The 360 Degree Donor Engagement Model

The generally accepted model for nonprofit fundraising goes something like this. If there is the luxury of staff, there are multiple people assigned to each task, if not, there is a single (very busy) person performing multiple duties. Work includes Events, Major Donor solicitation, Individual Giving, Planned Giving, Grant Writing, Corporate Relationships, the Annual Fund, and so on. Each of these activities is a separate work stream and typically has its own project plan.

Imagine now a different, simpler approach that takes full advantage of development staff talent and increases productivity. And that uses as its organizing principle meeting donors’ needs for personal and professional connection to the organization. And that even eliminates some of the risk inherent in the overreliance on any one individual type of giving or donor. Sounds pretty good, right? We think so too.

The big shift here is one of mindset; this approach involves moving away from conventional fundraising structures and embracing a more progressive approach that is consistent with the way donors (who are also consumers of lots of other products and services) engage with the rest of their world.

We call this the Donor Engagement model, and we draw it like this. This model says explicitly that the donor experience is the first step (the outer ring) in the process of establishing a relationship with the two core constituencies from whom donations are solicited – individuals and institutions. The three components of the donor experience in this model are 1) interaction with donors, 2) message – what is communicated to donors, and 3) brand – how the organization appears in the world.

Donor Engagement Model


In this approach, workflow is organized around developing enduring and meaningful relationships with the two core categories of donors – Individuals and Institutions. Within each category, or course, further workflow distinctions need to be made; the activities of soliciting corporate in-kind donations and grant writing are different tasks, and so on.

Structuring a development or advancement team around the engagement model we’ve described instead of a conventional development task-oriented silo model creates significant organizational flexibility, opens up many new ways of interacting with marketing and social media teams and partners as well as many other parts of the organization, and embraces the idea that many individual donors also have important institutional ties that may also be connected back to the organization.

This approach also likely – and logically – eliminates much less financially productive workstreams. Think about phone banks, for example. These days, even though one might think it theoretically nice to chat with one’s alma mater, it’s just so much easier for donors to “block” that incoming call than even have to think about an unexpected conversation. On the other hand, figuring out how to reach out to giving circles – which are growing quickly – may be more of a challenge in the short term but is becoming absolutely necessary. Our donor-centric model forces a laser-like focus on where donors are in their lives and prods us to meet them there.

For nonprofits and social enterprises focused on sustainable revenue, the Donor Engagement model is a great way to think about structuring relationships with individual and institutional donors.