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Donor Participation Project

Identifying Roadblocks to Donor Participation: A Team of Fundraising Experts Weigh In

A group of leading fundraising experts recently shared insights from their collaborative survey on roadblocks preventing higher donor participation rates. Ashley Budd,  Director of Advancement Marketing at Cornell University, and Cameron Hall, Executive Director of Annual Giving and Lead Generation at University of South Carolina, discussed key findings and actionable solutions with Louis Diez.  

  • Budget constraints and lack of skilled staff were cited as top roadblocks, though there was surprising agreement that sufficient leadership buy-in exists.

The experts emphasized that budgets are often not optimized, with too much spent on mass direct mail appeals and not enough on targeted digital strategies and stewardship. Hall noted that development shops need more focus on data-driven strategies and segmentation to effectively reach the right donors through preferred channels. 

  • The field lacks enough experienced professionals and provides inadequate training.

Budd suggested “sharing what’s working” through knowledge sharing in the community, as higher education tends to avoid risk-taking due to complex organizational systems. Training programs should expand beyond major gifts to cover digital marketing, analytics, and annual giving. Mentoring students in campus calling programs can help build a pipeline of new talent.

A lack of balance between solicitation and engagement was another key finding. Bud shared that her team dedicated two months solely to education and awareness, pausing solicitations. Despite meeting initial resistance, giving day revenue still increased. Bud noted that while direct attribution is difficult, taking “baby steps” through A/B testing different communication strategies can help build the case for more substantive changes. 

  • Finally, the experts recommended learning from for-profit companies.

Hall suggested analyzing customer/donor journeys to determine key touchpoints, then developing content and calls-to-action to match their interests. Bud pointed out that major streaming companies primarily communicate through email updates and content, only soliciting subscription upgrades once a year based on renewal dates. Nonprofits would benefit from a similar model with a greater focus on education and stewardship tailored to donors’ demonstrated interests.

Overall, the panel discussion provided actionable insights and recommendations to help nonprofits identify and overcome roadblocks hindering their donor participation rates.

Knowledge sharing, training, innovation, and cross-sector learning are all key to success.

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

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