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<strong>Deepening engagement with donors means knowing when not to ask</strong>

Deepening engagement with donors means knowing when not to ask

August 19, 2022
Margaret Battistelli Gardner

Does your organization hold out its hand, asking for donations? Or does it reach out, seeking connections?

The difference is vital. The former speaks of imbalance; of a taker who seems to be looking for one-way transactions and saying, “Trust me, I know better than you how to make a difference in the world.” 

But the latter speaks of partnership. It says, “Join me, and we’ll make a difference in the world … together.” 

Every organization has its own way of connecting with donors, but there are a few things that every nonprofit needs to remember – the main one being to not make every touchpoint with donors an ask. 

But that doesn’t mean inundating them with useless emails. Reach out in different ways with different kinds of relevant information. Some ideas:

  1. Consider short videos – no more than three minutes – from people in your organization talking about updates, major announcements, milestones, etc. These can be quarterly, monthly, twice a month or whatever frequency works for your audience. They can come from the CEO, program director, volunteer coordinator, etc., so long as the message is relevant and sincere. They can – and should – be casual and really allow the voice and heart of the speaker to shine. Remember to say thank you. But also remember: no asks.
  2. Quarterly newsletters to donors and other special friends and stakeholders also can be useful, especially in the throes of a capital campaign. These should be artfully designed and branded, not just another email, and like the videos reflect the genuine voice of the signer. Share a story that shows the impact of the work you do and talk about milestones and major happenings. Update recipients on the campaign and say thank you. And encourage them to contact you with any questions or just to chat. But remember … don’t ask.
  3. Greeting cards seem like a simple gesture, but they can have a significant impact. Choose images that reflect your work and include sincere wishes inside. Generic greetings are the easy way to go, whereas messages that allude to your work are the better way. They can be for birthdays, holidays or anniversaries. For your most major donors, whom you of course have researched and gotten to know well, cards for weddings, graduations, illness, births, deaths and other personal occasions would be appreciated. And seriously, remember … no asks. Not even a hint of one.
  4. Social media also is a great place to interact. It allows for conversations that would never happen in direct mail or even email. So, it’s important to not “set it and forget it.” If you have a social media presence – and you must – be sure it’s someone’s job to post to it, monitor it and engage your followers. And remember, unless you are in a campaign that specifically includes social media as a fundraising element … don’t ask.
  5. Pick up the phone. Of course, you can’t call each and every donor – but, hey, if you can, by all means do it. But do try to talk to some of them. Maybe pencil regular time into your calendar – like any other meeting – to call x number of donors. Use the time to thank them, of course, but also to find out why they support your organization, ask about their thoughts on the work you do, how you do it and any ways they believe you might be able to do it better. And remember, don’t … well, you know. 


Margaret Battistelli Gardner

Margaret Battistelli Gardner is the podcast coordinator for Lighthouse Counsel and also has been crafting fundraising communications for Lighthouse clients since 2008. She has been a writer and editor for more than 30 years. From 2003 to 2015, Margaret was editor-in-chief of FundRaising Success magazine and currently is a communications specialist for the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, Texas.