9 strategies to increase customer engagement

How charities can involve donors and volunteers in achieving their targets

By Jeroen de Rooij & Gülsün Gün

The time when it was a matter of course that charitable organisations could count on a growing, loyal following is far behind us. In practice the charitable sector faces a number of major challenges. It is becoming increasingly expensive and difficult to recruit a new structural donor. On the one hand existing fundraising channels are under pressure due to rising costs and stricter legislation and regulations. On the other hand, (potential) donors have become more critical and have high expectations of the organisation: they expect a personalised experience and maximum impact from their donation. The bar is being raised ever higher.

As a non-profit organisation, you want to make an impact and have sustainable resources to achieve your mission objectives. For sustainable growth, in addition to recruitment and cost reduction, you need to focus on increasing the involvement of your supporters. This focus pays off! An engaged relationship stays longer, gives more, takes action more often and speaks positively about your organisation to others. In successful sustainable fundraising, it is not the gift but the relationship that is central.

Chances are that "engagement" is also high on the agenda in your organisation. But what do we understand by 'engagement'? And how do we ensure that the supporters are more engaged?

The concept of engagement is abstract and a search for the definition yields various descriptions. Depending on the context, the definition and scope of engagement is determined. It can be literally about an engagement between two people, but also about the last phase of a buyer journey. For some organisations, engagement can also be limited to one channel, such as online engagement, which refers to the open, like and click behaviour of target groups. In marketing terms, the meaning of engagement is as follows: 'the degree to which the relationship feels involved with your brand/organization'. Often the concepts of engagement, loyalty or bonding are used interchangeably, but they all refer to the same thing.

The first step you can take is to discuss and concretise what engagement means for the organisation. You then immediately give direction to your engagement strategy. Our personal experience is that most organisations quickly come up with: 'the engagement of a relationship'.

They find it more difficult when they are presented with statements such as: Which relationship is more engaged? A structural donor without any form of interaction or a one-time donor who always opens the newsletters and regularly clicks on an article?". Getting all our noses in the same direction is the start.

In order to better understand engagement, we dive deeper into the matter. Engagement consists of several dimensions: attitudinal and behavioural. These dimensions can exist separately, but they are inextricably linked. For example, someone may have a very positive attitude and preference for your organisation, but otherwise not give any money (or time). This relationship is mainly emotionally connected. Conversely, a relation can donate (did not dare say no at the door), but otherwise not feel emotionally connected to the organisation. Behaviour is visible and easier to measure. You can see how much and how often is given in a certain period. But when it comes to what a donor thinks and feels, it is often guesswork based on assumptions.

To increase the engagement of relationships, both dimensions need to be managed. Behaviour (action) is the result of a Thought (head) and before that there is a Feeling (heart) (G-schema). In order to stimulate desired behaviour (engagement), such as structural donation, it is important to also pay the necessary attention to the emotional side, such as the experiences of a donor (experiences). And you can design valuable donor experiences! In general, the more positive experiences (those moments that matter), the more involved a donor becomes, the more valuable the relationship.

9 strategies to help charitable organisations increase their engagement:

1. Collecting insights from donors and volunteers

Understanding the wishes, needs and expectations of donors and volunteers is the foundation of an effective engagement strategy. The aim is to meet these wishes and needs and, where possible, to slightly exceed expectations. Qualitative research in the form of in-depth interviews or focusing on groups are effective methods for identifying underlying personal motivations in order to subsequently better tailor follow-up offers and communications to (groups of) donors. There are various ways of gathering customer insights, usually by asking questions or deriving them from behaviour.

2. Personal & relevant communication

The more personal and relevant charity organisations communicate with their supporters, the more successful they are at engaging and retaining donors and volunteers. Communication that is tailored to an individual's interests, delivered via their preferred channel, contributes significantly to increasing engagement. The insights gathered in point 1 are very useful here! At the start of the relationship, ask someone about their areas of interest and which project or research they would like to support, and tailor the follow-up contact moments accordingly. Keep in mind that preferences can change, people say what they think and do what they feel and not everyone wants to receive communication. This is therefore a continuous process of collecting insights and translating them into dynamic content.

3. Attention & Appreciation

It's obvious, but a sustainable relationship cannot exist without paying attention to the person behind the gift. Donors need appreciation (we are happy with your gift) and motivation (your gift makes our work possible). Confirm the donor in the decision made and do not forget to provide feedback on how the donation was spent. Do donors who regularly make a one-time gift always receive the same confirmation? Or do you see and acknowledge that they have given more often? Encourage generous or long-term donations with small gifts, handwritten cards or a warm phone call. See what suits your organisation.


It is a reliable organisation. My donation is well spent.


I feel recognised, acknowledged, heard and valued.


And that is why I support this organisation and give in money and/or time.

4. Co-creation & Interaction

Avoid one-way traffic by letting the donor speak for himself. Look for dialogue and interaction. A short (online) survey can start the dialogue and is also valuable to get to know the donor better. In the form of co-creation, you can involve the supporters in campaigns, issues and propositions. It is a form of cooperation characterised by dialogue and 'common ground'. Moreover, in this way you are assured that the outcome meets the needs and wishes of the supporters. A win-win situation!

5. Providing perspectives for action

Offer action perspectives to donors. The more roles (volunteer, donor, newsletter reader, etc) someone has, the higher their involvement. The same goes for people who engage with an organisation across multiple channels (email, phone, social media, etc). Empower them to take action. Such as sharing experiences, and signing up for events and actions, then analyse and optimise these actions.

6. Frictionless through the customer journey

Anything that slows down or complicates the journey is friction. If the donor has to wait a long time or has to perform extra actions, that is friction. If you have made the journey transparent, you can find out where the friction is and act on it. All the interventions you make that make the journey 'Easy, Effective & Enjoyable' (article in VF#1) ensure a better experience and that in turn leads to higher engagement.

7. Influencing techniques

In addition to removing friction, you can also use 'Nudging', a motivational technique, to subtly encourage the donor or volunteer to continue the customer journey you want them to have. Using an incentive such as an e-book can also work well. The more you give as an organisation, the greater the chance that people will give back, this falls under the principle of 'Reciprocity. Cialdini's 7 principles are widely known and easy to apply. A frequently used influencing technique is 'commitment & consistency'. Door-to-door recruited structural donors who are asked the question: "Are you planning to support our organisation for a long time?" stay longer on average than the group of donors who are not asked this question. This is because they want to be consistent with the commitment they have previously made.

8. Employee Engagement

Do not underestimate the influence of employees in retaining and involving your supporters. Not just the frontliners, but all employees within your organisation. It is not for nothing that it is claimed that satisfied employees make for satisfied customers. Invest in increasing the involvement of your employees, by living up to their expectations, giving them room to contribute and making the contribution they make transparent and celebrating it.

9. Positive customer experiences

Last but not least, what it is all about: positive experiences and valuable encounters. Not a one-off stroke of luck, but a continuous process of learning and optimisation. Positive experiences contribute to engagement. A negative experience does not mean that the relationship is immediately broken, as long as the journey is positive across the board and at the end. Ask the question: 'How do I want the donor (after contact with our organisation) to think and feel? What will this donor say to someone else about our organisation?' But above all, think about how you can enrich the life of the donor or volunteer instead of just the other way around.


Donor Experience: Perception that a relation has of our brand and which is largely determined by every interaction he/she has with our organisation

Donor Engagement: Intention of a relationship to stay connected to our organisation in the coming years

Jeroen de Rooij
Creative Director


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