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Four Tips to Building Successful Donor Engagement Programs Your Major Gifts Team Will Love

Group of women smiling with blog title: Four Tips to Building Successful Donor Engagement Programs Your Major Gifts Team Will Love

Everything we do in donor relations adds value to our fundraising operation. Full stop. As a major gift fundraiser turned donor relations professional, I honestly can’t tell you how many donor visits started with a review of an endowment report!

That said, donor relations really flexes its fundraising acumen when leaning into the fourth Pillar of Donor Relations: donor engagement.

Chart showing the 4 Pillars of Donor Relations: Acknowledgment, Stewardship, Recognition, and Engagement

Even if you don’t have a big team with a lot of free bandwidth—who does?!—these four tips will help you get your donor engagement program up and running, and build a donor engagement program that your major gifts team will love:

  • Start with incredible storytelling. A great place to start engaging donors is providing them with an impact-driven narrative of how their donations have made a difference. Some of the best examples of this are found in the hunger relief community: “your donation fed a family of four for a week.” BOOM. Add some photos and you have one amazing donor feel good opportunity already. If you want to improve upon it even more, you can add how hunger is linked to other problems, e.g. school performance in children—you can share how donors are feeding children in both body and mind.

Screenshot of donor email with boy smiling and eating a meal.

Second Harvest Food Bank-Impact_TY HERO
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  • Find meaningful opportunities for major gift donors and prospective donors to give their most important asset…time. What meaningful volunteer project fits within the time constraints of a donor’s busy schedule? What brings them closest to the beneficiaries of their philanthropy? Consider:

    • A special donor home build that allows donors to work alongside your organization’s CEO or other influential organizational leadership

    • A “dog walk and talk” with your organization’s director of shelter medicine

    • An invitation to work with students on career coaching and interview prep

    • A request to serve as a subject matter expert on a particular issue facing your organization

    • With all the above, make sure that these are special, meaningful experiences for specific donors and/or VIPs to your organization only. This isn’t the “all call”, but rather an opportunity for select supporters to get closer to your organization through service.

  • Create inspired, strategic events that surround key donors with important members of your organization. Donor engagement events are costly but can be rewarding for the donor as well as the organization if done correctly. We’ve got a TON of content at DRG about making sure all events are special, but here are a few quick tips to ensure your events move the needle on major gift fundraising.

    • Gather around a specific program or cause. What do your guests have in common with each other, other than being a major donor to your organization? Find ways to create organic connections between your guests to bring them closer into the organizational fold.

    • Think small. We are seeing more and more organizations moving from banquet hall galas to bespoke, curated events with intimate guests lists. And we LOVE it. Small gatherings are easier to produce and make special. It adds an air of exclusivity and ensures that every participant can connect with organizational leaders and speakers.

  • Finally, think about what money can’t buy: customized experiences. Donors tell us repeatedly that they want three things from nonprofit organizations: access, information, and experiences. I encourage you to put down the knick-knacks and create experiences that donors will remember for years to come. How about inviting one donor couple on a private hard hat tour of the new mental health facility? Maybe ask a handful of donors to attend a premiere screening of a new documentary funded by your organization? Or perhaps you invite a donor and a few of their friends on a tour of your campus winery or bakery, providing all attendees with a customized treat at the end? The sky is the limit here but be sure to reserve this experience for major gift prospects who have a solicitation planned in the next 18 months. This is where you can partner with your major gifts team to come up with a small list (no more than 5 donors per full-time donor relations team member) of donors who would benefit from this type of curated experience.

I hope you find these tips helpful as you create a donor engagement program that surprises and delights your supporters AND yields increased fundraising results! Let us know if you’ve found this article helpful—we’d love to celebrate along with you!


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