How to Engage Donors with 9 Target Audience Tips


Last updated April 2023 by Steve Collins

While attending the Engaging Networks Community Conference in London, I listened to some excellent presentations, where people generously shared their campaign ideas, fundraising experiences and tips on how to engage donors in new and exciting ways. There was a thread that ran through all the sessions I went to; the successful campaigns put the audience needs at the centre, asked for feedback, analysed results, adapted and made improvements.

So how do we accomplish putting the needs of our donors and supporters at the centre of our attention? How do we engage donors in a way that resonates with them and creates a stronger relationship moving forward?  

Hopefully these tips will give you ideas on different things you can do to improve supporter or donor engagement and drive impact for your cause. But first…

What is Donor Engagement?

Donor engagement is an important concept within fundraising that goes beyond simply asking for donations. It involves understanding who a donor is, and providing them with meaningful opportunities to engage with your organization in a way that builds strong relationships. Through engaging with donors, your organization can cultivate connections, support ongoing solicitations to bring in additional resources, and show appreciation through stewardship activities. By implementing a comprehensive donor engagement cycle, you create experiences that are more than just transactional – they’re transformational and encourage further involvement from donors.

And why is that important? I think Rachel Collinson, the donor whisperer, sums it up beautifully.

9 Target Audience Tips

It’s easy to talk about getting to know your target audience, but what does that actually look like? I’ve listed 9 tips below to help you.

1. Gain insights from your supporters’ behaviours through analytics. 

That’s what the team at the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) did, when they shared their story about designing for mobile. CPRE’s analytics showed a doubling in mobile traffic in just two years. That change in how their users were choosing to experience their website couldn’t be ignored, so they started their design process with mobile and then scaled up, rather than starting with a website and making it work on mobile. They then used analytics to set up user journeys that show at which stages people drop off and abandon a donation or other call to action. The new design was clearer at every step. It was well worth it. The result? A 20% uplift in donations.

2. Stay focused on the needs of your donors.

It’s tempting to look at industry numbers or other nonprofit organisations and follow their successes. What works for them must also work for you right? Unfortunately not.

To truly engage donors and supporters you need to remain focused on what your target audience is interested in.  Just because a type of outreach works for another nonprofit doesn’t mean it will have the same impact for your audience.  To create engaged donors, you need to be cautious about chasing trends and straying from what engages your target audience.

This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t test out new outreach methods. Testing new outreach is both healthy and necessary for staying on top of changes in the way your target audience may interact with your cause. Finding a balance between testing and maintaining strong outreach through established outreach creates an adaptable and impactful engagement strategy.

3. Remember: your designer cares more about the design than the reader. 

Your supporters only care about how easy it is to find the information they are looking for and complete an action. The magic happens at the intersection of design and usability. Focus on the supporter needs and experience first.

4. Keep it simple! 

I heard this again and again. When we work for an organisation that we care about, we know so much and want to tell supporters everything. Focus just on the information that they need to know and that is relevant to them. Cut everything else out because that additional information is about your need to give information not about your supporters need to know it.

5. Keep your internal teams focused on the audience too. 

They will want to ask the supporter for as much information as possible, and again this hunger for information is about the organisation’s needs not the needs of your supporter. Manage expectations internally, as an organisation you must work together to find a way to get the depth of information you want in a way that suits your supporter. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

6. Find ways to have conversations. 

Pick up the phone rather than emailing where you can, look for opportunities for dialogue, have face-to-face meetings. It is often the exchanges that come up in conversation that provide the best insights. Learning how to engage donors through different channels can be a valuable way to improve the quality and quantity of conversations you are having with your audience.

7. Listen in on your supporter care line. 

What do your supporters complain about? Listen in on calls, follow conversations on social media, read and respond to complaint emails and letters (especially if supporter care is not in your remit). Are there themes or recurring problems that indicate something broader that could be solved?

8. Treat people like individuals. 

I stopped my donation from a charity recently because I wasn’t receiving any information about how my donation had made a difference. I called several times to request the information and the final straw was when I was told I was in the “wrong batch.” Think about the internal language you use and make people feel like individuals, not data files.

9. People are multi-dimensional. 

And finally, a lot of my work involves helping teams work together, because if a supporter cares about your cause, they can fundraise, be a campaigner, a volunteer and an activist. These activities are not mutually exclusive. In fact if you send people information that is relevant to them about ways they can help, it strengthens engagement and their relationship with you, and makes it more likely they will do more.

Lucy Gower is founder and director at Lucidity. She is a trainer and coach specialising in the people part of innovation. She led the first innovation team at UK children’s charity NSPCC and it was there that Lucy realized that for innovation to succeed you need the best strategic ideas, processes and technology, but the most important ingredient for successful innovation is the right people working together towards a shared goal. Since leaving the NSPCC in 2012 Lucy has worked with over 50 organisations including Amnesty International, Cystic Fibrosis Trust, Nesta, The Children’s Society and Greenpeace.

Lucy is also author of The Innovation Workout, a blogger and conference speaker.

Follow her on Twitter @lucyinnovation

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