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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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