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Donor Participation Project

Southside Mission: Changing Lives Through Compassion and Opportunity

The Southside Mission has served the poorest residents of Peoria, Illinois for 96 years. Rich Drager, the nonprofit’s Development Manager, shared how the organization is evolving to expand its impact.

Drager said the Southside Mission aims to meet the holistic needs of those facing economic disadvantages in its neighborhood. “We’ve been around since 1925 right here in Peoria, kind of homegrown,” he said. The nonprofit provides meals, youth programs, job opportunities, and other resources to help vulnerable community members get back on their feet.

Recently, the Southside Mission has focused on increasing diversity and inclusion. “Both in terms of our staff, in terms of our board of directors, and in terms of those we serve,” Drager said. By engaging people from a variety of backgrounds, the nonprofit hopes to better understand and serve the diverse needs of its community.

According to Drager, fundraising success comes from building genuine connections between donors and the mission. “One of the great things we get to do as fundraisers is tell stories and connect people,” he said. Through sharing stories of impact, fundraisers help donors see how their support changes lives.

The best fundraising advice Drager ever received was simple: “be a great listener and observer.” By listening to donor’s interests and passions, a fundraiser can find natural connections between them and the organization’s work. Drager aims to “connect them to your mission in our case or to your cause.”

Overall, Drager emphasized the rewards of fundraising for a meaningful cause. Despite facing difficulties, the Southside Mission chooses to see “opportunity in every difficulty.” The nonprofit’s longevity and community impact highlight the power of compassion through action. By diversifying, listening to donors, and focusing on optimism, the Southside Mission models how nonprofits can evolve to achieve sustainable change.

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

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Donor Participation Project

Creating Opportunity and Transforming Lives: How Norwescap Supports Low-Income Families

Norwescap is a New Jersey nonprofit that has worked for 56 years to provide vital services for people with low incomes. Their mission is to meet people where they are and help them build a path to a stable, thriving life.

Norwescap supports over 30,000 people each year through programs like affordable housing, education, job training, healthcare access, and emergency food and shelter. While some of their work is funded by government contracts, private donations allow them to provide critical programs like their food bank, which distributed over 2.1 million meals last year. Donations also allow Norwescap to be responsive to emerging needs and support people who fall through the cracks of government aid.

Last year, Norwescap launched a new “engagement partner” program to provide tailored support for each participant. When a parent enrolls their child in Head Start, an engagement partner works with them to assess all their needs and connect them to relevant Norwescap programs. For example, the family may need energy assistance for their home, job training for the parent, scholarships for the children, or a matched-savings program. Thousands of participants achieved more life goals last year through this personalized approach, made possible by private donors.

Norwescap’s chief development officer Heather Thompson has worked in nonprofit development for 20 years. She says, “It’s inspiring when people give because they want to make a positive change. Philanthropy is about connecting donors who want to do good with nonprofits that are doing good work.” By partnering with donors, Norwescap is moving the needle on issues like poverty, education equity, and economic mobility.

Norwescap’s holistic, community-based approach transforms lives in New Jersey each day. With the support of donors, nonprofits like Norwescap are creating a future of equal opportunity for all. Fundraisers should share nonprofit success stories to show donors the impact of direct services and systems change. By articulating a vision of lasting solutions, nonprofits can build partnerships with donors to empower communities.

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

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Donor Participation Project

The Importance of Culture: How to Ensure Your Nonprofit’s Success

A strong organizational culture is the foundation for nonprofit success. Culture refers to the shared values, attitudes, and beliefs that shape how people in an organization think and act. For nonprofits, a vibrant culture focused on the mission and serving others is essential.

As a nonprofit leader, you must clearly articulate your mission and values to staff and stakeholders. Explain why the work matters and share stories of those you serve. This helps create a shared sense of purpose and passion. Promote a growth mindset by encouraging creativity, risk-taking, and continuous learning. Celebrate wins and express gratitude to keep motivation high.

Build community within your organization.

Encourage cooperation over competition. Foster meaningful connections between people at all levels. This may involve team-building activities, mentorship programs, or simply making space for social interaction. A tightly knit team that feels supported will work more collaboratively to achieve key goals.

Reinforce your culture through practices and policies.

For example, if diversity and inclusion are values, ensure your hiring and promotion procedures are fair and equitable. If innovation is a priority, give staff opportunities to suggest and test new ideas. Walk the walk in addition to talking the talk.

Finally, regularly evaluate your organizational culture and make adjustments as needed.

You can survey employees anonymously to assess morale and see where there are discrepancies between the current and desired culture. Be willing to listen to all input and communicate how you will address any issues raised.

A strong culture where passionate people feel empowered and work together towards a shared vision is the key to nonprofit success. By clearly articulating your values, building community, reinforcing culture through actions, and continuously evaluating, you can ensure your organization thrives in fulfilling its mission. Focus on culture, and the rest will follow.

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

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Donor Participation Project

Engaging Lukewarm and Lapsed Donors: An Opportunity, Not a Problem

Lukewarm and lapsed donors are often viewed as problems by nonprofits because they are not currently giving or have stopped giving. However, these donors represent major opportunities if re-engaged.

According to studies, lapsed donors have a 1 in 10 chance of making a repeat gift if contacted, and that number jumps to 1 in 2 if their past issues can be resolved.

Nonprofits should view lukewarm and lapsed donors as chances to reconnect, not as lost causes. The first step is reaching out for a conversation, not just sending them appeals.

Ask open-ended questions to start a dialogue, such as:

  • Why did you first become a supporter of our organization?
  • What is your favorite memory of involvement with us?
  • How could we improve your experience as a donor?

By listening to their responses with an open mind, you can gain insights into their interests and values. You may also discover issues you can remedy to bring them back to active support.

The next step is sharing the impact of their past gifts and current priorities or new initiatives they may find meaningful. For example, say: “Because of your support 5 years ago, we were able to start X program which has helped over 500 children. We now want to expand the program to reach even more youth in need. Would you consider renewing your support to help us achieve this goal?”

When possible, invite them to re-engage through a small, entry-level gift to start rebuilding the relationship. While the gift amount matters less than their participation, aim for a modest increase over their last donation to signify progress. With consistency and transparency, these donors can become your most loyal supporters once again.

Viewing lukewarm and lapsed donors as opportunities for re-engagement instead of lost causes is a mindset shift that can pay off significantly. By listening, sharing impact, resolving past issues, and inviting them back in through entry-level gifts, these donors may just become your next major supporters. The key is outreach done right – with authenticity, empathy, and care.

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

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Donor Participation Project

How to Engage Donors When In-Person Events Aren’t Possible

The COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed how nonprofits engage with donors. With in-person fundraising events and meetings on hold indefinitely, organizations have had to pivot to virtual and socially-distanced options for donor stewardship and solicitation. Two nonprofit fundraisers discussing their experiences shared some insights for connecting with donors remotely:

Focus on building donor relationships.

Rather than selling your mission, work on fostering genuine connections with donors. Call or write donors to check in on them, express your gratitude for their support, and ask open-ended questions about their interests and concerns. Discuss how your work continues making an impact during this difficult time. These personal touches will strengthen donors’ emotional investment in your cause.

Host virtual events.

Consider livestreaming tours, talks, or performances that donors can enjoy from home. Promote interactive webinars where donors can engage in discussion with organizational leaders or program staff. Make events social by inviting donors to mix and mingle in virtual chat rooms. Follow up to get feedback and thank everyone for attending.

Share stories of impact.

Highlight the human faces behind your work by sharing client stories or testimonials on social media, in newsletters, and on your website. Explain how donations have allowed you to adapt services to meet critical needs during the crisis. Personal stories, photos, and videos are highly compelling. Ask long-time donors if they’d be willing to share why they support your nonprofit.

Meet donors where they are.

Don’t assume all donors are tech-savvy or social media users. Provide updates through newsletters, phone calls, and direct mail as well as email and online. For older donors, offer help signing up for and using online portals or virtual events. Make sure all communication channels have a consistent message about your mission and current initiatives.

Creativity and flexibility are key to navigating this new normal in fundraising. While technology opens opportunities to connect at a distance, nothing can replace the power of building personal relationships based on trust, empathy and shared purpose. By showing donors the human impact of their gifts, nonprofits can continue moving forward together.

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

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Donor Participation Project

How the University of Tennessee Increased Donors by 54%

The University of Tennessee saw a 54% increase in donors over a seven-year period through deliberate planning and experimentation. Eric Drum, Director of Annual Giving at UT, shares the strategic approach that fueled this growth.

First, UT aligned its advancement team around a shared vision to increase donors.

They mapped out annual targets for new donor acquisition and renewal to build accountability. A key part of the plan was diversifying engagement channels beyond direct mail and phone. The team optimized online giving, launched social media ads, and tested multiple outreach channels to find what worked best.

UT also invested in data and analytics to gain insights.

They discovered that contacting recent donors at the 6 and 12-month anniversaries of their last gift were particularly effective. UT now has anniversary appeals at those time periods, resulting in higher response rates. They also use data modeling to determine the characteristics of their most loyal donors and reach out to those with similar attributes.

The team focused on stewarding new donors to build lifelong relationships.

They implemented a year-long welcome plan for new donors including thank you’s and newsletters. UT also created two new donor recognition programs to highlight consecutive years of giving.

UT engaged faculty, staff, students, and volunteers to expand their reach.

They trained student callers and launched a successful faculty/staff giving campaign, increasing participation from 16% to 64% in a few years. Volunteers also played a key role, so UT invested in communicating their impact and expectations around giving.

Not everything worked, but UT kept experimenting. While event-related gifts drove new donors, those donors were less likely to renew. Despite some channel-specific challenges, UT’s multi-channel approach and commitment to trying new programs has built a sustainable base of longtime supporters. Overall, their strategic yet flexible plan provides a model for how nonprofits can test ideas, invest in what works, and rally diverse groups around a shared vision to significantly grow donors.

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

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Donor Participation Project

Reversing the Trend: How to Find and Engage New Donors

Nonprofit fundraising has faced a steady decline in donor participation over the last few decades. However, fundraisers can take action to reverse this trend by prioritizing the identification and engagement of new donors.

According to fundraising expert Adam Platzer, the first step is to focus on qualifying new prospects through events, referrals, and faculty relationships. Events provide an opportunity to engage new donors in person, while referrals from existing donors and faculty members can uncover major gift prospects who are currently off the radar. The key is following up quickly after initial meetings to begin cultivating these new relationships.

Once new prospects have been identified, nonprofit fundraisers should develop strategic engagement plans to build affinity over time. Weinger recommends a tiered engagement model where donors start at a low level of commitment, like volunteering or mentoring students, and then progress up the pyramid as their passion and giving capacity grows. The closer donors get to the top levels, which may include joining the board of trustees, the more likely they are to make a major gift.

To solicit these new donors effectively, fundraisers should focus on the impact of the gift and stewardship of funds rather than the amount. Share videos and stories demonstrating how current programs change lives. Explain exactly how the donor’s gift will be used and recognized to inspire their philanthropy. Creative strategies like matching gift challenges, deadlines, and public announcements can also motivate new donors to give sooner and at a higher level.

The most important element, however, is developing strong internal relationships to drive fundraising success. Weinger argues that communication across departments, public recognition of colleagues’ contributions, and educating staff about the fundraising process builds trust in the development office and leads to more and bigger gifts over time. By following this holistic approach of identifying, engaging, and soliciting new donors through internal partnership, nonprofits can begin to reverse the trend of declining fundraising participation. Overall, the key to major gift success is collaboration, not competition.

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

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Donor Participation Project

Set Up Your First Automated Donor Email Workflow

For nonprofits, automating donor email outreach can be a game-changer. By connecting your donor database with an email service like Gmail, you can automatically send personalized emails to donors at scale. Here’s how to set up your first automated donor email workflow:

First, identify the data you want to use. This could be a list of recent donors, donors in a specific giving range, or donors interested in a particular program. Export this list from your donor database as a CSV spreadsheet with key details like name, email, gift amount, and date.

Next, connect your spreadsheet to Gmail using a tool like Zapier. Zapier lets you connect apps to automate workflows. In this case, you’ll connect Google Sheets (which holds your CSV) to Gmail.18/10/2023.alrdy extended.

In Zapier, choose your Google account and the specific spreadsheet you want to use. Zapier will find the column headers in your sheet like “email” and “first name”.

Then, connect to your Gmail account. Choose whether you want emails to send automatically or save as drafts for review. For your first workflow, drafts are a good option.

Map the data from your sheet to the email. For example, map “first name” to the greeting, “email” to the recipients, and so on. You can also choose a signature, email template, attachments, or labels.

Finally, test the workflow and check that the email draft looks as you expect. Make any needed changes, then you’re ready to turn on the automation and let the emails send or save as drafts based on your choice!

With some basic setup, you’ve created an automated yet personalized email experience for your donors. Try different email templates for various donor segments, or connect other actions like mailing printed notes or updating a CRM record. The possibilities are endless for streamlining your donor outreach. With consistency and care, your donors will surely appreciate these automated yet thoughtful communications.

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

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Donor Participation Project

Understanding Your Audience: Filling the Gaps in Your Engagement Strategy

As nonprofit fundraisers, we often focus on individual interactions with our donors like events, calls, and mailings. But true engagement is about the entire journey, not just touchpoints. According to engagement expert Emily Taylor, we need to see the big picture by mapping our audience’s path from first learning about us to becoming our strongest supporters.

Filling in the gaps of your engagement strategy starts with understanding your audience’s needs and motivations. Their needs are not just functional, like incentives, but also emotional and cultural. For example, donors may be motivated by feeling like part of your community or mission. Talk to your donors and analyze their behaviors to determine what they need from you. Provide value to meet those needs.

Your audience’s journey likely has gaps between levels of engagement.

Many organizations find a drop-off between people attending an event and actually donating, for instance. Look for holes in your own strategy and work to motivate your audience to the next level of commitment. Ask people directly for that increased level of support and provide clear next steps.

Guiding your audience down the path also requires collaboration across teams.

While you may operate specific programs, your donors see the total experience you provide. All teams should understand how their work contributes to the overall journey. Come together to map the path, determine gaps, and set shared key performance indicators to close those gaps. See through your donor’s eyes.

Continuously experiment and analyze data to optimize your audience’s journey.

Try different messages, channels, and calls-to-action, then see what resonates. Look for opportunities to involve long-time, highly engaged donors in guiding newcomers down the path. Keep learning and improving to turn one-time attendees into your most ardent advocates.

Fundraising is a team sport, and success depends on the strength of your engagement strategy. By understanding your audience, guiding them purposefully down the journey, and working collaboratively, you can gain their long-term partnership in achieving your mission. Fill in the gaps in your current strategy and motivate your supporters to become stronger allies. Keep engagement at the heart of your efforts.

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

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Donor Participation Project

Overcoming Common Challenges in Implementing New Fundraising Technologies

Implementing new fundraising technologies is no easy feat for nonprofits. Getting buy-in, navigating long purchase processes, and coordinating implementations across teams are just some of the obstacles. Technology adoption specialist Julie Knight offered some best practices for overcoming common challenges based on her experience at Carnegie Mellon University and other institutions.

First, identify and understand your end users’ needs.

Make sure any new tool will meet those needs and clearly define what success looks like. Otherwise, you risk ending up with “shelfware”—technology that is rarely used after implementation. Engage end users in reviewing and selecting tools to ensure the best fit.

Next, get leadership and IT on board early.

Knight recommended educating leadership and your IT team about how the technology will benefit fundraising and streamline workflows. Their support—and understanding of the purchasing process—is essential. Ask IT to evaluate data integration and security concerns as part of the selection process. Addressing their questions upfront will speed eventual approval and implementation.

Also, don’t forget technology trials and demos are key.

Ask tech vendors for hands-on access so end users can fully explore tools. Use a scoring rubric to evaluate options objectively based on your needs. However, be realistic in setting trial periods, as tying technology adoption to arbitrary deadlines rarely works.

Finally, focus on communication and coordination.

Clearly define data sharing policies, best practices, and a schedule for using any shared technologies across teams to provide a seamless experience for donors. Continually monitor how the technology is being used and gather feedback to make improvements.

With strategic partnerships, open communication, and coordinated implementation, nonprofits can successfully navigate obstacles to adopting new fundraising technologies. Following a thoughtful process and centering end users will lead to tools that streamline work, enable data-driven decisions, and ultimately help you reach your fundraising goals.

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