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Donor Participation Project

Why Donor Relationships Matter

For nonprofit fundraisers, building strong relationships with donors is key to success. Donors who frequently discuss an organization, feel valued in those conversations, and have a history of consecutive giving are much more likely to make larger lifetime gifts.

Donor engagement leads to increased giving over time, as shown in data from surveys of nearly 10,000 donors.

Focusing on engagement is strategic, not wishy-washy.

While engagement’s effects can be hard to measure directly, the data shows a clear pattern: more engagement leads to bigger gifts. For donors who gave under $1,000, the median gift over 11 years was $2. For donors who gave over $50,000, the median number of years of consecutive giving was 11. The more people positively discuss an organization, the more good things will come its way.

To build engagement, demonstrate credibility, reliability, and intimacy with donors, as defined by McKinsey. Report back on what you learn from them and how you use their input. For example, if you survey donors, share the results and how you plan to act on them. Send updates on the impact of fundraising campaigns donors contributed to. These types of accountability and follow-through establish trust.

While technology and social media play a role, meaningful personal outreach is key. For example, one college sends the widows of alumni a bookplate dedication for the library, noting it memorializes a shared value or interest of her late husband. This thoughtful gesture, expecting nothing in return, resonates profoundly.

To make the case for engagement internally, focus on its strategic benefits, not just fundraising. Engaged donors become advocates, helping to build enrollment, forge community partnerships, and more. An “engagement first” mindset takes work, but pays long-term dividends. Building trust and loyalty with donors will be increasingly critical as societal expectations of nonprofits continue to grow. Focus on relationships, and the dollars will follow.

Fundraisers, invest in engagement now. Your donor pyramid is changing, and those organizations that meet donors where they are with a value-first approach will thrive. Why? Because donor relationships matter.

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

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