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Donor Participation Project

The Decline in Donor Participation: What Nonprofits Can Do

Nonprofit organizations have seen a worrying drop in donor participation over the last few decades. According to Lewis Diaz, executive director of annual giving at Milenberg College, the number of households donating to charities has declined in tandem with falling volunteer rates and trust in nonprofits.

However, some nonprofits have managed to buck this trend by making donor growth a strategic priority. Diaz’s research found that the nonprofits most successful at increasing donor participation share some key attributes.

First, they act as “community incubators” by constantly creating new opportunities for donor engagement. Rather than relying on a few longstanding programs, they experiment with different events, fundraising campaigns, and outreach for specific donor groups. This high-volume, multi-pronged approach helps expand their base of supporters.

Second, they leverage the power of recurring gifts through monthly or multi-year donation programs. Monthly giving, in particular, has extremely high retention rates of over 90% and should be a primary fundraising channel rather than an add-on.

Third, they focus on cultivating “deep community engagement” by developing participatory, purposeful, recurring events that identify and develop new leaders. For example, engaging donors through interactive virtual or gaming events can be an innovative way to build community.

Finally, nonprofit leaders emphasize that donor participation growth must be an organization-wide priority, not just an annual giving objective. Boards, presidents, and teams across the nonprofit must be aligned and invested in engaging and retaining donors for the long run.

The takeaway for nonprofit fundraisers is that declining participation can be countered with ambition, innovation, and a commitment to community-building. Creating a personalized, interactive, and mission-driven experience for donors can transform them into life-long advocates and champions of your cause. Overall, nonprofit organizations must make the cultivation of loyal donors an utmost priority to ensure sustainable success.

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

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