Engaging and Retaining Donors In The Modern World

As technology evolves, so do the expectations of the modern donor. 

Donors are more purposeful than ever in their giving, viewing their contributions as a reflection of their core values. As a result, they desire to partner with organizations with whom they believe they can make a real difference. These donors expect a higher level of engagement and fulfillment from their charitable activities, and they demand greater accountability from the organizations they support.

Today’s donors want to see the impact of their support in real-time. They seek a deeper connection with the people and communities they are investing in and want to better understand how their donations are being used. 

Online Behavior and Donor Expectations

General online behavior is driving this change in the modern donor.

In 2020 alone, there was a 96% increase in the consumption of online video. A staggering 90% of people say they expect more content from the brands and organizations they support.

Email blasts and semi-regular mailers from nonprofits are no longer sufficient to engage and retain a modern audience. This is consistent across the demographic range. 

Though 64% of annual donation volume in the US alone comes from individuals (rather than corporations or foundations), nonprofits have been accepting a donor churn rate of up to 75% for one-time donors, having spent a lot of time and money acquiring them. 

The best-performing nonprofits have started doing community nurturing and donor engagement differently to counter this. They recognize the opportunity to capitalize on the changes in donor behavior to grow their communities, as well as engage and retain their donors.  This has meant a focus on digital behavior—especially online giving—with nonprofits seeing an average of 12% of total giving coming from digital fundraising efforts.

Leading nonprofits have evolved how they engage and retain donors, using new media and dedicated technology platforms to simplify donor engagement.  

Storytelling and Being Authentic 

Surrounded by so much content, donors seek authenticity from the nonprofits or individuals they support. They don’t want to feel marketed to—they want personal connection and inspiration. In short, they don’t just want to know about the difference they are making—they want to experience it. 

Transparency and authentic storytelling (conveying the good as well as the bad) motivate donors to repeatedly contribute and engage with narratives they can then pass on to others. Transactional giving (i.e. asking, but not showing) is no longer fit for purpose. 

Growth occurs when you establish trust. Creating trust with your audience and building a sense of community transforms one-time donors into loyal advocates and brand ambassadors. 

Using video (raw, real, with little production) and images to nurture community and build trust allows donors to see the impact their gifts make.

Social media channels are powerful ways to reach an audience. However, unless your nonprofit invests in advertising, these social channels typically only show 5-7% of content to your followers. To make matters even tougher, search engines do not pick up the majority of your content either.

The good news is that if you utilize a dedicated engagement platform—you can ensure that 100% of your content reaches your audience. Not only that, an effective platform empowers you to create a donor experience that boosts your initiatives, enhances donor retention, and grows the lifetime value of a donor. 

Utilizing the Power of Video

Source: Hubspot’s 2023 State of Video Marketing survey.

So if you can get 100% of your content in front of your audience, the question is: what type of content should I create?

Short-form video is the leading way people choose to receive the information they want to consume. The written component has its place in the marketing space, but text paired with video is more successful than text alone. 

The best-performing nonprofits have a fundraising plan that engages their audience and nurtures their community. They show their donors the impact of their giving, bringing them to the scene of their giving through video and image updates from the ground.

Showing the good and the bad

It’s important to share the good news and trials of a nonprofit’s work, and not only focus on the “ask” in communications. The authenticity of a simple phone video often resonates more than high-quality, polished productions. Sharing genuine stories that move donors creates transparency, builds trust, and inspires deeper engagement with your cause.

Social media channels favor video content

And last, but certainly not least, social media allows for easy creation, posting, and sharing of content with followers, helping to broaden your audience. However, as noted before, these platforms have restrictions that can limit the visibility of your content to followers unless you invest in advertising.

Every dollar counts—and so it’s essential to invest in the channels and communication that most effectively shorten the distance between donors and the impact their gifts make.

Cross-Generational Giving 

Each generation connects with giving in different ways.

Older generations typically have more to give and also may have lived through more financial struggles over the years. They also may be more reluctant to donate until they feel at peace with the organization. This means the initial hurdle is higher, but once you earn their trust—they will give generously and regularly.

Younger generations are often more impulsive—which can be both good and bad. Growing up in a world with technology at their fingertips, they will donate with a touch of a button if inspired at the moment. However, to encourage a long term relationship and recurring donations, it’s crucial to inform them about the impact of their contribution regularly.

Reaching younger donors today can also create a small army of brand ambassadors. They are known to re-share content with their friends, community, and online following about a worthwhile cause. 

Building a cross-generational strategy into your organization’s communication plans will help provide your organization with organic growth. Consider smaller campaigns to invite these donors into the family. 

Regardless of a donor’s generation, tapping into donors feeling that they are a “difference-maker” is a win-win.

Engaging Donors 

“Transactional” relationships with donors have been replaced by responsive fundraising methodologies and new ways of delivering the online donor experience.

Viewing the relationship with a donor as a more immersive nurturing relationship has been proven to win the day. Donors are 71% more engaged when they feel acknowledged and listened to.

Email marketing and direct mail still have their place. They are being amplified by video and community engagement. Storytelling and sharing updates through a dedicated donor experience platform built for delivering donor experiences at scale enables nonprofits to take supporters to the scene of their giving.  

The online giving world has changed, and nonprofits are changing with it. 

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About the Author

Alexis Gilmore is the Content and Communications Manager with DonorSee, a Virginia-based company that empowers nonprofits to launch their own fundraising and donor engagement platform, and meet new donors, through their product Rise.  She has extensive experience in nonprofit fundraising and is passionate about elevating poverty. 

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