How can nonprofits keep donors engaged?

Amid world events such as genocide, natural disasters, disease and poverty, nonprofits vie to maintain close ties and ongoing support from donor bases in a slow economy. Our experts debate defeating donor fatigue

Vinay Bhagat
Founder, chairman and chief strategy officer, Convio
Former director of e-commerce, Trilogy Software

Today, nonprofits are looking at new and better ways to address issues such as poor acknowledgement, limited information on how funds are used or the belief that another cause was more deserving. But legacy technology and inertia have hindered progress. The best way to combat donor fatigue is by using a holistic approach to relationship management.

Many donors defect because of how they are treated. Typically, nonprofits are seen as soliciting more than the value they provide. Nonprofits often become slaves to communication schedules and agendas rather than thinking about what’s truly inspiring and salient to donors.

It’s crucial to respect donors’ com­munication preferences. My advice is to take a multichannel approach and collect e-mail addresses for as many donors as possible — by the nature of economics, it’s impossible to combat donor defections with solely a direct marketing-based approach. Create segmented communication strategies based upon how donors want to be communicated with.

In addition, encourage your most passionate donors to help you by recruiting others rather than only soliciting them for more contributions themselves. Empower your most ardent supporters to reach family, friends and others in their social networks by providing the tools to do so.

Cathy Lanyard
Executive director, American Friends of Alyn Hospital
More than 30 years experience as a grassroots volunteer

when supporters lose interest in a cause, the easiest explanation is almost always a sour economy. During eco­nomic hardships, donors reduce their giving because they simply do not have a compelling reason to give. Nonprofit leaders must market their charitable cause and stress the importance of giving, while underscoring the implica­tions of not giving.

Fundraisers must also maintain open communication to ensure that donors continue to feel a strong connection to the charity and its mission. It is impor­tant to convey to current donors how much they are appreciated — especially in times when it may be hard to give.

Another way to operate in tough economic times is asking more people to give less. People may not be able to give as much as they once were, but they can still give something. By solicit­ing more people and asking for less from each donor, nonprofits can still reach their contribution needs while not breaking any banks.

Fundraisers must be willing to be flexible in how to spend contributions and think of creative ways to use dol­lars. In a downtrodden economy, peo­ple want their money to be used well and in a way that will be remembered — in other words, for people to reach into their pockets, the return must be worth their investment. Nonprofit lead­ers cannot fear out-of-the-box ways to ask for and use gifts.

Bhagat contends that failure to adopt a multichannel approach will cripple a nonprofit — much like a troubled for-profit marketer from the late ’90s. It’s difficult to disagree; however, Lanyard presents a more current pressure — today’s economy. Her advice is that showing donors the impact their money has will improve your 501(c)(3)’s return on donation.

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