Engagement Fundraising Attracts Donors Using Digital Marketing Tactics


Fundraising is important not just for business but also for non-profit organizations. This book deals with the latter. And it's an important skill for leaders today.

engagement fundraising

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Marketers have written extensively about how businesses should improve their marketing. It’s a problem for small businesses, too.

But how much consideration is spent on nonprofits, particularly small organizations as they, like small businesses, adopt the same digital marketing tactics as those meant for retailers?

To speak to this consideration, nonprofits and financing managers should read Engagement Fundraising: How to Raise More Money for Less in the 21st Century by Greg Warner.   Warner is the CEO and founder of MarketSmart, a software and services firm providing nonprofit marketing solutions. The title of his book uses a phrase he coined in 2013 to encapsulate his fundraising approach and it’s one non-profit organizations and small businesses need today.

I enjoyed the review copy I received and I consider the book a good read for nonprofit managers and workers that are increasingly relying on an online presence to complement its off-line fundraising tactics.

What Is Engagement Fundraising About?

Engagement Fundraising changes fundraising tactics to fit a world more accustomed to ecommerce approaches. In the opening pages, Warner mentions the challenge that fundraisers face — that “regard for the donor is lost in a never-ending chase for the next donation.”  He interviews experts, discovering that many do not understand the marketing communication needed to raise gifts. Warner further explains:

“Fundraisers like you are in a difficult spot. You are constantly being asked to raise more money by your board of directors, but you don’t have the staff, resources, or tools to do it the right way….Generic, impersonal one-way communications may be easier for your non-profit to distribute and may provide short-term gains, but it doesn’t pay off in the long run.”

Warner goes into how donor expectations have changed. Seven chapters cover the motivations for donations, and how to adjust with tech and better crafted donation offers tuned specifically to these motivations.

What I Liked about Engagement Fundraising

I liked how Warner drives home the consequences of overlooking donor interests when fundraising.  Here’s how Warner explains the rising pressure to attract donor attention, highlighting donors are “customers”:

“First, charities have tremendous competition from other charities. According to the National Philanthropic Trust, the number of public charities in the US has grown from 721,456 in 2001 to 1,521,052 in 2015. That’s nothing short of explosive thanks to passionate individuals and families trying to save the world — usually from headquarters at their own kitchen tables.”

Speaking to donor sentiment and infusing more systematic solutions from for-profit organizations, Warner forces non -profit leaders to rethink their approach. Moreover, Engagement Fundraising works to provide straight-forward concepts giving nonprofit managers the right essentials to experiment with the notions Warner advocates.

What Could have Worked Differently in Engagement Fundraising?

One slight concern with this book is that some of the recommendations are not as in-depth on digital media as they could be. There’s no mention of analytics and its potential use to shift where organizations should spend their budgets.  It’s an odd omission given how digital marketing has become so widespread in so many business models, let alone as a strategic tactic.

But that concern does not overall diminish the value of Warner’s message. He is right that nonprofits must recognize their mission must infuse degrees of digital marketing.   For example, a chapter “Don’t Ask – Offer!” demonstrates Warner’s fundraising insights drawn from the philosophy of digital marketing — to provide timely information and not badger.

“People generally avoid thinking about giving away their money while they’re still alive. To most decreasing what’s been earned and saved as a result of decades of perseverance and hard work is unnatural….The best way to overcome these obstacles is to make your offers opaque so supporters only see and consider what’s in front of them.”

It’s significant how Warner stresses the need for fundraising offers to be opaque — a timely message given that ad fraud has been on the rise in some instances.  Pairing this title with a marketing book offering a deeper dive into digital advertising would be essential to refining your own ideas while incorporating Warner’s solid concepts.

Why Read Engagement Fundraising?

Warner writes in the opening pages how this book offers a good digital transition for managers from tech-phobic organizations.  But I feel Engagement Fundraising delivers more of a fresh financial rethink that will make organizations realign the tasks necessary to accomplish their mission. Fundraising requires the building of a relationship with donors, in the same way small businesses must build a relationship with their customers.

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Pierre DeBois Pierre Debois is Associate Book Editor for Small Business Trends. He is the Founder of Zimana, a consultancy providing strategic analysis to small and medium sized businesses that rely on web analytics data. A Gary, Indiana native, Pierre is currently based in Brooklyn. He blogs about marketing, finance, social media, and analytics at Zimana blog.