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The Donor Engagement Cycle: How To Create Lifelong Donors

Author: Adie M.

Nonprofit organizations, no matter the cause they are raising funds for, all have one thing in common: they rely heavily on donors. 

Donors are an extremely important aspect of NPO and charity fundraising that must be factored into everything the organization sets out to do. 

But it isn’t just as simple as getting people to donate money, time, or items. Not only does your charity or NPO need to find these donors, but you have to be able to keep them, too. You’ll also want to find donors that align with your organization’s values and belief systems.

Here, we’ll talk about one of the most important things you need to focus on in order to create lifelong donors: donor engagement. 

We’ll show you how the donor cycle (or donor engagement cycle) and its strategies can help you to find, engage, and keep donors.

The Importance Of Donor Engagement

First, let’s cover the importance of engaging your donors. The answer may seem obvious: to make sure you have people to donate and, in turn, help your cause to raise funds. But there are a few other reasons why this is a crucial thing for all organizations to partake in.

One of these reasons, as we’ve touched on, is to find donors whose values and belief systems align with those of your organization. This can solidify the reputability of your organization.

For example, think of an NPO that focuses on animal welfare. To have donors who do not align themselves with animal welfare, or who have ties to something like animal testing, takes away from the credibility of your organization. Engaging with a like-minded donor is important on this front.

One more reason to keep donors engaged is that it strengthens the bond between donor and recipient, and creates a healthy, goals-driven relationship. This relationship can go a really long way when it comes to ensuring you meet your fundraising and event objectives.

The Donor Cycle

But how exactly do you do this? How can you find donors with similar values, and nurture your relationship with them? 

This is where the donor engagement cycle comes in. It’s a strategic approach to cultivating and keeping donors, and it consists of 6 steps:

1. Identify

This first stage is where you discover and assess potential donors.

Here, you’re identifying prospective donors and trying to see if they would be a good fit. You’ll be seeking out donors that offer two things: a like-mindedness that breeds a good relationship and a willingness and motivation to give to your cause


2. Cultivate

The second stage of the cycle involves ‘cultivating’ your donors.

This is an important part of the cycle because it is all about directly engaging with your donors. Here, you’ll enhance your relationships with them by involving them in activities and educating them about your organization’s needs and values. 

Make sure you provide a good donor experience so that donors will want to support your cause and form a positive connection with your nonprofit organization.

3. Evaluate

This stage of the cycle is all about evaluating the interests and inclinations of your donors.

It’s also called donor qualification. You do it by conducting research into your donors and finding out more about things like their values, financial resources, and giving history. 

It also helps to improve awareness and ultimately create a specific plan for further engagement.

4. Solicit

The solicitation stage of the engagement cycle is where you ask for investment.

This stage is after cultivation and evaluation for a reason. In order to be successful in your request, you need to have developed a relationship with potential donors and established common goals and values.

5. Recognize

The next stage in the cycle is to recognize, appreciate, and honor your donors.

This is a simple stage that is often left out of the cycle. However, it’s very important when it comes to keeping donors engaged and ensuring retention because gratitude and acknowledgment go a long way in making people feel that their contributions have made a difference. Always thank your donors for their contributions to or participation in your organization.

6. Steward

The last step in the donor cycle is the process of stewardship.

It’s an extension of the recognition stage and takes it further by emphasizing long-lasting relationships. 

This is where you supervise and nurture the relationship between you and your donors. This can be done by engaging through things like newsletters, event invitations, and meetings.

Strategies For Engagement 

Alongside using the donor engagement cycle approach, you can try a few strategies to strengthen the effectiveness of this approach. For example, try hiring a donor engagement officer. This person can oversee and lead engagement, and nurture donor relationships.

It may also serve you well to create a donor engagement plan. Here, you’ll create your goal within your overarching goal. A plan is always a good strategy to go into anything with, and what’s more is that you’ll have something to show both for yourself and to your donors.

Another strategy is to make use of social media. Social media engagement can actually equal donor engagement in the long run because this can be exactly where you find and cultivate your donors. It can also be the platform you use to keep them interested and engaged.

Lastly, try to create an open line of communication between you and your donors. Because your values should align, it is likely that they will have a lot of helpful advice to help your NPO or charity grow and develop. It also gives your donors a voice and allows them to get involved.

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Final Thoughts

So, what have we learned about the donor cycle? Well, we know that it’s a crucial element in not just attracting but keeping donors involved with your NPO.

It’s clear that engaged donors equal retained donors. And good relationships with them can go a long way in terms of the growth of your charity or nonprofit organization.

Follow each step of the donor engagement cycle and use some of the strategies we’ve mentioned to help sustain and build healthy, longstanding donor relationships.