[NPFX Ep. 3] Effective Donor Engagement: Launching into FY21 with Confidence

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Welcome to The Nonprofit Fundraising Exchange, a podcast from IPM Advancement. Our mission is to help you raise more money so you can make the world a better place.

Today’s topic: Effective Donor Engagement — Launching into FY21 with Confidence

In this episode, we discuss:

  • The minimum number of touchpoints in your annual fund calendar
  • The impact of COVID-19 on creating and deploying appeals
  • Fundraising during the upcoming election
  • How your calendar this year will (and should) look different
  • Effective messaging and donor fatigue
  • Turning negative feedback into something positive
  • Tips on avoiding “kitchen sink” appeal messaging
  • The mistake of major donors getting fewer touchpoints
  • What integrated fundraising is (and isn’t)

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Show Notes:

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As we head into summer, most nonprofits are planning their fundraising calendar for Fiscal Year 2021. This year, we face additional challenges like the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic and the upcoming presidential election. In today’s podcast episode, we’ll look at strategies for effective donor engagement that you can put into practice right now to launch into the coming months with confidence.

Let’s meet our panel.

Russ: Hi, I’m Russ Phaneuf. I am the Managing Director and Chief Strategist with IPM.

Jack: Hi, I’m Jack Padovano, owner of IPM Advancement.

Samantha: And this is Samantha Timlick, the VP of Client Services with IPM.

Curtis: And I’m Curtis Schmitt. I’ll be your moderator today.


How to Structure Your Annual Fund Calendar

As a starting place for this conversation, what’s the minimum schedule IPM would recommend for a nonprofit’s annual fund calendar?

Samantha: So where you want to start when you’re looking at your annual fund is to create buckets or segments of data, and decide how many touchpoints you want to give to each of those buckets and when you want to do that. So generally speaking, the more engaged someone is, the more touchpoints they’ll be able to handle. So for instance, you might speak with your most recent donors more than your lapsed donors, which I know seems counterintuitive, and I’ve actually run into some organizations that suppress recent donors from future solicitations. If you’re going to go that route, do it very sparingly because recency is probably the single greatest predictor of response. So once you have your buckets, you want to work on finding your baseline. Start with the universe that you think should get the most number of touchpoints and get a feel for when and to what they’re most likely to respond. Then move to your next highest touchpoint audience. Most of the time, you’re going to be able to piggyback your audiences. So you’re not going to be creating many new touchpoints as you move down through your segments. If you’re reviewing past results, which is always the best way to go about doing this sort of thing — unless you’re absolutely starting from scratch — you want to consider each effort, each segment or bucket, and your results overall.

So for example, I had a client who wanted to look at cutting out a mid-year newsletter that appeared to be underperforming; it was running at a loss, which is not something that you really like to see in your annual fund when you’re looking at your current donors. But when we ran a test where we only sent half of the 0-24 month donor base that newsletter in a given year, and we looked at the results for the full year, we found that the people who received that newsletter on the whole outperformed those that didn’t. And that performance difference more than made up for the shortcoming that we saw on that single mailing. So you really want to look at the big picture here.

Now, in determining a minimum schedule for the folks already on your file, your mileage may vary. So you really need to know your donor base. But generally my rule for small nonprofits is you want to start at about four touchpoints a year: You’re looking at something like probably an appeal in the spring and in the fall and at calendar year end, and I always suggest throwing at least one stewardship touchpoint in there, like maybe a newsletter in the summer.

Curtis: So what about prospecting? How does that fit into the mix?

Samantha: For prospecting — and you absolutely must be prospecting — you need to look at how donors are falling off of your file over time and the investment that’s going to be required to replace them. If you want to grow at all beyond that, then you need to invest more than you’re losing. And if you’re a smaller organization, you probably want to look at combining your house file appeals with your prospecting drops when you can, because that’s going to help lower your cost per piece. And the time when your donors are most likely to respond is generally going to correspond with when prospects are most likely to respond. So that’s sort of the baseline. The next step up from that four touch calendar is going to be to add in another stewardship piece after each appeal. We’ve found a lot of success with clients who do an appeal followed by a newsletter in a couple of weeks, you know, like a two to three week gap between those mailings. It’s a very effective sort of one-two punch.

Curtis: So a follow up question for you, Samantha. You mentioned that point about engagement setting the context for the number of touchpoints or mailings that you do to a segment of your audience. Is there a maximum that IPM recommends clients not exceed?

Samantha: You know, there really is no maximum for your house file or for your prospecting. It’s really about what the people you’re reaching out to can sustain. So for your house file, the more donors you have, the more you want to be mailing. Some larger organizations see success with sort of a dual track where they have a series of renewals based on join date or renewal date. And then they also have overlapping appeals. And these nonprofits are sending out different mailings, maybe two, three times a month or even more. It’s really about testing what your donor base can sustain. And in terms of prospecting, it’s looking at how you want to grow, if you want to grow, and how much you can afford to invest. Regardless, whatever you do, you have to make sure that you’re including stewardship, and prompt acknowledgement or thank you of every gift that you receive, so that donors aren’t just feeling like you’re constantly asking them for money with nothing else going on.

Russ: Yeah and I’d like to jump in on that point too, Curtis. I think it’s really important to consider how you’re messaging to people. So, you know, realistically, you might be able to send out four appeals or six appeals a year. But the rest of the time, you know, not every message that you send out can be a fundraising message, or a hard ask. You might have some soft tasks, you might have some events that you’re messaging about, a newsletter, new year updates from your CEO or Executive Director are always something that can carry you through past that calendar year end time. Annual Reports often come out for most organizations that end their fiscal years June 30 — typically, you’ll wrap up the numbers in July — and an annual report might be the first thing that people see from you maybe in August or very early September before you start asking them for money. So there’s lots of different ways that you can fill up the calendar and I think what we want to look at as we’re working with clients, we want to look at messaging based on the context, okay? So if you’re an organization that does a lot of programmatic work during the summertime, that’s a really important time to be messaging and sharing that information with people, sharing that behind-the-scenes look at what you’re doing. And if you have an organization that is able to leverage a national day, week or month in the annual calendar, then you should absolutely do it. We have, you know, February is Black History Month, April is Autism Awareness Month, October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. For organizations that are operating in those types of spaces, that’s an opportunity to piggyback on earned media and really take your fundraising message a little bit farther than you normally would be able to.

Curtis: Jack, is there anything you’d like to add to this conversation?


Integrated Fundraising — What It Is and What It Isn’t

Jack: You know, as I listen to Samantha and Russ, I think the whole notion of integrating your strategy is so important, because I’ve seen time and time again, when nonprofits leverage an integrated strategy — using direct mail, using email, social media, and maybe even telephone fundraising — it increases ROI. And I think an integrated strategy, particularly during this COVID-19 crisis, is especially important to help break through the bad news that we’re getting every day.

Curtis: Jack, can you explain for listeners who might not be familiar with the term “integrated fundraising” what it is exactly?

Jack: So let me start by explaining what integration is not. Running multiple campaigns in multiple channels is not integrated fundraising. That’s multi-channel fundraising. Just because a nonprofit distributes messages through traditional channels like direct mail, digital, and others doesn’t mean they’re integrating their efforts. The branding may be consistent, the timing may be coordinated, but the campaign is missing a key element. And that’s a cross-channel messaging and distribution strategy. To maximize donations, a nonprofit must proactively manage the campaigns across all the channels. One of our larger clients, for example, has one team in charge of direct mail, and another team managing online or digital activity. That makes coordination very hard. A better strategy is to have one team manage all the channels.

So with that said, what does it mean to really integrate? Integrated fundraising really is about strategic messaging and moving your prospective donors to action. So although you distribute your message across multiple channels, you can create a unified message and execution where each channel supports the other one. And when I think about — you know, clients will often say, “Well, how do I know if this is working?” You know, the results of an integrated campaign should be measured as a whole. So in the multi-channel approach, nonprofits would look at, for example, performance by individual channel. But an integrated approach measures results across all channels combined. So think of it this way: The strength of the strategy lies in how each individual channel reinforces the other and contributes to a higher performing campaign, at the end of the day, increasing your ROI.

Russ: And I think one way to think about it is your audiences or your audience for a particular fundraising campaign, you know, they’re not all going to be 100% in one channel. And you’re not going to reach everybody you need to reach on direct mail only, or web only, or email only, or social media, or by telephone. You’re gonna have these different audiences kind of dispersed, and if you present them with an opportunity to engage — if you just make sure that you’re presenting those opportunities across these different channels, and your messaging across these channels is also aligned, and you’re driving people to some common places that they can go to take action, I think that’s really what we’re looking for, because we know you’re not going to get everybody in one single channel. But if you can integrate that effort across these channels, in a way where if somebody comes in through mail, they’re going to be able to engage just as successfully and just as effectively through mail as they would if someone came in through telemarketing or if someone came in through the web. And I think that’s a big part of that. You want to think about the experience that people are having and you want to give them that opportunity to engage, and you’re really not going to diminish that effectiveness from channel to channel.

There might be some instances like with social media, where you kind of use the social media channel as more of a marketing tool. But once you get people into the funnel and start to push them toward that action you want them to take, you want to make sure that you’re funneling those people into that action and it’s very consistent across the different channels. And that way, you know, you’re really — to Jack’s point on integrated fundraising — you’re not measuring the performance of a single mailing, you’re not measuring the performance of a single email. You can measure that, but really, what you want to look at in terms of gauging your success is you want to look across all the channels, and you want to say okay, for this campaign, we deployed via these four different methods, and collectively, here’s where we ended up and here’s what the outcomes were.


Engaging Donors during COVID-19 and the Presidential Election

Curtis: So let’s now talk about COVID-19. How has IPM adjusted our recommendations on this topic given that we’re in the midst of a global pandemic?

Russ: Let me start with the messaging side of things, and then we can talk about calendaring and deployment. But messaging-wise, go into our archives, go into our blog posts, look at what we’ve talked about in terms of nonprofit fundraising messaging in this COVID-19 era. We just did a blog post that talks through eight essential elements. We also have another blog post called “What Should I Write about in My Next Appeal?” But really, it’s all about just having appropriate messaging and making sure that you’re focused on your donor value proposition, you’re giving people a very transparent look at what’s happening, you’re being very honest with them about the challenges that you face. And I think that it really starts with messaging, and you have to look at your messaging first. And that’s what we’re encouraging people to do. And that’s what we’re helping clients do. We want to make sure that folks go beyond the very standard message that “COVID-19 is affecting our organization. And please give money to help us.” That is not enough. That is not a good fundraising message. When you really are looking at these donors and frankly prospects, you want to give them an opportunity to engage where you’re treating them like it’s a true partnership, that they’re investors in your work. And so that’s one place that I think everybody needs to start is on the messaging side because you can deploy the wrong message out and it’s not going to help you, so start with messaging.

Curtis: Thank you, Russ. Jack, Samantha, anything to add?

Jack: Yeah, Curtis, believe it or not, there’s actually something else going on besides the COVID-19 crisis — and that’s the upcoming presidential election, another huge environmental factor for nonprofits to be considering this year as they’re looking at their calendar. And to say that the election will not impact donors is quite frankly very naive. Why? Well, because donors are interested in national politics, which can clearly divert attention away from solving problems, you know, at the local or even regional level. I mean, does that mean it’s all doom and gloom? Certainly not. Some nonprofits actually benefit. If you think back after Trump was elected, you know, many left-leaning advocacy-oriented organizations actually profited from what was called resistance giving. And in fact, many of these organizations ramped up direct mail acquisition efforts to strike when the iron was hot, and they succeeded. We had a very large client that actually doubled down on their prospecting efforts, and not only reduced their cost per new donor, but there was a period of 30 days when they actually came in at a profit, which is unheard of — bringing in a prospect at a profit. So, you know, sure the competition for attention becomes very intense when donors and prospects receive more mail, more email, more online ads, more phone calls, quite frankly, more everything. But I think, you know, my advice, doubling down on best practices like many that we’re talking about here today will let nonprofits ride the storm and maybe even come out stronger on the other end of the election.

Samantha: We typically see, you know, nonprofits have asked — clients always ask, you know, “Should we expect to see a downturn in philanthropic giving during election year?” And historically, we see the exact opposite, that typically in election years nonprofit giving is up along with political giving. Now COVID-19 and all of that going on, we don’t know what we’re going to see this year. But historically, that has been the case.

Curtis: Great. So we’ve talked about messaging in the context of COVID-19. We’ve talked about the opportunities for some nonprofits to double down on their messaging given that we’re in an election year, and that fact might actually help them raise money. How do these major events — COVID-19 and the presidential election — affect things like timing and frequency of mailings?

Russ: Yeah, I would say just bringing it back around to the calendar discussion, this year is going to look different and it should look different for your organization. We’ve talked with a number of clients and we’ve talked internally with this team about the importance of perhaps getting out a little earlier than you typically would in the fall. And so I think traditionally annual giving kind of starts its season after Labor Day, and this year, I think that goes out the window. I think people need to be reaching out to folks earlier in August, and then also doing a follow up before the election. So that would mean, you know, again, maybe going out your typical time in September, after an August drop, or maybe you could push it into the first part of October. But, you know, to Jack’s point about the election, and just this year in particular, because so much election messaging has been pushed to digital and pushed online, I think what we’re going to see is, as we get toward the end of the summer and start the early fall, this schedule of election mail and just political messaging is going to be compressed into August, September, October, and we’re all going to get hit really hard with a lot of messaging. And so I think it’s important to kind of look at that and say, well, if I want to stand out, I can’t just drop one mailing, or I can’t just make one set of phone calls. I think there’s a case to be made for most organizations that you really need to step it up this year and get out there more frequently between now and calendar year end for sure.

Samantha: You know that you bring up a good point, Russ, about political spend shifting to digital, because we already are seeing that in some markets. And what that can mean, depending on the platform, is that other people who want to get their messages out there like nonprofits are having to pay more in order to get in front of people. So that’s something to be aware of when you’re thinking about your budget and making your plans, especially in the digital space, is that your dollars may not take you as far when you are competing with these political ads. And then in the direct mail side of things, to your point, you got to make sure that you’re looking at multiple touches, maybe explore different formats that’s not going to get lost in this deluge of mail that is coming or in some places has already started.


How to Fill Up Your Calendar with Engaging Content

Curtis: So I want to follow up on some of the points you guys have made so far and kind of get into some maybe more practical advice. If you have a client who is mailing every month, or multiple times a month, that’s quite a bit of content that they’re putting out there. What should they be writing about in all of these appeals or newsletters or annual reports? You know, what kinds of things should they be featuring?

Russ: Well, Curtis, I think the advice that we typically give to folks still holds up in the COVID-19 era, right? You want to be sharing content with your audiences that is timely, relevant, and compelling. And one way to do that is through storytelling and giving people kind of a behind-the-scenes look how your organization impacts beneficiaries, what fellow donors think about the organization, and really bringing to life your mission, your vision, what you’re doing with all these contributions; you know, bringing that to life, creating a story around that is really important. And I think that there’s an opportunity there for most nonprofits to do a better job at that. So I think that’s first and foremost the way to look at messaging in the COVID-19 era, and particularly going into this fall because it will be a very crowded messaging environment this fall for sure. So you want to make sure that the messages that you’re delivering — and they don’t all again, they don’t always have to be fundraising-related messages — but you want to make sure those messages are providing value to people, and that when someone gets a piece of content from you, there is some value exchange there. They’re either learning about something they didn’t know; they’re getting some kind of insights into the work you do or the challenges that you’re tackling through your nonprofit; they’re getting some kind of behind-the-scenes look at the work you do or the people you interact with; and they’re learning about the positive impact your organization is having in the community.

And remember, not all these messages that you send out have to be sent by the same person, right? So you’ve got a CEO or an executive director, you’ve got a number of staff people who might be able to pen messages and be the signer. You might have celebrities that are affiliated with your organization. They make great signers in most cases. And you also have your beneficiaries, so the people who are benefiting from the work you do can also be signers, they can tell their own stories. And you can include a lift note from a staff member, your executive director, or president or CEO that bolsters the kind of hard ask content that needs to be in an appeal.


Overcoming Donor Fatigue and Donor Apathy

Curtis: So let’s say you’re a nonprofit and you’ve planned out your annual fun calendar. You’ve got engaging stories and other high value content. You’ve got a variety of signers so you have different voices delivering your message. You have a mix of fundraising appeals and stewardship mailings, like newsletters. Should you be at all worried about donor fatigue? You know, this idea that donors can get so overwhelmed or desensitized to the point where they stopped giving. Is this even a real phenomenon? And if so, how much of a factor is it in IPM’s experience?

Samantha: So first, I think we have to step back and recognize that as humans, we tend to overemphasize negative feedback. And when it comes to fundraising, I think that that can especially be the case and especially depending on how and when and from whom that feedback is coming. So the first step is to make sure that you and your team are prepared. So the people answering your phones need to know that you just dropped a 200,000 piece prospect mailing, and you’re probably going to get some people calling, complaining or asking about where you got their name and their address. So first, you know, just be aware that that sort of thing is going to happen and don’t let it throw you off kilter.

Now, going back to this, specifically the donor fatigue part, I think part of the problem there is that we can sometimes mistake donor fatigue for donor apathy. Donors don’t get tired of supporting causes that they care about. They don’t get tired of having an impact or changing people’s lives. When donors are giving but they’re not giving to you, it’s not because they’re tired. It’s because they’re not inspired. If we are not moving them, if we’re not clearly demonstrating the need, or we’re not clearly demonstrating the impact they can have on that need, or we’re not thanking them, or maybe we’re not even asking them to give in some cases, that’s when we’re going to see this phenomenon and start questioning what we’re doing. If you are really building strong relationships with your donors, you really can make your appeal for donations over and over again without worrying about fatiguing them. Because if they believe in your cause, and they believe in your mission, and you are demonstrating good stewardship of the support that they’re giving, they’re going to keep giving. Maybe it’s not going to be every time, but you’re certainly not going to be scaring them away by asking.

Russ: Yeah, just to jump in on that. I think anybody who’s been kind of in the trenches in an annual giving program has probably kept like a hate file, where all of the negative feedback that you’ll get goes into the hate file and every once in a while, you’ll read it and hopefully you’ll read it and remember that it’s a very small percentage of people who are compelled to write to you and tell you how much you’re ruining their lives. And I think it’s pretty universal across annual giving for people that keep a hate file. And, you know, when I was in the trenches, I think most of the people who wrote to me with terrible messages that they didn’t like what we were doing, you know, they weren’t donors anyways. They were just grumpy people who didn’t really appreciate being poked a little bit and asked for money. And it’s just part of what we do. And that’s always going to be there.

Samantha: And when they are donors, sometimes that is actually an opportunity for engagement. So we have seen appeals where we’ve put something out there — I think of one in particular where we were talking about, there had been an earthquake and it was really devastating these children living in these care homes. And they weren’t able to get, for instance, as much protein or as much meat to feed the kids that they had been able to before. And so they were making adjustments and trying to figure out ways to continue providing the same level of care to these kids. And we sent that out and a donor came back and was like, “I can’t believe you’re saying this. Why didn’t you tell me about this? This is terrible.” And it was this very, like, visceral gut reaction. And the client got some feedback like that from a few different donors, and they really panicked at first. But they found that as they engaged with those donors and spoke with them, and explained to them, that actually created a deeper connection, and some of them gave even more than we were asking for. So, you know, that would be another thing I would say is some of these — yeah, you’re just gonna have to throw them out, because there’s no getting that back and especially when they’re not donors, and they are just sort of complaining for the sake of making noise. But sometimes there may be an opportunity to really lean into that, and use it as a chance to engage on a deeper level.

Jack: I got a good example of taking one of those grumpy people that wasn’t a donor but loved to complain to this nonprofit about the messages that they were sending out. In particular, we were actually developing those messages. It was so laborious to the team that they just said, “We’re going to give up on this guy, and we can’t make him happy.” I decided I was gonna take on the challenge. I called this gentleman in Atlanta, Georgia, and come to find out, he had a messaging agency. So he was passionate about the cause but he just didn’t like the way we were messaging to donors. And I’m not sure that this went over very well with the team at the time — in fact, I’m pretty sure it didn’t — but I started seeking his advice out before we would turn out some of the messages, particularly in direct mail. And you know, over the course of just a very short few months, we not only found an expert critic that lent very solid advice to the messaging that we were putting out — bottom line, he improved our messaging by challenging us — but over the course of the next year and a half, he became a major donor. So he went from being a zero donor, skipping all the small gifts, medium sized gifts, and wound up making a six figure gift to the organization. So that’s a real life example of take the time to listen to those grumpies.

Curtis: Don’t give up on the grumpies I love it. So if we’re talking about overcoming donor apathy instead of donor fatigue, what’s some practical advice to help nonprofits engage their donors better?

JackTargeting the right donors using the media they use is really a smart approach. Some people hate direct mail. Others want, like telemarketing, believe it or not. Others want to just be communicated via email. Knowing how donors want to be communicated with and if you have a database that’s sophisticated enough to manage that goes a long way. Give real life examples of how your work made a difference in somebody’s life. There’s nothing better than that. I think also recognizing the key role that traditional vehicles such as direct mail play in a campaigns overall success. I think we did a podcast last month talking about the question “Is annual giving dead?” and the resounding answer was No and, in fact, that people should be doubling down on the annual fund. So recognizing those traditional vehicles and not forgetting about them is truly important. And I think, don’t forget the data part. That’s the piece I forgot to mention. You know, managing the data to help all channels work together for the greatest impact is also key, and we could do a whole podcast just on the database piece, and we probably should.

Curtis: Yeah, let’s put that one on the list. Good idea. So in addition to mistaking donor apathy as donor fatigue, are there other common mistakes or incorrect assumptions that nonprofits make when planning their annual fund calendar?


Avoid “Kitchen Sink” Messaging

Samantha: So I think one of the big misconceptions or things that nonprofits need to be aware of when they’re reaching out is to avoid “kitchen sink” messaging, and that’s really where you’re trying to cram all of the amazing things that your nonprofit does into a given appeal — or into every appeal. Every appeal should have a specific purpose you should be able to write in a sentence or two, and from the donors perspective, why it’s important for donors to give to this appeal at this time. And if you can’t do that, that is a signal to you that you’re sort of wading into the waters of general “help us, we do good work” messaging, as opposed to really demonstrating your value and your impact and how a donor can have an impact through supporting your organization.

Russ: It’s always hard for organizations to — especially organizations that have a marketing effort that’s separate from advancement or development — a lot of the times, those two functions are siloed in nonprofit organizations, especially larger ones, and especially like universities and other things like that. And I think that the tendency is to want to kind of please everybody at the table, and everybody wants to have a vote; everybody wants to have some content in the appeal. And you end up with appeals that are, you know, 50% talking about programs and their bullet points of what we just did and everything, and it’s all about the organization. It’s about me, me, me, me. And I think that is not a great way to engage people long-term. You want to make it about the donor, what you’re doing to deliver value to that donor, what you’re doing to engage them and keep a relationship going that’s really a meaningful relationship — it’s not just a transactional relationship. So I think that’s one point.


Communicate with Your Major Donors

And the other thing that I wanted to bring up, too, was this idea that the role that major donors and people who tend to give higher levels of giving are going to play especially over the next couple of years as organizations navigate their way through COVID-19 and the effects of this pandemic — you know, major donors are so important right now, and developing those relationships are incredibly, incredibly important right now. And historically, and we’ve seen this with just so many clients, you know, you’ll have a portfolio of folks who are completely taken off of messaging from Annual Fund. And there’s this large group of people who are deemed to be so important that you’re not messaging them. And if you just kind of think about how absurd that is, I think it’s worth remembering as you look at your fall and through the rest of this upcoming 2021 fiscal year, those major donors need to be getting at minimum the same level of service and information and really valuable messaging that your lower level donors are. And I can’t tell you how many times that we’ve gone into an organization and we’ve seen that equation flipped where your very best donors are the folks who are communicated with the least, and that’s a recipe for disaster.

Jack: Clients will ask me when and if they should include the major donors in their annual fund, and the answer is Yes. But do it in a way that makes them feel special. So, you know, I’ll talk about just a couple ways we’ve done it over the years that I think if you’re listening right now, write them down because one of these are going to work if not all of them. Mailing a major donor stewardship pieces like a newsletter is absolutely critical. But don’t do it with a specific ask for a gift or even mentioning a gift at all. Just keep it purely as a stewardship strategy. Another one is emailing the major donor and asking them what they think about the latest story you plan to include in the next annual fund letter. Kind of that conversation that I was having earlier about that grumpy guy in Atlanta. Everybody loves to share their opinion about something. And who knows, you might even get some good advice along the way.

And one of my favorites, take a sample annual fund direct mail appeal, put a yellow sticky on it that says, “Hey, Jack, just wanted you to see what we’re mailing to your friends and neighbors.” Stick it in a bigger envelope, handwrite the name and address, and stick it in the mail. I can guarantee you it will get attention, make that donor feel important that they have kind of an inside glimpse of what you’re doing to not only build revenue, but ask for new donors. And it’s a great stewardship touchpoint, and at the end of the day, what we found — what major gift officers have found in particular — is that it will result in not only some medium sized gifts, but also major gifts as well.


Takeaway Advice for Nonprofits

Curtis: So let’s go around the table and talk about takeaways. So what’s something that we’ve covered today that you want nonprofits to take away from this discussion? Russ?

Russ: I want to encourage nonprofits to think about messaging, positioning, and timing — those three things. Think about it in terms of a Venn diagram. You have those three circles: messaging, positioning, and timing. And messaging is what you’re going to say, positioning is how you’re going to say it, and timing is when you’re going to say it. And so if you can hit the center of those three overlapping circles in a Venn type diagram, you’re going to have great success with your fundraising, whether COVID-19 is part of the equation of your messaging environment or not.

Curtis: Samantha, what’s your takeaway?

Samantha: I think my biggest takeaway is don’t communicate less with your most important donors or your most engaged donors. Whether that be your most recent donors in the annual fund level, thinking about, you know, “Oh well, this person just responded to this last appeal, so we should suppress them,” or even “This person came to this event so I don’t want them to get this appeal.” That’s not the way to go about it. If you’re not ready to ask again — and that’s totally valid — you can still send out that piece as a touchpoint. And as Jack indicated, you know, maybe remove the asks, just make it about an update for them. But the point is, you don’t want to stop talking to somebody because they’ve given to you; that’s pretty much the worst thing that you could do. Same thing on the major donor level. You don’t want to take these people and silo them away and say, “They’re so special that we can’t talk to them.” You just want to make sure you’re talking to them in the right way. It’s about more engagement with the people who want to be engaged. Give the people what they want, Curtis.

Curtis: Jack, what’s your takeaway?

Jack: Instead of a takeaway I want to make a plea. I want to make a plea to the small and medium sized nonprofits that are listening — as it relates to integrated fundraising. And I know what a lot of you are thinking inside these smaller organizations. You’re thinking, “We’re not sophisticated enough. We don’t have enough money. Budget doesn’t allow for this fancy dancy integration or integrated strategy.” And I just ask you guys to rethink that, because I have seen smaller nonprofits do a much more effective job of integrated than most of the big guys. Why? Because you’re nimble. It doesn’t require a whole heck of a healthy budget to make integration happen. So rethink that. That’s my plea.

Curtis: That wraps up our conversation on effective donor engagement. Thanks to the panel for sharing their insights and expertise. If you liked this episode, please subscribe in Apple PodcastsSpotifyGoogle Podcasts, or your favorite podcast app. And leave us a review. For any blog articles that were referenced today, we will link to them in the show notes. We also invite you to explore our growing library of online courses, whitepapers, and infographics in the Resources section of the IPM website. That address is ipmadvancement.com/resources. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next time.


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