What is responsive fundraising?

Responsive fundraising puts the donor at the center of fundraising and grows giving through personalized donor journeys that respond to the needs of each individual. The responsive approach builds trust and loyalty through personalized engagement.

Your donors have changed

The fundraising models that drive nonprofits were designed for a world that no longer exists.

The ways people communicate and connect have changed dramatically in the last 20 years. A new digital world has emerged that is bending over backwards to gain our attention. This new world is marked by constant connectedness, hyper-personalized communication, and online communities inhabited by members of our own tribe.

Donors in this new world want to know that their time and money are truly making an impact. They want to be part of a movement. At the same time, today’s donor feels alienated by nonprofit-centric direct response fundraising. They now expect personalized, authentic connection to your cause.

But most nonprofits struggle to provide the personal connection to impact their donors desire.

A generosity crisis

Non-major donors have declined by 25% in the last decade.

Nonprofits are losing “everyday donors” in increasing numbers. Fundraisers are becoming more dependent on large gifts and nonprofits lack the revenue predictability that comes from an army of mid and low-level donors.

  • New donors decreased by 19% in 2017 and 7% in 2018
  • 76% of new donors will never give again
  • Nonprofits lost 5.9M donors ($5.8B) in fiscal 2016-17

What's causing this crisis?

Our current crisis started in the mid-2000’s. In fact, there was an 18% drop in the number of individuals who gave to nonprofits between 2006 and 2015.

It’s no coincidence that this timeframe corresponds with the rise of Facebook (2004), Twitter (2006), the iPhone (2007) and a host of software platforms designed to deliver a barrage of personalized marketing messages.

This drop in donors is the direct result of nonprofits’ inability to raise support from everyday donors who have come to EXPECT a deeper personal connection to their cause.

And yet everyday donors are the heart of nonprofit giving. They provide sustained revenue, volunteerism, and advocacy that your nonprofit needs in order to flourish.

We need a new approach

Unfortunately, today’s nonprofits are handcuffed to outdated fundraising models that reserve personal connections for a select few major donors. These models force fundraisers to rely on impersonal, unresponsive fundraising tactics for everyone else. Instead of creating connection, traditional tactics alienate your donors and create distance between the donor and their impact.

The days of sending impersonal direct response marketing and hoping for a 3% response rate are over. This model has become intolerable for your donors.

We need a new approach. We need to reimagine fundraising.


How did we get here?

Current fundraising practices are largely build on tactics designed in the 1950’s. The world has changed, but nonprofits have struggled to keep up. Fundraisers are now locked into 60-year-old antiquated models that don’t connect with modern donors

Community Organized
Before 1950 fundraising was largely localized and grassroots based. Individual donors meeting local needs.
  • Localized
  • Self-organized
  • Collaborative
  • Personal action
  • Door to door
  • Small meetings
  • Canvassing
Direct Response
In the middle of the 20th century nonprofits began leveraging TV and mail to broadcast this message to a broad audience.
  • National
  • Industrial
  • Undifferentiated
  • RFM Segmentation
  • Mass mailings
  • Telefundraising
  • TV/Radio
Online Fundraising
The advent of the internet caused many of our "broadcast" tactics to begin a move online.
  • Direct response on the internet
  • Impersonal
  • Email blasts
  • Generic forms
  • Display ads
  • Social spray
2023 and Beyond
What's Next?
Modern nonprofits are moving back to more personal fundraising with an emphasis on scaling connection.
  • Personalized
  • Trust, not total reach
  • Pull, not push marketing
  • Transparent/closed loop
  • Donor-centric
  • Relationships, not transactions
2023 and Beyond

Ready to learn more about responsive fundraising?

The responsive framework

Responsive Fundraising responds to the needs of each individual, builds trust, and breaks down the barrier between the donor and the impact they are creating.
Instead of blasting out impersonal mass communication that interrupts your donors and steals their attention, responsive fundraising combines modern technology, data intelligence, and donor-centric giving experiences to foster personalized conversations with every donor. Connecting with each person in a contextual way allows you to suggest the right next step, at the right time, increasing donor loyalty. This grows generosity and helps you do more good. The responsive approach to fundraising provides the personal connection and meaning that donors desire. The result is recurring generosity at a sustainable cost to the nonprofit. In other words, Responsive Fundraising allows you to step into this new hyper-connected world and build authentic relationships with everyday donors.
Step 1


As you connect with donors you’ll begin to learn more about them. This learning can happen directly through conversations or indirectly via social listening, website activity, and email opens and clicks. The more you listen, the more you begin to understand areas of interest, giving opportunities, and how each person wants to connect with the cause.

Responsive fundraising is fueled by these signals and equips you to deepen relationships as you move each donor through a journey with your cause. The result is increased donor loyalty, more sacrificial giving and, most importantly, an army of advocates who are intimately connected to your cause.

Step 2


Giving is deeply personal and your engagement should be too. Regardless of the channel (website, email, mail, or the phone) or medium (in-person or digitally) you want to connect with donors in a responsive way that is one-to-one, contextual, and collaborative.

Responsive fundraising let’s you personalize the experience every time you connect with each donor

Instead of responding to our donors’ intent and desires, traditional fundraising is driven by what we want the donor to do for us. Most direct response fundraising is built on this unresponsive model. When a nonprofit sends a generic appeal to all their contacts, and then directs them all to respond in the exact same way, the response rates are typically shockingly low. As a result, the nonprofit ends up alienating (or irritating) most of their constituents. While a few say “yes”, the rest are pushed away due to irrelevance and seek out other opportunities. This approach is a fossil from a prior world before attention was fractured and power shifted from nonprofits to individuals.

Responsive fundraising ensures you connect with the right donor at the right time with the right message. Responsive fundraising lets you personalize the experience every time you connect with every donor. When they visit your website, attend an event, receive an email or get a phone call each person should feel like they are part of an ongoing conversation with your organization. This builds connection and increases trust.

This is where new technology (data-driven CRM and automation) and a responsive mindset work together to help you connect personally with all your donors

Step 3


Once you’ve established trust with your donors by listening and connecting in personal ways, you have an opportunity to suggest giving options that are the best fit for each individual.

Suggestions don’t always have to include a financial ask.

Many times the best suggestions include learning experiences for the donor, opportunities for donors to volunteer their time, or invitations to use their influence to invite others in their tribe to connect.

Responsive gift suggestions allow the donor to feel like they are receiving just as much value as the organization. Your suggestions are a response to what you know, what’s the next right thing, and are dynamic as you listen and connect further with each donor.

Responsive fundraising acknowledges that everyone has unique value and something to give, instead of generic asks that push everyone to do or give the same thing.

Step 4


While there are certainly best practices and great fundraising ideas to try, the only way to know for sure how they work with your unique supporters is to test and experiment. The results you get will help inform your next attempts. By continually learning as you go, you’ll be able to be more and more responsive. Responsive fundraising is a continually improving process. When you take a responsive approach, you can be more adaptable and experimental. With clear visibility into your data and a complete, holistic view of your supporters, you’ll be able to see what’s working and what isn’t, then adjust accordingly.

Expect more

Virtuous gives you the nonprofit CRM, fundraising, volunteer, and marketing tools you need to create responsive experiences that build trust and grow impact.

Grow generosity with Virtuous.

Virtuous is the responsive fundraising software platform proven to help nonprofit organizations increase generosity by serving all donors personally, no matter their gift size.

“Virtuous truly understands nonprofits and the importance of our mission. And their open access to data and built-in custom reports gave us access to the data we need.”
Todd Shinabarger
Chief Information Officer