A robust collection of donor data is an amazing asset to a nonprofit, though finding the best details to include and the best way to use what you know can be overwhelming when you get right down to it.

There are some amazing professionals out there who can help you parse through your fundraising data, like those who made DonorSearch’s list of the top fundraising consultants. You can also dedicate time yourself to build and organize your donor database.

But, how do you know which pieces of data in your donor management system will be the most useful as you move toward more effective supporter engagement?

Here are five essential details you should know about your donors to improve your fundraising and retention efforts:

  1. Average gift size
  2. Preferred giving channel
  3. Communication style
  4. Philanthropic interests
  5. Employer information

With these details in your donor management system, you can customize your fundraising and outreach efforts to better engage your donors and increase your donations because of it!

Let’s jump into it.

DS-Abila-5 Must-Know Donor Details to Improve Supporter Engagement-header1 (002)

1. Average gift size

Communications with donors should be as unique as the donors themselves. By asking for what donors can give, not more or less, you increase your chances they’ll follow through. Keeping tabs on donors’ average gift size can help you determine what you can realistically ask for.

Think about it this way: If a donor’s average gift size is high, why ask her for less? Sending out personalized asks helps ensure you don’t leave gifts on the table.

Developing a close relationship with major donors is a smart plan for the future of your nonprofit, not just the present. Bringing a major gift officer on board could help you manage these kinds of high-value relationships.

On the flipside, sending major gift asks to donors who’ve never given half that amount is unlikely to pay off. Aim for what your data shows you can expect, and you’re less likely to be disappointed.

Besides helping you tailor your asks, knowing your donors’ average gift size can help you engage them in other ways.

If you notice a donor on the cusp of a higher giving level, you might be able to encourage him to increase his gift. You could time this request for a larger gift around the holidays or during a peer-to-peer campaign to increase your chance of success.

Or, if your database reveals that a low-level donor has an interest in volunteer work or a valuable service to provide in kind, you could try asking for a different kind of donation from her.

Takeaway: A gift is a gift, no matter what form it comes in, and you wouldn’t have such a flexible strategy if you didn’t keep track of average gift amounts.

DS-Abila-5 Must-Know Donor Details to Improve Supporter Engagement-header2 (002)

2. Preferred giving channel

There are more fundraising channels than ever before, and donors have their preferences. You can (and should!) pay attention to these preferences, and send asks that correspond to your supporters’ favorite giving channels.

Donors’ giving preferences and your response to them can determine the success of your asks. Donors who would prefer sending a check aren’t likely to text to give, and vice versa, so you need to be flexible.

Plus, providing many ways to give allows more donors to contribute.

Online giving is making up a larger portion of donations every year, so you should consider investing in online donation software if you haven’t already. You’ve got plenty of options to choose from, so consider these strategies and choose a software that helps you meet your goals:

  • Optimize your online donation page. You’ll want to feature an easy-to-use donation form that matches the branding on the rest of your website.
  • Emphasize mobile giving. Is your donation page mobile-optimized? Can your supporters text a number to donate to your organization?
  • Make email giving simple with buttons. Provide predetermined giving amounts on these buttons, and design the confirmation email or webpage to be as simple as possible.

Not as familiar with online fundraising? Here’s a step-by-step guidebook for setting up your nonprofit for online fundraising success, including worksheets.

While you should diversify your giving channels, software can be expensive. You only want to purchase and maintain software that pays off by the amount of donations it brings in, narrowing down the field to their most likely choices is practical.

To make sure you’re maximizing your potential profits through your chosen giving channel, you can lean on your donor database.

If you have details about how donors have given in the past, you can assume they’re likely to give in the same way again. Many donors, in fact, prefer to attend a fun fundraising event, instead of just sending in a donation. 

There are also ways to determine which new methods of giving are likely to resonate with your donors. Other fields in your database can tell you more than you think. For instance, age group or participation in active hobbies might indicate a donor’s openness to giving her time as a volunteer.

Takeaway: However your supporters prefer to give, offering options and being smart about which you choose increases your chances of engaging successfully and often! with donors.

DS-Abila-5 Must-Know Donor Details to Improve Supporter Engagement-header3 (002)

3. Communication style

Just like every donor has his or her preferred way to give, every donor also knows how he or she wants to hear from you. To get your word out to everyone you can, you need to carefully choose how you’re going to send out your message.

One of the most popular forms of outreach is email. Though direct mail is a similarly effective method of communication, email is free and quick. If you know your donors prefer email communication, it could be an incredibly effective way to get your message out to them.

But, besides the benefits of lower cost and quick delivery, there’s no guarantee recipients will even open your email, much less read all the way to the end.

When sending email communication, consider these elements and the effect they could have on your donor engagement:

  • Subject line: An engaging subject line will encourage recipients to open the email. Words like “why” and “how” can help make subjects enticing.
  • Recipient’s name: Many systems allow you to automatically populate the recipient field with your donor’s name instead of his email. Not only will including names make your communication seem more personal, it could help your email not get caught in a spam filter.
  • Timing: Working professionals might not be able to check their personal email inboxes while at work. If you send your email too early in the day, it could get buried below other emails.

For more help with email outreach, check out this list of email marketing tips for putting together your next campaign.

Takeaway: Communication style is an essential piece of your campaign, and there are many obstacles to the most popular methods of communication. Make sure to strategize beyond just which communication style to employ!

DS-Abila-5 Must-Know Donor Details to Improve Supporter Engagement-header4 (002)

4. Philanthropic interests

Now that you know how best to engage with your donors and what kinds of gifts you can expect from them, it’s time to think of how to ask them to give to specific campaigns. Keep in mind, donors are more likely to give to a campaign that aligns with their individual interests.

To know which specific projects will resonate with your donors, you need to know all of their philanthropic interests.

The best way to determine these interests is to conduct prospect research on your donors. Look into individuals’ past giving to the different campaigns you’ve led, as well as their general giving history. Pick up on trends and tailor your communications to them, emphasizing your connection to the causes you have in common.

No matter the interest area in which you’re fundraising, knowing about your supporters’ other philanthropic interests can benefit your efforts. Take these scenarios, for example:

  • At the end of the year, you see that many of your supporters are donating to women’s shelters. Next year, you decide to partner with a different women’s center to run a bake sale.

No matter the specific area of philanthropic interest, those donors who already give are more likely to give in a related or totally different sector.

Takeaway: The advantage of knowing the philanthropic interests of your donors in any sector is your own future planning. If you’re aware that a large portion of your donors have a specific interest in common and they’re all passionate about it, that knowledge can inform campaigns you might consider for the future.

DS-Abila-5 Must-Know Donor Details to Improve Supporter Engagement-header5 (002)

5. Employer information

While your donors’ philanthropic interests are obviously valuable to know, it might not seem as important to know where your donors work. But this information is incredibly valuable to you as you put together highly effective communication, for one important reason.

Imagine that every donation were doubled overnight, with no extra funds coming from the individual donors themselves.

That’s what you can achieve by marketing to donors whose employers offer matching gift programs!

Matching gift programs are initiatives by companies that will donate the same amount as employees to reputable charitable causes, given proper paperwork. These programs are worth their salt, especially for those smaller donations that can start to really add up once matching gifts are factored in.

Take healthcare fundraising again. Organizations fundraising in this sector can capitalize on corporations that want to be associated with a cause that brings such wide-ranging support as a health-related one does. Perhaps corporations would partner with you long-term, or they might even reward you a challenge grant (a corporation promising a certain amount of donations to a nonprofit if the nonprofit meets predetermined fundraising goals).

There may be caps for matched donations or restrictions about which causes the companies will match gifts to, which you should research before reaching out.

Takeaway: The only way to tap into the benefits of matching gift programs is to know where your donors work. Prioritize this detail in your database for a huge potential payoff.

Every donor is different, and each individual detail about him or her is a way for you to connect. The more personalized your asks can be, the better your chance that donors will be inclined to engage with them.

For even more ways to turn details into gifts, check out these 12 must-knows about your donors.

About the Author

Bill Tedesco is a well-known entrepreneur in the field of philanthropy with more than 15 years of experience leading companies serving the fundraising profession. Bill has personally conducted original research to identify markers of philanthropy and has developed modeling and analytical products that use those markers to accurately predict future giving. Since 2007, Bill has been the founder, CEO, and Managing Partner of DonorSearch.