The 8 core components of engagement fundraising and why you desperately need them

Most fundraising is based on what I call “single shot” strategies.
For instance, it’s an event, gala or golf outing. Or, perhaps it’s a mailing, an email blast or a social media campaign. And, it could even be a face-to-face visit, a tour of your facilities, or a webinar.
Sure, you might use multiple channels to promote what you’re doing. In that case, you’ll label your effort “multi-channel” or “integrated.”

But, no matter what you’re doing or what you call it, usually it will achieve short-term results targeting one particular kind of gift (usually cash but sometimes a planned gift). A single shot!

It’s expensive, time-consuming. It’s inefficient because it fails to optimize your staff and resources. But that’s how short-term gain works and as many fundraisers say, “that’s the way we’ve always done it.”

But that’s not the way it has to be.

A better way (by leaps and bounds) is what I call Engagement Fundraising— the term I coined by in 2012. Here are the 8 components of my innovative fundraising methodology.

1. Acceptance of the Pareto Principle.
This is also known as the 80/20 Rule. But when it comes to fundraising it’s more like the 90/10 Rule. Basically, the concept recognizes that 90% of your dollars will come from just 10% of your donors. Plus it applies to planned gifts too. Ninety percent of your planned gift dollars will come from just 10% of your planned gift donors.

2. Understanding of why people really give.
People give because it makes them feel good. It’s simple. But knowing that doesn’t make it easier to raise money. Knowing that just puts you on the right footing. It steers you towards an attitude of customer service, empathy, facilitation, and concern. Knowing this ensures that your fundraising efforts – now aimed at those with tremendous capacity thanks to the acceptance of the Pareto Principle – will become customer service oriented. It also ensures that people become partners, not targets. They become human beings with feelings, stories and passions, not ATM machines with buttons you press to get the money your boss wants you from them.

Donors are motivated to give when they know that their contributions are making a difference in helping your nonprofit reach its goals and achieve its mission. A customer service oriented organization recognizes each individual donor for their contributions and, if possible, provides information on the specific projects that their gifts fund. Donors feel good when they know that the organizations they support are putting their contributions to good use.

Your donors know as well as you do that larger gifts are essential to your nonprofit’s continuation and expansion, so they want to make the most significant gifts that they can. Corporate matching gift programs have been shown to motivate donors: the majority of them say that more likely to donate if they know that their gift will be matched. Your organization can help them feel better about their contributions and receive larger donations simultaneously by encouraging eligible donors to participate in their employers’ matching gift programs.

3. Employment of a feedback loop.
Most nonprofits don’t listen very much to their supporters because it’s challenging to listen to so many voices. So, unfortunately, instead, they just spray messages at them. It’s mostly one-way. Yours! But listening is an essential part of any dialogue. You simply can’t build trusting, committed relationships without genuine dialogue. And, you can’t raise money without trusting, committed relationships. Therefore, listening must become at least 80% of your communication strategy.
But how can you listen to hundreds, thousands or millions of supporter voices? It’s only possible if you employ technologies to capture your supporters’ “verbatims” (self-reported information) and digital body language (online engagement including clicks, views, downloads, time online, recency of their online visit, how frequently they engage online, how much time they spend on your site, and so on). Of course, right now MarketSmart is the only technology firm that offers these kinds of technologies to support the fundraising sector. They help fundraisers cut costs, optimize what they do, and raise big gifts efficiently. The feedback loop is deployed in our donor survey, micro-site and automated “drip” email platforms.

But, you can cobble together your own feedback loop using your own tools for donor surveys, online chat tools, micro-sites, telemarketing efforts, face-to-face encounters and so on. It’s expensive but can it be done.

4. Valuable engagement offers.
Once you accept the Pareto Principle, understand why people give and begin to employ a feedback loop, you’ll need to draw people into your marketing funnel. This is where it gets fun and interesting because the development of valuable engagement offers frees you from interruptive, off-putting, spray-and-pray fundraising outreach efforts. Instead, offers give you a chance to give to your donors (rather than asking them to give to you).

The law of reciprocity states that you are more likely to receive if you give first. Plus, it has been proven that the person who gives first usually receives a gift in return from the original recipient that far exceeds the value of the first person’s gift (by exponential measures).

Providing valuable engagement offers proves to your supporters that you care about them. In fact, you can tie the first three components (mentioned above) together with this one to provide your hi-capacity supporters an opportunity to fill out a donor survey so they can express why they care, how they want to give and when. Doing so will make them feel good. I know because MarketSmart has sent out millions of donor surveys on behalf of our clients each year and their supporters show their appreciation by giving more. A lot more!

Interestingly, we even ask our clients’ supporters (for instance) if they have Donor Advised Funds and if they’d consider making (“recommending”) a donation with theirs. Then, on the Thank You Page after the survey, only the respondents who said “Yes” to that question get an opportunity to do just that. And they do (at an average donation of over $4,000)!

There are other kinds of engagement offers that will draw your supporters closer to your mission. For some charities, the best ones might be webinars, free content, checklists, and so on. At MarketSmart we have “productized” dozens of offers we know work. But if you don’t want us to help, you can develop your own offers using this checklist for free.

Bottom line:  Your offers shouldn’t always involve an ‘ask’ for your supporters and prospects to give you money. That drives them crazy. Instead, your offers should engage your major and planned gift prospects and supporters in ways that make them feel good. Then, thanks to the law of reciprocity, they’ll return the favor by exponential measures.

5. Lead generation efforts. 
Once you have developed your offers aimed at hi-capacity donors and buttressed by a feedback loop that makes them feel good, you’ll want to generate leads. In other words, you’ll want to present the offers to your list in a way that helps you qualify people who are likely to make major and/or planned gifts.

At this stage, it is important to recognize that the most important part of any lead generation effort is your approach. Your outreach must be polite and considerate. You must always ask for permission to communicate with your constituents. Ask them to opt-in and make it easy for them to opt-out. Make sure your efforts are highly contextual, highly personalized and highly relevant.

Stop spraying and praying. It’s disrespectful and mean. Gaining permission is fair, it invites collaboration and it builds trust. You should only want people in your funnel because they want to be there. Forcing them to be there will never result in more donations. You can’t wash money out of your supporters’ bank accounts with a hose! Stop spraying and praying!

Present your valuable engagement offers to the right people at the right times. Let them lean in. Make it easy for them to accept your offers. Then capture the information they provide about their interests, wants, needs and desires using landing pages (online forms) and tracking tools that gather their “verbatims” and digital body language.

6. Cultivation efforts.
Generating leads is almost a complete waste if you don’t have a plan to cultivate them. Cultivation allures people (now your qualified leads) to engage further. Cultivation gives you a chance to show them that you know them, that you listened, that you care about their needs, and that they are important to you. Everyone on earth wants to feel important and feel good. Deliberate, meaningful cultivation “drips” are where the magic really happens as long as they are persistent yet polite, personalized and relevant.

The problem for most fundraisers is that cultivation is tedious and time-consuming. You and your staff are already overworked, your data warehouses are a mess and your staff keeps leaving or changing positions. You know this step is essential but how on earth can you get it right? Mechanized automation is the most effective and efficient way to provide proper cultivation that builds trust and earns respect. And, thanks to our technology (the Engagement Fundraising system), now you can “drip” the right emails to the right people at the right times. If you’re not employing these technologies (especially with email drips), you’re missing the “yeast that will make the bread rise”.

7. Dashboard.
By now you’re probably starting to wonder how on earth you’d be able to capture all of the data and prioritize who you should call (and when). I bet you already know where I’m going with this. You’ll need a dashboard that helps you see your funnel so you can take action. A well-designed dashboard is the glue that ties it all together. It provides clarity, it serves up leads and it helps you see who is ready for personal outreach. Want to see ours? Just reach out to us. We’ll show it to you. Hundreds of fundraisers just like you around the world use it and love it!

8. Conversion efforts.
Finally, you’ll need to ask for the gift at some point, right? The idea that supports Engagement Fundraising is that most of your supporters care and want to give. It’s just that they usually aren’t ready to give when you want them to do so. That’s because most of the time you’re guessing when you should spray your ‘asks’ at them.

With these eight core components in place, you’ll finally be able to know when to ask. Marrying that crucial piece of information with your supporters’ sense of trust and desire for reciprocation (that each donor will have if they are cultivated properly) makes serious magic happens. Then you need to be there to facilitate their giving (by answering their questions and closing the gift). The world needs fundraisers like you to facilitate their giving. Your efforts seal the deal. Strategic, innovative technologies can’t work without you.

If your fundraising efforts don’t include these 8 components, you are behind the curve.
MarketSmart now has hundreds of clients in 4 countries around the world using our Engagement Fundraising model along with our proprietary scoring algorithm and dashboard. They are building better relationships with their donors (who by the way might have previously been your donors). Our clients’ gifts are getting bigger. They are retaining donors at astounding rates. All while your donors are either reducing the amounts they give to your organization or ending their giving to your organization entirely because you failed to treat them the way our clients treat them.

Are you ready to win them back? If so, let us know. We’ll help you.

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core components of engagement fundraising


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Claire Axelrad
5 years ago

Two points jump out to me as KEY:
1. Generating leads is almost a complete waste if you don’t have a plan to cultivate them.
2.Finally, you’ll need to ask for the gift at some point, right?

Anything that facilitates both of these core components of your fundraising plan is worth considering. Thoughtfully.

Felicia Lewis
Felicia Lewis
5 years ago

I agree Greg. I can’t tell you number times this has happened to me during the cultivation stage. It is confirmation that I have done a great job engaging and cultivating a prospect when I don’t have to ask for a gift, and when they ask, “what can I do for your college.”


[…] provide donors with value, implement the engagement fundraising approach. There are several steps your team should take to accomplish […]


[…] Gathering feedback (including self-reported data like donors’ communication preferences) is an important part of engagement fundraising, the most effective way to build major donor relationships. As a brief overview, engagement fundraising revolves around making donors feel like the “hero” of their own life story. By looking at the right data and leveraging it in your communications, you can fully engage prospects and develop stronger relationships. To dive deeper, visit MarketSmart’s engagement fundraising guide. […]

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