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Growing Donor Relationships: Engagement Strategies That Work

We all know that relationships are at the center of any fundraising work.  We also know that as relationships with donors and prospects deepen, giving tends to increase.  But relationships don’t just happen.  You can’t force a relationship into being.  They happen over time, and as the result of genuine and thoughtful engagement activities that can span the lifetime of a donor’s experience with your organization. From transactional activities (social media, newsletters, events) to more relational activities (donor 1:1’s and individualized interactions) to the ongoing stewardship of a donor’s giving, it’s our job as development professionals to build, maintain and grow relationships with our supporters.


Here are some top tips for how you can build and grow relationships through community engagement activities that are easy to incorporate into your daily, monthly, and yearly plans.

  1. Newsletters, social media posts and email blasts are excellent ways to connect and train donors to think about you and your mission on a consistent basis.  They’re also great vehicles to share donor stories.  Hearing why another donor or supporter chooses to give, and the way that they choose to give, can inspire others to do the same.  Hearing a donor, in their own words, tell their own personal story of connection to your mission, and how their support makes them feel, is powerful.

  2. Events, especially more intimate cultivation or stewardship events, can create opportunities to both deepen donor/prospect understanding of your mission and impact, but also can, (and should!) be used to create a pathway for direct engagement between supporters and organizational leadership, program staff and Board members.  It’s hard to start relationships through a cold email or phone call but connecting 1:1 in a more informal setting offers an ability to really relate.  However, it’s also important that those staff/volunteers attending on your behalf understand that this is indeed the purpose and to prepare them to participate in this way.  Also be sure that they know to always share back information learned or interesting connection points they made during their interactions!

  3. Be looking for ways to garner input from your community. Surveys, focus groups, and involvement in planning work all serve to invite participation in the direction setting activities of your organization.  Supporters and community members love sharing their thoughts and often, if we listen closely and wisely, their answers will help paint a map for how to increase their connection and investment in your mission.

  4. Stewardship activities aren’t just about thanking a donor for their support. Yes, that’s absolutely vital, but stewardship also needs to include letting people know what their investment in your organization has allowed you to achieve. Fundraising at its core is about inviting the community to invest in your work. And like any investment, there is an expected return.  In our world, that return comes in the form of community impact. Know how your work positively impacts those you serve. Be able to evaluate it, story-tell around it, and then do so through your stewardship activities. This will build trust in your mission and the ability of your organization to deliver on that mission, which in turn will generate greater investment over time.


In the end, building the connection between those we serve and those that support our work is key to our collective success. Incorporating engagement into our ongoing activities is an important way to accomplish that.


As one of my favorite science fiction characters, Captain Jean Luc Picard, says just as the USS Enterprise is about to head off into a great adventure…“Engage!”


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