3 Steps to Light Up Your Donor Engagement Strategy Through COVID-19 and Beyond

By Jennifer Shin, MBA, CFRE, Consultant – LinkedIn

With the cancellation of traditional fundraising events and the elimination of in-person meetings due to COVID-19, nonprofits across the sector are elevating their donor engagement strategies and reaching their base of support in unparalleled ways during this critical time. In my conversations with clients, some are now challenged to think about how to build a more integrated approach to their current donor engagement strategies while using the systems they already have in place as they pivot to plan for the next fiscal year.

Whether it’s due to a huge influx of new emergency fund donors in response to COVID-19 or from the short-term loss of your core base of support, it might be time to review how you could further steward your changing donor base.

The reality is that your overall strategy to engage donors requires an even more relevant, integrated and personalized approach to move supporters to action. Remember that your donors are being pulled in many different directions while also being personally impacted by this crisis in ways felt throughout the community. The amount of quality online content and new digital tools being leveraged across the sector should compel you to explore creative and integrated ways to engage your valued supporters.

Why is donor engagement important?

Alford Group’s “Seven I’s of Fundraising” is a holistic way to think about your donors’ journey from the moment they become aware of your organization through the investment they make over a lifetime of giving. Essentially, the more time your donor invests in your organization, the deeper their commitment becomes.

Move your donors forward using a truly donor-centered approach using the following integrated donor goals:

  • Planning communication and outreach that is flawlessly aligned in messaging and timing
  • Making sure every email, letter, phone call, solicitation and report feels personal
  • Providing your valued supporters with what they need before they even know it
  • Creating a system that allows you to focus on the right people at the right time
  • Ensuring that donors have the best experience as they move from prospect to annual donor to legacy donor

STEP ONE: Strong Systems Brighten Engagement Activities

As the dynamics and resources of your fundraising department may have changed during these uncertain times, building strong and efficient systems now can help maximize your resources and guide you through your annual planning process that is right for your team. Adding an integrated approach to your donor pipeline work requires several foundational steps depending on your organization’s fundraising priorities and resources. The bottom line is that you should have confidence in your fundraising systems and your team’s ability to accomplish core stewardship functions before moving onto more complex and integrated levels of donor engagement. Here are a few competencies to review as you set yourself up for success:

Don’t worry if you still have a few areas to work on! This list represents potential functions of a fundraising system that really depends on your capacity and the integration you desire. The sample Donor Journey Planning Guide below may help you think about your current activities by donor level.

STEP TWO: Shining a Light on Gaps Using the Donor Journey Planning Guide


Email Jennifer to receive this sample Donor Journey Planning Guide to help you start your planning!

Before you expand your engagement activities, the sample Donor Journey Planning Guide can help you identify donor groups and the current levels of donor engagement for each group. The following focus areas in your donor journey may give you some insight around where you could strengthen your engagement activities to fill gaps and identify timely conversion opportunities to move your donors up the “Seven I’s” of engagement:

Entry Point: Identify all the entry points used by your donors, volunteers and other constituents. Think about all the undocumented ways donors are being engaged and if are you capturing their information for future engagement.

Thank & Report: Evaluate all the ways you are affirming your donor’s commitment to your organization for each giving level. Are you using staff time in the right ways while ensuring that your donors get the right amount of attention?

Events: Determine if your events are providing the right level of engagement for donors and meeting your prospecting priorities based on your return and set goals.

Solicitations: Measure your return for each solicitation category to better understand what methods are most effective, keeping in mind that it could take more than one vehicle to bring a donor to action!

STEP THREE: Step Up and Let Your Integrated Approach Shine!

This next phase will help you customize an integrated plan by enhancing your current donor journey with key opportunities to convert new donors into monthly donors, move donors up your pipeline and prevent donor attrition.

In stepping up to a more seamless, relevant and personalized donor experience, spend some time identifying the right integrated tasks associated with already established components of your pre-defined donor journey. Key times to further engage your donors when you’re on their radar include when they receive or react to information from you, attend an event, volunteer or make a gift.

The approach you take will be determined by your team’s capabilities, creativity and fundraising priorities.

The approach you take will be determined by your team’s capabilities, creativity and fundraising priorities. Also, knowing what motivates your donors and their preferred modes of communication are important data points to consider. Leverage your database to track and test different activities to determine where your greatest returns are for these integrated activities!

Here are a just a few examples of tasks you can automate and time to engage donors at heightened moments of engagement:

As you see above, there are countless ways you can engage your annual donors using your creativity and new engagement strategies to strengthen your donor pipeline. As we all transition to a new normal due to the COVID-19 crisis, now is the perfect time to reshape your systems and implement an integrated donor engagement approach. I wish you the best as you show your donors some love by creating an experience that will leave them feeling even more inspired and cared for!

Contact Jennifer Shin for complementary tools to help guide you through your planning process.