Are You Engaging Donors or Disengaging Them?
Donor engagement has become a critical part of most organizations’ fundraising strategies. And it is important. Donors have come to expect more communication and information from the groups they support.
But all engagement is not created equal. As with most things, the potential rewards come with some risks.
For example, to keep in touch with what’s going on out in the consumer world, I participate in this program called e-Rewards. Every so often I fill out product surveys so companies can build a database of details about my personal life and then sell it. In exchange for my privacy, I earn Valuable Rewards points I can redeem for things like a free night at the Holiday Inn or a subscription to Glamour magazine.
A few months ago, e-Rewards decided that we members needed more engagement. So it started sending little involvement exercises like trivia questions and guess-the-picture puzzles.
It started slowly, but then …
Suddenly, the corporate-speak emails I’d gotten used to, like, “Based on your e-Rewards profile, you are invited to participate in a research survey,” began to be augmented by “fun” messages like, “Guess what? It’s ‘What’s That?’ Wednesday!”
The folks at e-Rewards must have gotten some initial responses, because the people creating these engagement emails quickly got carried away with themselves. So much so that the number of let’s-just-kick-back-and-do-something-crazy emails sometimes outpaces the surveys.
If they’d researched their own file, they’d know — by my age if nothing else — that I’m not within the target for this kind of thing. People like me are too busy, and the games they send are too juvenile. So now, whenever the subject line threatens that possible whimsy may be forthcoming, I delete the emails without opening them. Consequently, I’m probably deleting a few surveys and missing some Valuable Rewards points. The consequence for e-Rewards, though, is much greater. It’s likely to lose some revenue because the frivolous emails have driven me to pay less attention to its communications overall.
Special challenges for nonprofits
For nonprofits, the risk is similar. Ongoing engagement can keep donors up-to-date and keep you in their minds. But to make sure your cultivation pieces cultivate instead of alienate, you have at least four challenges:
- First and foremost, make the message relevant. And by relevant, I mean relevant to your financial supporters. They are not the same as your advocates, petition signers or Facebook sharers.
- Second, make sure it goes to the right people. You already talk differently to different segments of your file. Make sure your cultivation communications reflect those differences as well.
- Third, carefully consider whether engagement is really even part of part of fundraising … or whether it’s actually part of donor communications (and budget accordingly).
- Fourth, don’t overdo it. That motivation is really what they want from you.
When you ask donors to give, you’re asking them to take an action that gives them a sense of accomplishment. If your non-ask emails become so numerous and uninvolving that they become part of the background noise in your donors’ already overcrowded mailboxes, their attention will start to drift.
Remember that you’re sending these communications to donors. Your most important job is to keep them motivated to donate.
Willis Turner believes great writing has the power to change minds, save lives, and make people want to dance and sing. Willis is the creative director at Huntsinger & Jeffer. He worked as a lead writer and creative director in the traditional advertising world for more than 15 years before making the switch to fundraising 20 years ago. In his work with nonprofit organizations and associations, he has written thousands of appeals, renewals and acquisition communications for every medium. He creates direct-response campaigns, and collateral communications materials that get attention, tell powerful stories and persuade people to take action or make a donation.