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Mission engage: develop a donor engagement strategy to help and engage your donors and supporters

Donor Engagement Strategy 101: Engage and Retain Your Nonprofit’s Donors and Supporters

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In today’s digital age, connecting with donors has never been easier—or more challenging! With countless online platforms and communication tools at your disposal, you need digital strategies that help bridge the gap between your organization and its supporters, turning clicks and likes into meaningful connections that drive your mission forward.

The key to successful donor engagement lies in creating a solid strategy rooted in authenticity and personalization.

But if you find yourself wondering, “How do I build an engagement strategy?!” We can help!

This blog will explore steps to develop a comprehensive donor engagement plan. We’ll guide you on personalizing your communication, reflecting on who your donors are, and mapping out your donor engagement. Check out these strategies, tools, and resources designed to increase donor engagement and retention, ensuring your supporters feel truly valued and connected to your mission.

Mission: Donor Engagement

Engagement, from a literal definition standpoint, means occupying the attention (and the efforts) of donors and prospective donors. Simply stated, it’s getting people to pay attention and be occupied with your cause, your organization, and your mission.

The good news is donors want to hear more from nonprofits. Engaging with donors beyond a simple quarterly coffee meeting or newsletter is important. In a lot of cases, nonprofit organizations put more emphasis on the worry or fear of over-communicating. When the reality is, most donors and supporters of their organization want, and need, to hear what’s going on.

Donors want to hear more from nonprofits. Engaging with donors beyond a simple quarterly coffee meeting or newsletter is important.

This does not mean donors want to be constantly hit up for new donations. The goal, rather, is building relationships through “cultivating activities.” Consider going one step further, and engaging your donors through a myriad of ways, best suited to them.

Donor Segmentation

When it comes to donor engagement, personalization is king. But, you’ve got a lot on your plate, and sending out emails to each individual donor takes a lot of time.

So, how do you combine the power of personalization, with the simplicity of mass communication? That’s where donor segmentation comes in.

Donor segmentation is essential for improving engagement and retention. Just as you communicate differently with your boss and a friend, understanding donor segments allows for personalized interactions, strengthening both donor relationships and long-term support.

Effective segmentation provides actionable insights that significantly boost retention rates, which is crucial since acquiring new donors costs up to five times more than retaining existing ones. Typically, only about 40-45% of donors continue giving. By using donor data like donation history and volunteer hours, nonprofits can tailor messages to different donor segments, enhancing engagement and retention.

Crafting specific messages for first-time, recurring, major, lapsed, and volunteer donors ensures better connection and higher retention rates, making donor segmentation a top priority for nonprofits.

To effectively segment your donors, it’s important to understand your donor base. And that means creating a donor persona!

Defining a Donor Persona

Defining your nonprofit’s donor persona is an important step to reaching the right audience with the right messaging.

What is a Donor Persona?

A donor persona is like a character sketch of your perfect donor—think of it as a vivid profile of the people your nonprofit wants to engage with. It's more than just a guess based on random stories; the most effective donor personas are crafted from real data about your supporters.

Sure, you might have a general idea of who's contributing to your cause, but creating a donor persona helps you zero in on your ideal donor. This could be someone who's already a regular supporter or someone you'd love to bring on board.

The more you can keep track of this information within your CRM, the more capable you are of appropriately targeting these personas through your marketing.

Identify Your Donor Persona

Identifying personas is about understanding your donor data. You want to understand as much as you can about the donors and keep track of the information. The possibilities of data to track is endless, if you’re hoping to dive in deeper - check out this blog on donor essential donor data points to track!

Donor Traits
8 Donor Traits to Consider and Track

Donor Traits to Consider for Donor Persona

Here are eight key donor traits to help you better understand your supporters. By getting to know these traits, you’ll be able to connect with your donors on a more personal level and boost your engagement efforts. Use this insight to strengthen your organization!

  1. Communication Frequency-Gaining insight into the frequency with which donors wish to be contacted (e.g. weekly, monthly, quarterly or annually) can significantly enhance their engagement.
  2. Program Interest- What drew the donor to your organization? What keeps them interested? This allows you to hone in on information the donor is especially interested in and will be more relevant to them.
  3. Affiliation- Learning about different affiliations (religious organizations, athletic clubs, board partnerships, etc.) your donors have helps you direct appropriate content to them. Similarly, this allows you to leverage those affiliated organizations to help you get your word out to other donors or prospects as well.
  4. Annual Giving Level- It can make all the difference when sharing information with someone who donates $50 a year compared to someone who gives $50,000.
  5. Preferred Giving Channel- Create multiple giving channels, such as online, mail in, recurring giving, etc. Moreover, track your donor’s giving preference. Donors are far more likely to take advantage of the process that works better for them, and follow through on the call to action to donate.
  6. Channels of Communication- Keep track of how your donors and supporters want to be communicated with. These preferences may specifically come out during in-person conversations. Other times you may need to look at giving data and responses.
  7. Generation- This trait goes hand in hand with channels of communication. Certain generations may prefer to get an item in the mail or a personal phone call. Whereas, other generations may be much more inclined to want electronic communication and donating capabilities. Knowing the generation of your donor can help you customize how you interact with them.
  8. Type of Donor- Is this a frequent donor? Major donor? Understanding and classifying donors can help in identifying their persona.

Simplify your process with this free donor and volunteer persona template!

donor and volunteer personas canva template with an image of two different templates

Choosing your channels of communication

Choosing the right channels of communication is essential if you want to connect with your donors. It’s easy to choose the channel of communication that comes easiest to you. However, that only works if it is where your donors live.

Donors may have different preferences when it comes to communication channels - including mail, emails, texts, phone calls and social media platforms.

This is where knowing your donor personas is incredibly important. If you realize most of your volunteers are gen z, then texting or reaching out on social media will make way more sense than sending a letter in the mail.

On the other hand, if your major donors are in their 50s, then a handwritten thank you note or call will hit better than a social post.

Organizations should provide multiple options to make sure that donors can select their preferred method of communication. Doing so is likely to lead to a more positive experience for donors, as well as better results from donor engagement.

Consider reaching out to your donors, supporters, and volunteers and asking what their preferred method of communication is. Then track that information in your donor management platform.

Resources to help you connect using different platforms


Regular nurture emails keep your donors up to date with what is happening in your nonprofit. Nurture emails serve many functions:

  • Welcoming new supporters
  • Educating donors about your mission
  • Engaging donors with compelling stories
  • Inspiring constituents with stories of success and future goals
  • Building trust by showing how you have followed through
Boost donor engagement with nurture emails


When it comes to engaging with younger donors, text messages are a powerful tool your nonprofit should be using! Texts help nonprofits to deliver timely updates, event reminders, and personalized messages directly to donors' phones.

Texting is effective for prompting quick responses, such as donation requests or event RSVPs, and allows for more intimate communication compared to other digital channels.

By leveraging text messages, nonprofits can maintain regular contact with donors, cultivate stronger relationships, and increase engagement through convenient and responsive communication.

These text message fundraising best practices will help you navigate this platform smoothly.

Or if you’re ready to jump in, check out these 25 text message templates to improve your donor engagement!

25 text message templates for better donor engagement

Social media

Social media offers unparalleled benefits for donor engagement by providing a dynamic platform for real-time interaction and community building.

It allows nonprofits to share compelling stories, updates, and successes instantly, fostering a sense of immediacy and connection. Social media also enables direct communication with donors, facilitating personalized responses and building stronger relationships.

By leveraging the power of social networks, nonprofits can reach a broader audience, engage supporters through interactive content, and encourage peer-to-peer sharing, ultimately driving greater awareness and support for their cause.

This free guide to nonprofit social media, will help your nonprofit take its online presence to the next level!

A donor engagement guide to nonprofit social media

Engage and Retain Your Donors with a Clear Strategy

If your organization can move toward multi-channel engagement with personalized messages sent during the preferred timing and based on established persona groups, that will produce effective engagement, and move the needle in the direction of success.

Donor Engagement Mapping and Strategy

After creating communication channels and developing a donor persona, it’s time to map out your donor engagement strategy. Donor engagement mapping is essentially defining a repeatable process intended to drive a great donor experience. The repeatable process can start simple and be shared by everyone within your organization.

The first and simplest option of donor engagement mapping is to create a list of steps, or a basic engagement plan with actions based on triggers.

Consider utilizing this Donor Journey Map from DonorDock. This resource is designed to help you lay out what the donor life cycle looks like, with the ultimate goal of keeping that donor and retaining them as long as possible. We know it’s far less expensive to your nonprofit to retain donors than it is to recruit new donors. This donor engagement map is designed to help you get the most out of your donors and make sure their experience is a positive one any time they interact with your organization.

Here’s an example of a basic engagement plan based on a donor giving their first gift:

  • Send an email confirming receipt of a gift
  • Make a personal phone call and try to get them to subscribe to the newsletter.
  • Through that personal phone call, learn how they want to be communicated with going forward.

That’s a simple example, but many nonprofits can benefit from even this basic level of strategic engagement planning - especially if you use software that allows you to automate your donor journey map!

Automation supports you in engaging your donors in meaningful ways, while freeing up your time to focus on your mission!

One Step Further

One thing to keep in mind is this mapping can be done for different personas, which is a segue to a second option of mapping.

This step is a little more intricate and involves a decision tree. When you see the first gift come in and it’s an online gift, what should be done if it’s a certain persona you now understand? Let’s say a second time or spike-up gift comes in and this is a donor you’re already familiar with. Based on the first example, they made a first gift and we made a phone call to them, during which we learned they’re interested in a certain program we have going on, they like to communicate via email, and they prefer to give online.

Then, when the second gift comes in, because we know their persona information, we’ll email them a thank you and specific information about what that gift means to the organization - especially the program they’re interested in.

With a decision tree and clear strategy, you can start to personalize a donor engagement map based on the persona. It may seem more complicated initially, but as long as you have the data available in your CRM, when these things come up and you see a need for engagement, you can use the information in front of you to cater to the donor’s experience.

DonorDock allows for tracking and automation using our action board and nudge technology.

Track That Data!

Tracking data is essential for nonprofits looking to boost donor engagement. By analyzing donor interactions and behaviors using CRM systems, organizations gain valuable insights into what resonates with donors and areas needing improvement. This helps measure the impact of initiatives like email campaigns, social media outreach, and fundraising events by tracking metrics such as open rates, click-through rates, donations, and event attendance.

This data-driven approach not only guides decision-making but also allows nonprofits to personalize outreach efforts based on donor preferences and behaviors. Segmentation by factors like giving history and communication preferences enables tailored messages that are more relevant and compelling to donors.

Over time, leveraging this data helps nonprofits refine their strategies to better meet evolving donor needs. This iterative process strengthens relationships, enhances engagement, and drives organizations closer to their mission and goals. Ultimately, tracking data empowers nonprofits to adapt swiftly, innovate strategically, and cultivate sustainable donor relationships essential for long-term fundraising and advocacy success.

“Trek” that Data!

Using storytelling to connect

You’ve figured out your donor persona, segmented your donors, and know the platform you’re going to use to connect with them!

But what do you actually say to draw them in?!

Creating and Sharing Your Nonprofit's Impact Through Storytelling

Donating to a nonprofit is driven by emotions, not logic. While stats and data may inform donors, it's the stories that truly connect with their hearts. Storytelling communicates the essence of your nonprofit, engaging and exciting others about your mission. Our brains are naturally wired to connect through stories, which helps us relate to one another and find our place in the world. People want to be heroes in their own stories and make a positive impact on the world.

Storytelling is versatile and can be shared across various platforms, from emails and websites to social media and in-person interactions. This versatility allows you to reuse stories, reducing the need to constantly create new content and keeping donors connected to your cause.

To craft your nonprofit’s impact story, focus on three key elements:

  1. People: Highlight who your organization impacts.
  2. Problem: Describe the issue your organization addresses.
  3. Change: Explain how your organization solves this problem.

Be specific. Use real examples to connect your larger mission to individual stories, showing the problem and the resulting impact.

Once you've created your impact story, guide your audience on what to do next:

Create a Clear Call to Action that is:

  • Donor Focused: Explain how donors can become part of the story.
  • Actionable Steps: List clear ways for donors to help solve the problem.
  • Connect: Tie their impact back to your story.

By using storytelling, you can inspire your donors and volunteers to join you in being part of the solution!

Connecting donors to nonhuman causes

Storytelling is also essential in nonhuman philanthropy, turning abstract stats into relatable stories that resonate with donors. For animal shelters, sharing individual stories of animals in need can easily connect with pet owners, making them more likely to empathize and take action.

Environmental causes require a more creative approach. Donors need to feel a personal connection to care about issues like deforestation or river pollution. By evoking nostalgia and reminding them of cherished moments in nature, fundraisers can create emotional ties. Describing experiences like the calming sound of a river helps donors understand the personal impact of environmental conservation.

For nonmammal causes, storytelling can be challenging but impactful when focusing on the ecosystem. Highlighting the crucial roles of less charismatic animals, such as frogs or insects, shows their importance in maintaining ecological balance. For instance, frogs control insect populations and provide food for birds, indirectly benefiting humans. By explaining these connections, donors can see the broader impact of their support, making them more likely to contribute.

Check out this free storytelling cheat sheet to simplify your storytelling!

donor engagement strategy storytelling cheat sheet resource

The Power of Donor Appreciation

Showing donor appreciation is vital for nonprofits to foster lasting donor engagement and support. Firstly, expressing gratitude acknowledges donors' contributions, making them feel valued and recognized for their impact. This strengthens the emotional bond between donors and the organization, inspiring continued support for the cause.

Secondly, donor appreciation builds trust and transparency. When donors feel appreciated, they are more likely to believe in the organization's mission and the impact of their donations. This trust enhances donor loyalty and retention, as donors feel assured that their support is managed effectively and makes a meaningful difference.

Thirdly, showing appreciation creates a sense of community among donors. Whether through newsletters, social media recognition, or special events, public acknowledgment fosters a supportive environment where donors feel part of a larger purpose. This community spirit encourages donors to advocate for the organization, attract new supporters, and deepen their involvement over time.

In summary, donor appreciation is more than just saying thank you—it strengthens relationships, instills trust, and nurtures a supportive community around the nonprofit's mission. Investing in meaningful ways to show appreciation not only benefits donors personally but also enhances the overall impact and sustainability of the organization's fundraising efforts.

How DonorDock Can Help with Donor Engagement

DonorDock revolutionizes donor engagement by streamlining and personalizing communication efforts. By leveraging DonorDock's comprehensive donor management features, nonprofits can segment their donor base effectively, ensuring each communication is tailored to the individual’s interests, giving history, and preferred communication channels. This personalization enhances donor relationships, making supporters feel valued and more connected to the organization’s mission.

DonorDock also automates engagement tasks, freeing up time for nonprofit staff to focus on their core mission. With features like action boards and nudge technology, the platform prompts timely follow-ups and engagement activities, ensuring no donor interaction falls through the cracks. Additionally, DonorDock’s analytics provide actionable insights, allowing nonprofits to continually refine their strategies for maximum impact. By using DonorDock, nonprofits can increase donor retention, improve engagement, and ultimately drive greater support for their cause.


In today’s digital age, effective donor engagement is more crucial and challenging than ever.

By developing a solid strategy rooted in authenticity and personalization, nonprofits can transform casual supporters into committed advocates.

Utilizing tools like DonorDock improves this process, providing the necessary infrastructure to manage and nurture donor relationships efficiently.

Through storytelling and tailored communication, nonprofits can connect deeply with their donors, ensuring long-term support and success in their mission.

By embracing these strategies and tools, your organization can build meaningful connections that drive your mission forward and make a lasting impact.

Upgrade your donor engagement with DonorDock today!

Elisha Ford
Content Writer
Written by
Elisha Ford
Content Writer

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