Donor Engagement – “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”

I’ve had the privilege of spending most of my nonprofit career in resource development. The aspect of development that brings me the most joy is without a doubt the strategy and operations that set a team, an organization, and its donors up for successful and meaningful relationships. Having a comprehensive donor engagement plan in place is a crucial foundation for that success – and as lyrical genius Taylor Swift so deftly points out, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”

A donor engagement plan does not have to be complex to be comprehensive. It is important to create a plan that is manageable and sustainable for your team, no matter the size. Let’s start with four basic elements:


First, no matter how busy you are, always make time for thank yous. This is the most important part of your engagement plan. A simple, genuine, and timely thank you – whether it is a letter, email, card, or phone call – goes a long way.


Now, share the impact that the donors’ support and partnership is having on your organization’s ability to carry out its mission. As many of us know, the best way to do this is with one of the best tools in a fundraiser’s toolbox: storytelling. To have the greatest impact, a story must be memorable and authentic – and if you are able to share client stories, do so in a way that is respectful and empowering. If client or program stories are hard to come by, let your data show your impact. Use infographics and icons. If you don’t have a graphic designer on the team, there are lots of free resources online to help you achieve some high impact imagery.


Next and whenever possible, personalize your communications for each donor. This becomes more complicated as you try to reach more people with limited time, so it is important to find as many ways as you can to work smarter not harder. This will look different for every organization and is dependent on the fundraising technology resources you have available – whether your CRM or email platform can customize communications for you or if you’re using Excel to mail or email merge.

[Quick soapbox: Whatever technology your organization uses, make sure you are getting the most out of it by learning and implementing all its features. Databases and other fundraising tools are expensive. Maintain high expectations for those investments and if you don’t feel like you’re getting the right level of return don’t be afraid to find new solutions. Data migrations are easier than ever and there are lots of guides out there to aid you.]


Finally, the only thing better than sharing an impactful story with a donor is giving them the opportunity to create their own. Look for opportunities for your donors to get their hands on the mission. Again, every organization is different, so consider your options for tours, volunteer activities, events, and board and/or committee meetings. And don’t be afraid to get creative and have fun with it!

Now put it all together – scheduled in your CRM, detailed in your project management software, and/or dropped in good old Excel – and you’ve got yourself a donor engagement plan! Once you’re up and running you can take it to the next level by adding segmentation for donor level and interest and customized plans for different donor groups.

Don’t forget to track your efforts and progress with donors! There is no greater reward than seeing the return on your investment of time and passion. Bonus: This will also help you build a case for support when you request additional resources for donor engagement in your next budget cycle.

Please email me to let me know your thoughts or if you’d like to see some sample engagement plans!

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