ contributions allow the nonprofit to fight senior poverty, help older adults save money and access additional benefits, and strengthen the broader economy.

For nonprofit fundraisers seeking to build meaningful donor relationships, the key is aligning donor interests with organizational goals. “If you can accomplish being a bridge builder between those two horizons—the hopes of donors and the mission of your cause—the potential for prosperity and philanthropy is immense,” the President explained. Fundraisers must communicate their organization’s vision while also understanding donors’ motivations. With a shared goal, donors become partners in creating change.

While fundraising is challenging, the ARP Foundation’s success demonstrates the rewards of relationship-building and helping donors achieve their philanthropic aims. By serving as a conduit between donor passions and real-world impact, nonprofits can gain the support necessary to fulfill their purpose. The keys are persistence, communication, and trust that donors and organizations working in harmony can transform lives.

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

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Donor Participation Project

Transforming Aging in America: Why Every Gift Matters

The AARP Foundation is on a mission to eradicate senior poverty and help older Americans live more meaningful lives. According to its VP of Major Gifts, Franklin Guerrero, the nonprofit is uniquely positioned to drive meaningful change for seniors across the country through its housing, healthcare, income, and social connection programs.

However, the foundation relies on the generosity of donors to fulfill its mission. As Guerrero shared, fundraising is a “numbers game” that requires persistence and building strong relationships. But when donors and organizations align around a shared vision, the impact can be transformational.

Every donation to the AARP Foundation directly supports vulnerable older adults in need. Gifts allow the foundation to expand its programs, reach more seniors, and move closer to ending senior poverty in America. Guerrero stressed that the nonprofit’s national scope and expertise in senior issues enable it to create substantial positive change, if given the resources.

Guerrero advice for nonprofit fundraisers is twofold: treat fundraising as a numbers game and focus on connecting donors’ passions with your mission.

In his words, “Nothing substitutes the phone and the one-on-one, in-person conversation.” Taking the time to personally engage donors helps build trust in the organization and a desire to support the cause financially.

For the AARP Foundation, building those relationships has been key to gaining donors’ support in fulfilling its vision – a future where no senior lives in poverty. Guerrero emphasized that transformative gifts can “rejuvenate the entire American economy” by enabling seniors to remain active consumers as they age. Every donation brings that vision closer to reality.

In summary, the key insights for fundraisers are: success is a numbers game, connect with donors personally, and help donors see the transformational impact of their gifts. By following this advice and maintaining a clear vision, nonprofits can gain the resources they need to drive powerful change.

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