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Donor Participation Project

Building a Strong Nonprofit Brand Through Community Engagement

For nonprofits, building a strong brand is key to success. A brand is essentially a promise to deliver value, and for nonprofits that value is the mission. To build a strong brand, nonprofits must engage their community by sharing their story and promoting a culture of action and passion.

  1. Share your nonprofit’s story and mission in a cohesive, authentic way. Collect stories of impact from individuals you serve and the journey your organization took to help them. Share these stories across communication channels like social media, email newsletters, blog posts, and in-person events. Help stakeholders understand your beginning, goals, and vision for the future. These stories demonstrate your values in action and build trust in your organization.
  2. Build a culture where all staff are passionate advocates for your cause. Enthusiasm for the mission should permeate all areas of operation. When staff live and breathe a nonprofit’s values, it shines through to stakeholders and those you serve. People will feel genuinely cared for and compelled to support the organization both financially and otherwise. Culture always trumps strategy, so an authentic culture must come before any fundraising or marketing tactic.
  3. Finally, promote a call to action in all of your messaging. Highlight ways for people to engage with and contribute to your nonprofit whether through donating, volunteering, or sharing on social media. Make your nonprofit “action central” where people want to participate in meaningful ways. Follow a content calendar to communicate calls-to-action frequently via fresh and high-quality messaging.

By sharing your authentic story, building a mission-driven culture, and promoting action and engagement, nonprofits can build a brand that resonates. Strong brands inspire trust, passion, and lifelong relationships with stakeholders. For nonprofits, this can mean the difference between surviving and thriving. Focusing efforts on community engagement and showcasing your impact in a genuine, compelling way will allow your nonprofit to gain momentum and advance its mission.

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

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Donor Participation Project

Challenging Fundraising During a Pandemic and Economic Uncertainty

The COVID-19 pandemic has created tremendous challenges for nonprofit fundraisers. With economic uncertainty and market volatility, donors may be more reluctant to give or unable to give at the same level as before. However, nonprofit missions remain as important as ever during this crisis. Fundraisers must adapt to continue serving their organizations and communities.

According to fundraisers on a recent podcast, transitioning donors from annual fund to major gifts and diversifying donor portfolios are more critical now to mitigate risk. Some donors who usually give smaller annual fund gifts may step up to major gifts as their passion for the mission intensifies during difficult times. Fundraisers should not make assumptions based on past giving but have genuine conversations with donors about what they care about and how they want to help.

Engaging lapsed and “lukewarm” donors also presents an opportunity.

These donors gave previously and likely still believe in the mission. Fundraisers should reach out, thank them for their past support, and start a dialogue about their favorite memories of the organization or what initially inspired them to give. Solving any past problems or complaints can rekindle their support. With a revived relationship, they may give again or even become brand advocates.

Partnerships

Larger nonprofits may struggle with “silos” that prevent collaboration, but partnership opportunities abound. Some fundraisers discussed connecting centers or departments that never worked together, as well as developing interdisciplinary partnerships across schools or units. These new alliances can open up funding from new sources.

Development teams

During this crisis, nonprofit leaders must provide support and understanding to their development teams. Some fundraisers expressed frustration with leadership that cared more about metrics than relationships or did not grasp the challenges of the current environment. With decreased donor engagement and giving, fundraisers need leaders who will defend them to their boards and give them space to rebuild their pipelines.

Overall, nonprofit fundraisers must remain flexible, creative, and focused on relationships to overcome today’s obstacles. By trying new approaches, forging internal partnerships, and re-engaging lapsed donors, they can continue their missions despite the chaos around them. With time and work, fundraising success will return. But for now, adaptation and resilience are key.

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

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Donor Participation Project

Fundraising Success Through Internal Relationships and Strategic Engagement

Strong internal relationships and strategic engagement are the foundation for fundraising success, according to Adam Platzer, Assistant Vice President of College Advancement at the Rochester Institute of Technology. In a recent podcast, Platzer emphasized that “internal relationships are everything” for fundraisers. Without trust and collaboration across departments, fundraisers can’t gain access to key prospects or close major gifts.

Platzer recommends several strategies for building internal partnerships:

  • Report back to faculty and staff when alumni or donors mention them. Send a quick email to say the donor spoke highly of them. This shows you value their relationships and role.
  • Ask faculty, staff and leadership for prospect referrals and advice. Have regular meetings to ask who they’ve been in contact with lately and who shows potential.
  • Invite faculty, staff and leadership to participate in stewardship. Have them sign thank you letters or meet with donors. This gives them visibility into the fundraising process and the impact of gifts.
  • Attend departmental and university meetings to update colleagues on fundraising priorities and events. Remind them how advancement can support their goals.
  • Get to know faculty, staff and leadership on a personal level. Walk around, grab coffee and learn about their lives outside of work. Personal connections build trust.

Strategic engagement, tailored to your organization’s strengths and donors’ interests, is also key. Platzer developed a “tiered engagement system” with five levels, from volunteer opportunities up to serving on the board of trustees. As donors move up the tiers, they build greater affinity and make larger gifts.

Fundraisers should work with their marketing and alumni relations teams to create targeted engagement pathways. Meet regularly to discuss top donor prospects and how to plug them into existing events and volunteer roles. Explain that highly engaged donors often become the best donors.

Building internal relationships and strategic engagement requires work, but the rewards of increased trust, bigger donations, and more faithful donors make the effort worthwhile. Strong partnerships and meaningful involvement are a winning combination.

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

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Donor Participation Project

Automate Donor Outreach with Email Marketing

Nonprofits can automate personalized email outreach to donors using tools like Zapier and Google Sheets. By connecting your donor database to an email service like Gmail, you can automatically send customized emails to new donors, recent donors, and more.

  • To get started, export your donor data from your CRM into a Google Sheet. Include key details like first name, last name, email address, gift amount, and gift date. This will serve as the basis for your email personalization.
  • Next, connect Google Sheets and Gmail using the automation tool Zapier. Set up a “zap” that detects when new rows are added to your Google Sheet. When a new donor’s information is added, it will automatically generate an email draft in Gmail with content you customize.
  • In the Gmail draft, include variable fields that pull from the Google Sheet data. For example, use your donor’s first name in the greeting and email body. You can also reference gift amounts and dates to personalize the message. Choose a subject line and email signature to complete the draft.
  • Review the drafts before sending or choose to have them go out automatically. Either way, your donors will receive prompt, customized outreach from your nonprofit.

With this basic setup, you can reach new donors, send annual renewal notices, say thank you for recent gifts, and more—all on autopilot. The possibilities for automated, data-driven email marketing for nonprofits are endless.

Start with a simple but impactful project like onboarding new donors or stewarding mid-level donors. Review open and click rates to optimize your content and timing. Then scale up to more advanced segmentation and personalization.

Automated email is a donor-centric way to scale your fundraising and build lasting relationships. Let marketing automation handle the details so you can focus on the human connections that matter most. With a little setup, you’ll gain efficiencies and improve your donor experience through more thoughtful outreach.

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

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Donor Participation Project

Building an Engagement Path: A Team Approach

An engagement path maps how your organization guides donors from initial awareness to deep, long-term engagement. Creating this path requires collaboration across teams to understand the donor experience holistically.

According to engagement strategist Emily Taylor, “Your donor just sees it all together. They see you as your organization.”

Engagement

To build an engagement path, start by identifying how donors engage at each stage, from observing to following to endorsing to contributing and beyond. Look for gaps between stages and opportunities to lead donors to higher engagement. Your social media, events, and fundraising teams each play a role in moving donors along the path.

“The idea is that once you can get all this in place and see how you’re moving people up that ladder, your team can work together to do that,” said Taylor.

Motivation

Next, determine what motivates donors at each stage. Their needs are not just functional, like receiving an incentive or discount. Donors also have emotional needs, like feeling a sense of belonging or purpose. They have cultural needs based on their backgrounds and life experiences. By understanding donors’ multifaceted motivations, you can tailor your engagement approaches to their specific needs.

Approach

Finally, take a scientific approach to engagement. Develop hypotheses about what will motivate donors to progress to the next stage, then test different options to determine what works. Look at metrics like open rates, event attendance, and gift amounts to see which strategies are most effective.

“The more we can think like scientists—that we can see things not as set in stone and that they require some experimentation—the better,” said Taylor.

With a coordinated effort across teams and by understanding what motivates your donors, you can build an engagement path that transforms observers and followers into ardent supporters. Donors will appreciate your organization all the more for recognizing and meeting their diverse needs. A scientific mindset helps ensure you guide donors in the right direction.

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

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Donor Participation Project

Keys to Successful Technology Adoption: Partnership and Communication

For nonprofit fundraisers adopting new technologies, building partnerships and maintaining open communication are crucial to success. This was the key insight from a recent discussion by experts in the field.

With limited budgets and resources, nonprofit teams must ensure new tools are fully utilized and deliver value. But according to Julie, director of annual giving at Carnegie Mellon University, the process from identifying a need to adopting a technology can take 3-12 months for higher education institutions.

The key to navigating this timeline and implementing tools successfully is forging strategic partnerships, both internally and with vendors.

  • Internally, fundraisers should partner with IT and advancement services teams early on.

While fundraisers best understand fundraising needs, these teams provide technical and integration expertise to help evaluate options and ensure a smooth rollout. Engaging them early builds buy-in and avoids delayed implementation.

  • Externally, fundraisers should ask vendors about opportunities to join beta testing or pilot cohorts.

This allows hands-on experience with tools and surfaces key questions about functionality, integration, and reporting. With open communication, vendors can refine tools to better suit nonprofit needs.

  • During implementation, coordination and communication are also critical.

For example, with a texting platform, nonprofits need guidelines on who can send what and when. Without this, donors may receive too many or inappropriate messages, damaging experiences and trust.

  • While the integration and training phases are important, the final and most critical step is adoption.

Regular use of a technology solution, whether through a core group of “power users” or institution-wide, demonstrates its value. Adoption also relies on managing expectations about what new tools can achieve. Overpromising risks frustration and reduced buy-in if promises are not met.

The bottom line

With strategic partnerships, open communication, and realistic expectations, nonprofits can successfully navigate technology selection and implementation to choose tools that streamline and strengthen their fundraising. But adoption and regular use are the only true measures of success. Continuous feedback and coordination help maximize the impact of technology on fundraising goals.

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

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Donor Participation Project

The Beginner’s Guide to Airtable: How to Use This Flexible Project Management Tool

Airtable is a user-friendly database platform that provides a powerful alternative to spreadsheets. For nonprofit fundraisers managing complex projects and events, Airtable can be a game-changer. This accessible tool allows you to organize all your important information in one place, automate repetitive tasks, and create customized dashboards to gain useful insights.

  1. To get started with Airtable, create a free account and set up your first base, which is similar to a spreadsheet or database.

Airtable offers many template options, including project management templates that provide a ready-made framework for organizing your work. You can also build your base from scratch by adding tabs, called tables, and customizing the fields. Each table can link to other tables, enabling you to connect records and gain a high-level view of your project.

2. Once your base is set up, you can create views to visualize your data in different ways, like calendars, timelines, and Kanban boards.

For a fundraising event, you might create views to track speaker details, venue logistics, and marketing tasks. Airtable’s automation features can save hours of work. You can set up triggers to automatically notify your team when an action occurs or have Airtable send email updates to stakeholders. For instance, automatically email speakers a week before their session with event details.

3. To maximize Airtable, take time to determine what information you need and how your team will use it.

Build your base collaboratively, starting simple and evolving it over time based on feedback. With some basic training, your whole team can start contributing right away. And if you get stuck, Airtable offers many resources to help you become an expert builder.

For nonprofits looking to work smarter, not harder, Airtable provides an easy-to-use solution for organizing your projects and unlocking valuable insights into your work. This flexible tool puts customization and automation at your fingertips so you can focus on what matters most: your mission and community.

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

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Donor Participation Project

The Future of Fundraising: Automation, Personalization and a Blank Canvas Tool

The future of fundraising is digital, automated and personalized. Dan Lombardi, Donor Innovation Director at Grand River Hospital Foundation, shared how they are innovating to build deeper donor relationships and work more efficiently.

Automate repetitive tasks.

Dan’s team built an app connecting their Shopify website and Raiser’s Edge CRM to automatically transfer donation data and issue tax receipts. They use Zapier to send automated thank you emails and tag donors for personalized communications. Automating frees up staff to focus on high-impact work like stewardship.

Personalize at scale.

Using ActiveCampaign, an email marketing and CRM tool, Dan’s team tracks donor engagement and tags interests. They will customize email content and frequency based on donor interests and actions. Dan says personalization and automation allow them to “make our donor experience more pleasant.”

Explore blank canvas tools.

Dan described Notion, their project management tool, as a “blank canvas.” They created a database to track projects, tasks, hospital funding and donor communications. While still improving how they use it, Dan said Notion’s flexibility allows them to build customized solutions. Blank canvas tools offer opportunities for innovation.

The keys to leveraging technology for fundraising success are: start with small improvements, continue learning and iterating, and choose tools that fit your needs.

Begin automating repetitive work, personalizing communications and trying out blank canvas solutions. Technology is shaping the future of fundraising, and nonprofits must keep up to build meaningful donor relationships. Focus on the why, involve stakeholders, get buy-in and make the most of your tools.

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

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Donor Participation Project

Build an Emotional Connection With Your Donors: How to Be More Human in Your Nonprofit Marketing

Nonprofit marketing has become too focused on technology and not focused enough on emotion, according to marketing expert Mark Schaeffer. In a recent podcast, Schaeffer argued that nonprofit fundraisers need to rediscover emotion and put it at the forefront of their marketing.

It’s not about technology. It’s about the story and the emotion and the passion for whatever you do.

Great marketing is about creating an emotional connection between your nonprofit and your donors. However, in reality, most nonprofit marketing conversations center around automation systems, marketing technology stacks, and lead nurturing. These tools have their place but should not come at the expense of making human connections.

To build emotional connections with donors:

  1. focus on sharing authentic, interesting, and relevant stories.
  2. Identify stories from your nonprofit’s work that will resonate with supporters and spread those stories at every opportunity.
  3. Feature real people in your stories and marketing materials.
  4. Let your supporters share their reasons for giving and what your organization means to them.

Being in a community is like supporting something, having a banner somewhere. Being of a community is rolling up your sleeves when times get tough, show up and help

Also, become an integral part of your community rather than just working in it.

Look for ways to truly support your community during good times and bad. These actions will build goodwill and cement your status as a vital community partner.

Finally, make your nonprofit’s leader the public face when possible.

While not all executive directors are comfortable with a public role, sharing their passion and vision can be powerful. If your leader is unwilling or unable to take on this role, find other authentic and inspiring voices from your organization or supporters to highlight.

By focusing on emotion, storytelling, community, and personal connection, nonprofits can overcome “marketing rebellion” and build the types of meaningful relationships that spur ongoing support. While technology has an important role, never forget that meaningful change happens through human interaction and relationships. Staying true to your mission and values will build an organization that wins supporters’ hearts and minds.

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

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Donor Participation Project

How Purdue University Revolutionized Its Fundraising with Pods and Quadrants

Purdue University faced a common challenge: while dollars raised were increasing, donor participation was declining. The development team refused to accept this as inevitable. They reconceived their entire fundraising model, implementing an innovative “pod” structure and “quadrant” approach to revitalize donor relationships.

The pod structure centralized related teams to facilitate collaboration and career growth. For example, prospect researchers, gift officers, and stewardship staff for a college are grouped together in a pod. Regular meetings within each pod and across pods help teams understand challenges and develop joint solutions. This structure reduces duplication of efforts and helps staff feel supported in their work.

Within each pod, the quadrant approach further customizes strategies.

The quadrants represent a matrix of high or low donor interest and high or low capacity to give. The pod devises targeted action plans for each quadrant to optimize the donor pipeline. For example, high-interest, high-capacity donors receive focused cultivation and tailored engagement to move them to major gifts. Less engaged but high-capacity donors are identified for “moves management” to reignite their passion.

This innovative restructuring strengthened relationships in proven ways. Purdue’s focus on “donor centricity” puts the donor experience front and center. The more Purdue understands donor interests, the more tailored their outreach. Regular “self-assessments” survey donors to evaluate communication and impact. Multichannel engagement meets donors where they are with social listening and customized digital journeys.

Metrics also evolved to represent this relationship focus.

In addition to dollars raised, scorecards now track meaningful interactions, proposals submitted, and stewardship activities. Quarterly reviews discuss both fundraising and engagement metrics to craft data-driven strategies.

By revolutionizing their fundraising model, Purdue University achieved the seemingly impossible: raising more money and better engaging donors.

Their inspiring story demonstrates that even large, decentralized nonprofits can implement transformational change with a relationship-centered vision, collaboration across teams, and customization for key donor groups. Overall, Purdue provides a model of philanthropic success for nonprofits seeking sustainable growth and impact.

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