Do Nonprofits and Donors Align When it Comes to Engagement?

Blog 4.15.15

Yes, there have been a number of studies done on donor engagement. Many of which provide valuable insights for nonprofits from a donor perspective. Channel preferences? Check. Generational preferences? Check. Social media preferences? Check. However, many of these studies have been done in isolation without a holistic view of the entire donor ecosystem.

For the first time, we believe we’ve taken a look at donor engagement preferences from BOTH the donor perspective AND the nonprofit perspective to determine where gaps exist, where alignment occurs, and where nonprofits should be focusing time and energy to engage donors in ways that matters MOST to them.

Additionally, we looked at generational differences and have overlaid them with channel and engagement preferences, to illuminate missed opportunities for nonprofits to engage with donors.

Though there is so much more in the report, itself, we’ll touch on three interesting conclusions here in this post:

  1. Donors feel most engaged through the act of giving. While it might seem incredibly obvious and a bit “no, duh!” it’s worth restating. Donors feel most engaged with organizations through the act of giving, followed closely by volunteering.Donor_Engagament_Study_Figure9
  2. Content is king. It’s a cliché that’s been stated many times before, but content really does matter. Donors want to hear personal stories, stories of achievement, stories of success, stories that the money they’re donating is making a difference. Channel is far less important than a good narrative.
  3. One data point vs. many data points: Using one data point to engage donors is so 2014. On a more serious note, the study reveals that most nonprofits use one data point (amount of the donation) to engage and re-engage donors instead of taking advantage of multiple data points to engage each donor on his or her own terms. In particular, looking at things like age and birthday are almost completely ignored by organizations.


Nonprofits and donors are aligned on some things, but very misaligned on others. Jump over to the report and give it a read. We think it will provide you with a much broader, more encompassing view of donor engagement.

You can download the full report at:

Five Ways to Boost Engagement with Donor Tribes

TribesAmong the highlights at the recent AFP International Fundraising Conference in Baltimore was the Monday keynote by Seth Godin, a best-selling author, respected pundit, high-profile lecturer and something of a legend among marketers in the commercial sector. His ideas, while seemingly straightforward, have transformed our concept of brands and how companies reach consumers. Can nonprofits leverage some of the same techniques to reach new donors, drive engagement, and improve fundraising? I think one of the major areas of opportunities is starting to think about groups of donors in the context of a tribe.

Tribes, first introduced by Godin in his book of the same name, are defined as a collection of like-minded people who share common values and beliefs, and will put their joint efforts toward a common goal.

These shared attributes make tribes more than just donors. They not only embrace your organization’s mission; to an extent, they help you define it. For organizations, the goals created by tribes can have a big impact: more money for programs, a political victory, a cure for disease, or philanthropic achievement.

Many nonprofits instinctively recognize this as important, especially when it comes to appeals. Traditionally, a fundraising campaign would start with a staffer creating a list, usually based on stats and figures such as demographics or wealth scoring. For example, a donor falls into the male alumni, aged 40-45 category.  But what does this tell you about him? Surprisingly little. He is simply a flat statistic, and one of millions who falls into this category. If you delved deeper, however, you may find that he’s an enthusiastic outdoorsman, a highly experience white water kayaker, a cat owner, a musician, and a doctor. Another donor who falls into the same statistical category may, in fact, not like the outdoors, but prefer the city, and have different hobbies and interests.

Recognizing and appreciating records in your database as multidimensional allows for better segmentation, improved engagement, and ultimately, a better return on your fundraising efforts.

Creating Tribes

Are tribes just a segment of your donor database? No. Tribes are about more than just a household or an employer, and often include people with a collective passion, vision, stage of life, shared experience, or desire for change. By unlocking something special and identifying a group of characteristics that binds donors together, ties are strengthened. Think of it as Targeting 2.0.

To get started:

  • Clarify what you want from your tribe. Ultimately, you want it all – engaged donors who are passionate about your cause and ready to volunteer anytime you pick up the phone. But, the more specific you can be, the better. Do you have an exact campaign goal you need help achieving? An event you need to staff or a specific gala raffle gift you know would bring in the big bucks?
  • Find the low hanging fruit. Tribes may be hiding in plain sight within your donor data. For animal welfare organizations, a tribe could be people who have more than one cat. For a nonprofit raising funds on behalf of wounded warriors, this may be people who love camping, have lost a family member in combat, or women whose husbands currently serve overseas.
  • Think outside the box. Donors may belong to more than one tribe, and tools like Abila’s new Elevate™ product allow you to easily create circles based on any number of characteristics, and associate individuals to more than one.
  • Provide information of value. Go beyond the appeal and share relevant articles, news, and/or stories from your organization that speak to their specific interests. Don’t hesitate to be human either – if you’ve got a great cartoon or funny video that will be meaningful, send it!
  • Encourage interaction. Great tribal leaders empower the tribe to communicate and connect. When possible, get your tribes involved with programs that align with their specific interests or host events to create opportunities for face-to-face communication. Create special Facebook groups that speak to their interests and connect with them frequently.

For fundraisers, the goal is to discover the shared characteristics that define your tribe, speak to the changes and challenges that its members are experiencing, and create stories that will strengthen the bonds of the tribe and stoke its passion for your organization. In turn, your tribe members will help you socialize your messaging, evangelize your cause, and amplify your mission.

AFPFC Aftermath: Take action and change things up!

whoopi-says-youIf you left Baltimore last month with any key takeaways from AFPFC, I hope they were to take action and try something new. In the powerful words of Whoopi Goldberg, “You gotta change things up! Serve some Chinese food!”

This is one of my favorite conferences to attend each year. We get to learn from the latest research, best practices, and case studies.

I overheard a few folks and spoke with a few others who said, “I’ve heard much of this before.” However, once I started asking follow-up questions to see what they were DOING with the information it turned out most where not taking action on the knowledge. They are “learning” it, but NOT “doing” anything with it.

Maybe you’re overwhelmed, maybe the tools are too difficult to learn/use, but I recommend you think of the conference as a buffet; take one or two things back to try and then go back for more! This year we really want to help with that AFPFC follow through.

Starting tomorrow, I will be hosting three webinars over lunch on three big themes we saw this year at AFPFC. This is our chance to share top fundraising trends from the conference and then open it up to an interactive Q&A session, so we can all go back and take action.

Three Big Themes to Take Action on This Year

  • Donor-centered fundraising
  • Board fundraising
  • Online fundraising

Registration is still open and available exclusively to AFP conference attendees and registrants: I hope you join me this week!

I also wanted to give a big thanks to all those who stopped by the Abila booth, sat in on our sessions, and joined us at the New Heights Happy Hour! You truly made this year’s AFPFC such a fun and rewarding experience. Counting down the days till Boston!

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We’re All in This Together: Developing successful relationships with your board

all in this together_Eloqua Landing Page Header (3)Managing a positive relationship with your board is critical to the success of an organization. But where do you start?

If you are sitting on the finance team, you might be asking yourself a few questions: What do board members really want to hear from finance and accounting? How should you report on financials?

The most successful nonprofit finance teams focus on:

    1. Building trust.
    2. Sharing the success.
    3. Presenting data visually.

If you’re looking for a place to start and few tactics to try out with your board, I encourage you to join me next Wednesday, April 15th at 1p.m. CT for our free webinar, We’re All in This Together. I’ll be leading a discussion on best techniques for developing and managing successful relationships from the bottom-up.

Click here to register!

Boost Bottom Line and Member Value with Non-Dues Revenue

Hands and moneyNon-dues revenue. It’s become sort of the Holy Grail of associations – valuable and much sought-after, but also a bit mythical.

What’s not mysterious, though, is the fact that associations can no longer simply rely on membership dues to cover costs, add member value, and sustain growth. So, if you’re not generating any revenue beyond member dues and annual meeting fees, the time to explore your options is NOW.

A cautionary word: Make sure your legal team is part of your decision-making process, as they can help you understand the effect non-dues revenue may have on your UBIT (Unrelated Business Income Tax) responsibility and how it could impact your nonprofit status.

We’ve compiled a list of eight potential non-dues revenue sources to consider …

  1. Affinity Programs

As an association, you can be compensated for licensing intellectual or intangible property based on your “affinity” with the vendor.

Besides boosting your income, affinity programs can give your members unique access to products and services such as credit cards, discount travel, and insurance; and can even enhance their reputation and spread brand awareness without requiring you to take any risks or spend money marketing and merchandising directly.

For an affinity program to be truly successful, it has to benefit both your members and your association. Even the most wonderful, valuable offering may cost you 10 times more to manage than you get back in compensation.

  1. Corporate Sponsorships  

A corporate sponsorship is basically an agreement between a business and an association to raise money for a particular cause. For example, corporate sponsors can fund scholarships or underwrite event costs.

Before you hit the pavement in search of potential sponsorships, you need to do some groundwork. First, determine what marketable assets you have that are most interesting to corporations. Then, package them properly to tell a compelling story about your association. Sponsorship packages will carry extra weight if they include testimonials from corporate executives about the value of your organization. Finally, make sure you communicate what sponsors will get in return, like communications to members and access opportunities. Assign a dollar value if at all possible.

  1. Credentialing

Professional credentials can give your members a strong competitive edge in the marketplace and it can give you recurring revenue with annual re-certifications.

However, some sectors have been overrun by very competitive sites offering cheap, and sometimes free, education opportunities. To compete, you need to offer your members more than just a piece of paper. Develop a meaningful program, and then heavily promote it in the marketplace, so members see your credentials as absolutely necessary to further their careers.

  1. Continuing Education

Offer a library of thought leadership materials, like industry-related books and whitepapers, for sale on your website, exclusively for members.

  1. Ad Sales

If you have an active online community, consider selling ad space on the platform. You’ll want to tread lightly with this one, though, because you don’t want your membership to feel taken advantage of.

  1. Rental Space

Don’t allow space in any of your properties go underutilized or unoccupied. Leasing office or warehouse space can be a great moneymaker.

  1. Parking Lot

If you regularly operate a parking lot for use by the general public in exchange for parking fees, these fees would not be treated as rent from real property and would likely be subject to UBIT. However, if you lease the lot to a vendor who operates it on your behalf, the lease payments would constitute rent on real property and would not be subject to UBIT. This is one of those instances where you legal team will need to be involved.

  1. Job Bank

Invite industry-related employers to post their jobs on your website or online community for a fee.

So what’s the best alternative revenue source? That’s a question you have to ask yourself, and your answer should be founded in your members’ greatest needs. Also, consider the financial risk and the investment in resources (including time) required. Make sure the new revenue source aligns with your strategic plan. And, ask yourself if your members will support a new endeavor.

We Hope to See You Soon at the AFP International Fundraising Conference!

Look who made the Must See at AFP list, published by Guidestar: Abila’s own VP of Marketing, Tad Druart!

If you’re headed to the AFP International Fundraising Conference in Baltimore this coming weekend, you’ll want to attend Tad’s session, Sunday, March 29 from 3 to 3:45 p.m. During his talk, “What Really Matters? 2015 Donor Engagement Study – Aligning Nonprofit Strategy with Donor Preferences,” Tad will preview the results from a recent Abila survey fielded to both fundraising professionals and nonprofit supporters.

The intent of the research was to look at engagement through a new lens with a comparative study between how donors engage with organizations and how nonprofits think donors engage with their organizations. Attendees will learn how to align their organization’s engagement strategy with what really matters to donors.

And, on Monday, March 30 at 8:30 a.m., Abila’s Rich Dietz and Brady Keller will join Ellen Tucker, Director of Development at My Healing Place, to host a session titled, “Treat Every Donor Like a Major Donor.” The trio will discuss why you should use “moves management” with your online donors, and what data points you should focus on to increase your engagement. Additionally, they’ll help you develop specific strategies and tactics you can implement immediately to treat all of your donors like major donors.

ban_abila_landingpage_afpThen join the rest of the Abila team, and your peers at our New Heights Happy Hour, Monday at 6 p.m. at The Center Club. An easy walk from the convention center, this private 15th floor venue offers breathtaking panoramic views of Inner Harbor and city skyline.

Finally, just stop by and say hi at Booth #1011. Get your pic taken in our photo booth, grab some Abila swag, and earn a chance to win an iPad mini 3, $200 Southwest Airline gift card, and more!

Get the full scoop and register to attend our happy hour at

Elevate What Matters- Introducing Abila Elevate

facebook_coverWe’re very excited to announce the launch of Abila Elevate™! Elevate is a smart, easy-to-use, cloud-based fundraising solution that allows fundraisers to focus on what matters most and  treat every donor like a major donor.

With current donor management systems, recent industry research shows that organizations lose 61 percent of donors each year and more than $25 billion in donations are at risk of going to another organization. While organizations have mountains of data in their databases, 74 percent of organizations aren’t able to use that data to make strategic decisions. With Elevate, organizations can solve these problems.

Abila Elevate Solves Today’s Fundraising Challenges

  • One-Click Access to the Information Fundraisers Need. A clean, straightforward interface delivers quick access to the insights and data fundraisers need to make informed decisions in record time. Customize dashboards easily with drag-and-drop functionality that allows fundraisers to create a snapshot of upcoming tasks, track campaign performance, and more.
  • Know Donors, Stay Relevant and Responsive.  Abila Elevate allows organizations to engage with donors when, where and how they want. Track preferences and activity to ensure communications are relevant. Elevate’s Circles™ feature provides at-a-glance visibility into a donor’s relationships and communities. Elevate is the first donor management system that provides the capability to understand engagement levels with donor scoring unique to his or her activity with the organization.
  • Minimize Missed Connections and Lost Dollars. The software enables fundraisers to better understand giving cycles and donor behavior to capture the maximum gifts at key intervals. Elevate empowers fundraisers to identify trends in timing and frequency to better time appeals, ensuring fundraisers connect with donors with the right message at the right time.
  • Powerful Reporting for Total Visibility. From the executive director to the Board, Abila Elevate makes it easy to showcase a fundraiser’s success. Quickly surface key data points and generate meaningful summaries without needing to rely on multiple spreadsheets or time-consuming analysis.
  • Access your Data Anytime, Anywhere. Abila Elevate was built from the ground up with direction from today’s fundraising professionals to meet the modern needs of nonprofits and their donors—including those accessing their data from the road, a local coffee shop, or wherever the day takes them. Abila’s SaaS, cloud-based solution includes secure, worry-free storage of an organization’s important donor data.
  • Support When You Need It. Abila provides support via phone or email. Peer communities and online knowledgebase provides on-demand access to best practices, discussion of new ideas, and the ability to share and learn from peers in the industry.

Learn more about how your organization can spend more time reaching and engaging donors and prospects:

Insights and ideas on best practices, trends, and issues for associations, nonprofit organizations, and government entities.

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