One Thing You Absolutely Must Know about Today’s Donor Engagement Journey

Philanthropy, Not Fundraising

Disco Dave Duckboat Tour Guide

What do you and this Duck Boat tour guide have in common?

I’m going to go out on a limb here and make an assumption.  Here goes: Your goal is to attract supporters and invest in long-term relationships that will sustain your mission. If your goal is different, read no further.  Otherwise… carry on.

Let’s begin with a story.  Once upon a time I worked for a nonprofit that had heated debates about whether we really needed a website.  Doesn’t it seem quaint that nonprofits used to wonder if they really needed websites? In a multichannel world, where people get their information from a variety of sources, playing the social media game is just as important as setting up a website, sending out press releases, and mailing out fundraising appeals. In fact, it’s probably more important given the digital revolution which has completely disrupted ‘business as usual.’

Here’s the deal.  Like it or hate it, your potential supporters are on a journey – towards you or away from you – whether you know it or not. And when they see you, they see only ONE you. Not your separate departments. Not just your website or just your newsletter or just your direct mail appeal or just your Facebook page or Twitter account.  No, they’re privy to everything and everyone associated with your organization. That’s why every strategy in which you engage, and every channel where you have a presence, should complement one another to deliver against your target constituent’s desired experience and/or your brand promise.  This is the only way to optimize the journey so that when they get to the right moment – that point where they’ll be aware enough, interested enough, engaged enough to act – they will be predisposed to do so.

People no longer follow a linear path towards engagement. The digital revolution has changed all that. People are not only more informed, their expectations have matured. They’re incredibly connected, which means they learn about you and your competitors differently than they did in the past.  They are influenced and in turn influence others.

You can’t control this.

But you too have influence. And that influence lies in doing what you can to engage folks.  This means, first and foremost, being interesting. Did you ever take a bus tour in a foreign city?  The best ones have interesting, informative and entertaining guides who tell stories, offer amusing anecdotes and provide a fount of useful information to help you plan the rest of your stay.

Think of yourself as an engagement journey guide.  You want your constituents to stay and enjoy. Engagement is as much art as it is science.

This is the 10th post in the Philanthropy, Not Fundraising series — exploring the ways in which the former is transformational and donor-centric while the latter is merely transactional. Let me know what you think!

You can move from transaction to transformation by applying the Clairification Keys to Unlock Your Nonprofit’s Fundraising Potential . Check out this SPECIAL GUIDE with easy-to-follow worksheets and exercises to get you – and your supporters – on the journey towards more meaningful engagement.

As always, feel free to contact me!

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About Claire

I’m Claire and I want to help you raise more money, reach more people and build long-lasting relationships with your supporters. Take a look in the archives.


  1. Board Chair says:

    Hi I think you have nailed it. We are having this debate in a large, diverse charity at present but it is the Board trying to convince the staff and CEO. We need to accept our reliance on govt funding is over, and we need to diversify our revenue model, better communicate our impact, decide our narrative and support this with compelling evidence of our impact. We do outstanding work. But we keep it secret.
    Our growing corporate supporters are thirsty for engagement and we keep them at arms length, we fail to truly “engage”. Our social media now outstrips our use of paper, but content remains vital. High quality, fresh content. As you say, be interesting! But the culture change is significant and proving slow. At least the Board has the authority to make this change and to fund it, but the buy -in of the employees is vital. I read a lot about people’s frustrations with their Boards. Here’s a new one: how about the employees start to back the strong engagement and interest its directors have sparked using their reputations and networks among deep-pocketed donors, rather than let these opportunities go stale while these donors move on to support a competitor who will communicate and engage.

    • Thanks for sharing this perspective. Reading between the lines, this sounds like a situation where potentially staff have become entrenched in the status quo (been there awhile? comfortable doing what they’ve always done?) and change is threatening. Things have changed — a lot. Both in the world and in the social benefit sector. We’ve no choice but to adapt or die. When you fail to grow you wither. Potentially some outside coaching could help this staff, as you’ve likely become embroiled in a battle where positions become rigid and personalities get in the way of reason.
      Claire recently posted…One Thing You Absolutely Must Know about Today’s Donor Engagement JourneyMy Profile

      • Board Chair says:

        Thanks Claire – we have a culture change issue where so much of our practice and beliefs have to adapt to a new environment. Being “quiet achievers” in the background won’t guarantee our survival.
        These issues are front and centre at our planning retreat shortly so I am optomistic!

        • Yes. I’m constantly encouraging folks to stop hiding their light under a bushel. There’s so much competition for mindshare these days that being quiet just won’t work. You’re right! I wish you much success at your retreat, and please don’t hesitate to call on me if I can be helpful in any way. BTW: I have a free social media webinar coming up on nonprofitwebinars June 4th. You may want to check it out or encourage your staff to do so. :-)
          claire Axelrad recently posted…One Thing You Absolutely Must Know about Today’s Donor Engagement JourneyMy Profile


  1. […] Why it’s the end of business as usual: […]

  2. […] The pyramid still reminds me of tombs. I prefer to engage with my supporters in a more dynamic space. A swirling energy vortex into which folks both enter and exit. Sure, not every point of energy within the vortex is equal. Some will fizzle out, while others gain momentum. It’s my organization’s job to fan the flames and facilitate the donor experience wherever the energy is burning the brightest. This donor experience is a journey, not a destination. […]

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