How Your Nonprofit Should Facilitate Online Donor Engagement


Keeping your patrons engaged is vital to any nonprofit organization. The COVID-19 pandemic forced most charities to reduce in-person events. One way to fill the gap is with online donation drives, but it’s much harder to engage people when you don’t have them in a room or face-to-face.

Recent reports show a struggle to maintain donor loyalty. The 2020 donor retention rate was a mere 43.6%, a drop of 4.1% from the year prior. The biggest loss was in new donors from the year previous.

The change is likely due to the restrictions on meeting in person and hosting fundraising events to make a one-on-one connection with potential givers and long-time patrons. Shifts in the economy might account for some of the change, but with additional tax credits for charitable giving and a recovering economy, it doesn’t account for most of the shift.

Engagement seems to be the key indicator for how loyal people remain to the not-for-profits of their choosing. Fortunately, there are a lot of things you can do to ramp up how well you connect with people online. Here are our favorite tips.

1. Tell Stories


Since the beginning of time, people have used stories to connect with one another. A good tale tugs at the listener’s emotions and helps them relate to your mission. When you host live events, you likely have a few speakers talking about how your organization changed their lives. You can do something similar online.

Create videos highlighting those you’ve helped. Share your vision for your nonprofit and what your goals are for the coming years. Be upfront about struggles you’ve gone through. Interview the founders and let them talk about their passion for the cause and why they started the charity in the first place.

2. Reach Out to Lapsed Members

Every nonprofit deals with a number of lapsed members who’ve disengaged from the organization. Some reasons why members walk away include change in income, disinterest and simply forgetting about your needs.

Create a campaign to reach out to lapsed members and re-engage them. Use personal data to reach out and create custom letters. Send exit surveys to see what type of activities they might be interested in. Stay in touch frequently. Come up with a campaign to grab their attention, such as “Please, come back. We need you.”

3. Tap Into Multimedia

Are you using every online tool at your disposal? Simply throwing some content on your blog isn’t enough to engage your audience and attract new donors. Instead, you should use a multi-pronged approach.

  • Start a newsletter with unique content
  • Host a Facebook live event and answer questions as people type them
  • Create a video showcasing some of the past events you’ve hosted
  • Make an infographic showing facts about your cause
  • Add photos of those benefiting from what you do and share their stories on Instagram and Twitter
  • Throw a webinar and teach people how to volunteer with you
  • Go behind the scenes and share your experiences in a podcast

These are just a few of the ways to tap into different media and engage your patrons. You should also have a presence on more than one social media platform.

4. Engage Followers


Do you take the time to respond when someone comments on a Facebook post or shares one of your Instagram stories? It’s much harder to build a relationship online, so you have to be focused.

Dedicate one team member to responding to comments and another to thank those who share your posts. Spend time answering questions and encouraging interaction.

Think about your own experiences with other organizations’ social media pages. Are you more likely to interact with one that responds? No one likes to make a comment and have it ignored. If you ask a question, expect responses. Go in and thank them for their ideas and add some more detail. You might even find you learn new ways to engage simply by paying attention to what your online fans say.

5. Seek Influencers

The State of Influencer Marketing 2021 Benchmark Report surveyed over 5,000 marketing agencies, brands and professionals. They found 90% of experts believe influencer marketing is highly effective.

Most brands incorporate influencer marketing into their budgets. Your influencers may look a bit different than Nike’s or commercial ventures. You want to reach people similar to your current donors. One great source is those who already give to you. Their circle of family and friends are likely the same philanthropic people as they are. Reach out to your long-time supporters and ask if they’d be willing to talk about your organization.

You can either come up with a campaign they can just share and add a quick note to, or you can let them post whatever they’d like with a link back to your site or social media pages. Keep in mind not everyone has finesse, so you might be better off feeding them content until you’re sure you can trust their posts.

6. Finesse First-Time Donors

It is more cost effective to keep first-time donors than seek new ones. Think about how you can make them feel part of your cause so they’ll want to donate again.

  • Send opportunities for them to volunteer or get involved
  • Drop an email in their inbox on their birthdays
  • Give them a shout out on social media and tag them to let them know you appreciate their sponsorship
  • Send updates on how their money gets spent and what they’ve accomplished with a donation

When you’re able to host in-person events again, have a first-time donor appreciation event. Thank them for their participation and share ways they can continue to be involved.

7. Ask for Input

People love adding their two cents to any conversation. Ask your donors what ideas they have to keep them engaged. They may have ideas you’ve never thought of before, and some of them might work in your favor.

Try to implement the ideas making the most sense and thank sponsors for every suggestion. If someone asks why you didn’t use their idea, just tell them you’re still considering everything and implementing a few at first before revisiting others.

When someone offers advice, they also tend to feel more invested in your organization. It takes effort to write out a response and think through ideas most helpful to you. They’ll be more engaged in the process and have a better understanding of your needs as a nonprofit.

8. Invest in Better CRM Software


While nonprofits don’t typically refer to donors as customers, they serve a similar role when it comes to managing relationships. Customer relationship management (CRM) software helps track who gives what, when and what their needs as donors are. You can even keep track of birthdays, anniversaries and other small details.

CRM saves you time and ensures you never miss a thank you or a reminder when they are most likely to donate.

By 2024, Statista predicts the CRM market will reach $43.5 billion, with an increase of about .4% each year. Only 16% of U.S. firms feel they deliver real-time customer interactions effectively, but CRM solutions can solve the problem, even for not-for-profits.

9. Educate People

People sometimes walk away from a giving opportunity because they don’t fully understand how you’ll use the money. Take the time to teach people about your organization and what you do.

Be completely transparent with how you spend the funds you receive. People expect a small percentage to go to overhead and administrative costs. Being open about how you use dollars also keeps you accountable and above board.

When sponsors see their money in action, it makes them more likely to give again. Send an email updating them on the difference you’ve made in someone’s life or the impact the organization made on the local environment. Think about the big and small ways you make a difference every day. Don’t be afraid to highlight the little things as well.

10. Make Recurring Donations Easy

The lifeblood of any not-for-profit are the donors who give month after month and year after year. Set up third-party payment gateways and set up recurring donations easily. Paypal, Square and even payment gateways through your credit card provider allow for monthly charges on autopilot.

Explain to your audience why recurring donations help you. Let them know it saves you time and also marketing dollars. You know what to count on, so you can commit to helping causes without worrying whether the funds are available.

Send updates just before the automatic payment occurs, especially if you’re drafting out of bank accounts via ACH. Send a thank you email just after the donations each month. Explain in detail the use of the particular donation. Your organization likely has varied needs throughout the year, so share what they are and how donors meet them with their automatic payments.

Be Proactive

Engaging your donors online takes a bit more finesse and effort than in-person efforts. You’ll need to work harder to build relationships and show appreciation. However, you also have the opportunity to reach far more people than at a small local art fair or community event.

Ideally, your marketing efforts will take place both in-person and online, giving you the best of both worlds. Take the time to learn online marketing and bring new donors into the fold and you’ll watch your donations soar and retention rates rise. The less you have to focus on new fundraising, the more you can focus on helping your cause.


Picture of Eleanor Hecks

Eleanor Hecks

Eleanor Hecks is editor-in-chief at Designerly Magazine. She was the creative director at a prominent digital marketing agency prior to becoming a full-time freelance designer. Eleanor lives in Philadelphia with her husband and pup, Bear.