Donor engagement is a pretty common term in our industry today (thankfully, since it wasn’t twenty years ago!) Now you might hear it called donor stewardship or donor cultivation, but either way you name it, it’s about how involved donors are within your organization, how they are being communicated with, and how their interests are being taken care of.

Although the term is common, I’m not sure how much organizations are emphasizing it throughout the industry. And there’s no judgment here, as we live in a busy, crazy world. However, donor engagement is truly the key to success in the growing world of philanthropy. This statistic from the 2014 Donor Experience Study by GuideStar surprised me:

Nearly 95 percent of community foundations included in the research identifies donor engagement as a top priority, but only 27 percent of the strategic plans reviewed demonstrate that a foundation has adopted a well-defined metric to measure success.

This could be because donor engagement is such a fluid term. It’s always changing based on who is in a donor engagement role within the company, and therefore there are many different mindsets allocated to it.

For example, I’m sure you’ve heard of the “Five Steps to Donor Engagement”. These steps begin with introducing a donor to your organization (1), asking them to get involved (2), asking for financial support (3), asking them for access to their network (4), and then doing a major ask (5). That’s a whole lot of asking. These are worthy steps and definitely one way of looking at engaging donors within your organization. The one thing to note here is that this works up to the large transaction of a major gift and is ultimately transaction oriented. It’s linear, even though it’s brilliant.

So what’s missing?

The heart.

This month, we want to dive a little deeper into what two-way donor engagement can look like and why having true heart within your donor engagement is truly the foundation of experience within a non-profit organization.

The one thing I’ve come to learn from working with many donors and non-profit organizations is that donors want to be engaged. If they have found your organization and made any attempt to become involved, they are hoping to make a real impact for a cause they care deeply about. They even have a preference on how to be engaged, but they may need some help defining that.

That’s where a great donor engagement plan comes in.

This plan has to come from both the bottom up and the top down and be heartfelt throughout the organization. It should be talked about constantly and pioneered by someone who really wants to learn about the donors, their interests, and preferences for communication.

In a few upcoming blogs we’ll discuss more about the heart of donor engagement and how technology is changing the industry, but for today I’ll leave you with a great example of true heart within an organization: