How to Ensure Donor Engagement Strategies Actually Drive Nonprofit Contributions
Any type of engagement other than donor engagement is meaningless — at least if your purpose is to drive contributions.
Why would you even care about clicks, likes and follows if they result in nothing more than said clicks, likes and follows? When cobbling together your communications and fundraising strategy, consider how to get from awareness to interest to engagement to investment.
If you do the first one, two or three of these things, but never get to the final stage of the marketing and sales continuum, then you’ve failed at your essential mission. Kevin Schulman, of Donor Voice shared:
“We’ve seen charities or charlatan consultants cobble together non-financial behaviors (click, like, attend, follow) and call it an “engagement score.” Engagement is not an outcome or behavior. It’s a state of mind conceptualized as a splash of passion, enthusiasm and fascination, creating a more mentally involved and engrossed supporter.”
Siloing Engagement From Investment Wastes Resources
If you were a retailer, would getting people in the door of your shop matter if no one bought anything? In the case of your nonprofit, you can review the number of clicks, likes, follows, shares, and the like. You might use Google Analytics to prove your worth, but nothing ties these metrics to donations. Marketing and fundraising standing in isolation may cause a CEO to conclude marketing is doing its job, but fundraising isn’t.
Early in my career I worked at a music conservatory. The marketing department branded the organization as offering “the most free and low-cost music events in the city.” Lots of folks attended these events. But they didn’t donate.
They were precisely the wrong demographic for a fundraising brand that centered on major gifts to fund tuition for “the next generation of professional musicians.” We could have followed up with bargain-hunting concert attendees until we were blue in the face. They still wouldn’t be likely to give at the level we needed to fulfill our mission. So, all that marketing energy went to waste as far as the development department was concerned.
Marketing Metrics Don’t Neatly Translate to Fundraising Success
Marketing metrics are often non-financial; they document behavior. But as long as that behavior doesn’t result in philanthropic giving, your fundraising goals won’t be served.
Adding names to your mailing list and followers to your social media community are not bad things. But they’re also not useful things, unless you have a strategy to convert these leads to donations. Reporting on all the great marketing outcomes you’re getting can too often excuse you from doing the essential follow-up work necessary to make those marketing strategies worth the effort.
Avinash Kaushik, senior director, global strategic analytics at Google, has said, “Engagement is not a metric — it’s an excuse.”
Identify Why Your Marketing Strategies Exist
There’s got to be a bottom-line business reason for driving people toward you, both physically and digitally. There can be mission reasons, too, but you’ve ultimately got to fund that mission.
Getting butts in free seats doesn’t pay the bills. Often getting butts in paid seats doesn’t pay the bills either — or at least not enough of those bills. And, certainly, adding emails and social posts doesn’t pay the bills.
Toward the end of my 30-years in the trenches, I oversaw fundraising and marketing for a food bank. This was during the beginning of gamification as a marketing tactic. Fortunate to live in the midst of Silicon Valley, we partnered with a major tech company to incorporate a game element (using tokens to buy a food basket within the platform) into our social media strategies.
The exciting result? We received 10,000 new email addresses in a month. The boss was impressed, too. But, guess what? Almost none of those folks ever donated a dime. They were spread across the planet; we were local. Sound and fury, signifying nothing.
Get People to Trust You Enough to Commit to You
So, how are you going to move from marketing ends to fundraising ends?
Sustainable fundraising is all about relationships and trust building. A click, follow, like, proffered phone number or email are contact points. They’re the potential to begin a relationship; nothing more. Commitment follows trust, provided you ask for the commitment.
I met my husband online. We had coffee, and I liked him. It was the day preceding Halloween, and he’d just come from the craft store with supplies to make costumes for himself and his daughter. I asked him to send me a trick-or-treating photo. He followed through the next day!
Trust was established, but then what? He didn’t ask to see me again; I had to be the one to do that. The marriage that followed the engagement didn’t happen by itself. It happened because I asked for further commitments. He got lucky!
Will you rely on luck, or plan something proactive to build trust with the people you meet online and monetize on that?
Before Launching Engagement Strategies, Ask How They’ll Drive Contributions
As a fundraiser, that’s your bottom line. It should be the bottom line for your marketing staff, too. In fact, fundraising success should be important to every member of your team because it enables you to do more of your mission-critical work.
In life, plenty of engagements get broken off before the “I do” commitment happens. It will happen to you, too, unless you ask and answer these critical questions:
- Why are we doing this?
- Is this the best strategy to accomplish our end goal?
- If this strategy succeeds, what’s the next step?
For example, if your stated end of posting on social media is to “drive awareness,” you’re not finished until you answer the next questions.
Leads Don’t Equal Conversions
If fundraising doesn’t work hand-in-hand with marketing, lead conversion will be serendipitous; you need to plan to drive investment. Otherwise, you’ll get lucky now and then, largely squandering your organization’s resources.
It’s easy to go down the marketing rabbit hole of driving clicks, likes and follows. Or gathering addresses, phone numbers and emails. All good things, because you’ll never raise money without first building awareness, interest and engagement; you can’t stop there.
To rock donor engagement that drives contributions requires pairing these three things to sustain philanthropic commitments over time.
- Awareness, interest and engagement-building
- Investment calls to action
- Trust and relationship-building strategies
Wrap engagement strategies into your mix in a manner you can measure. Not just the engagement actions people take, but the subsequent fundraising these actions drive. Beware of a half strategy; it may be the wrong half.
The preceding blog was provided by an individual unaffiliated with NonProfit PRO. The views expressed within do not directly reflect the thoughts or opinions of NonProfit PRO.
If you like craft fairs, baseball games, art openings, vocal and guitar, and political conversation, you’ll like to hang out with Claire Axelrad. Claire, J.D., CFRE, will inspire you through her philosophy of philanthropy, not fundraising. After a 30-year development career that earned her the AFP “Outstanding Fundraising Professional of the Year” award, Claire left the trenches to begin her coaching/teaching practice, Clairification. Claire is also a featured expert and chief fundraising coach for Bloomerang, She’ll be your guide, so you can be your donor’s guide on their philanthropic journey. A member of the California State Bar and graduate of Princeton University, Claire currently resides in San Francisco.