Authentic Engagement

You can’t be in development today without at least saying that you aim to engage your donors.  It’s the language that all sophisticated development professionals use.  I sometimes wonder, though, how many who use the engagement language actually understand and practice it.

If you look up the word “engage,” you come across the following synonyms:

  • Absorb
  • Engross
  • Interest
  • Involve

Unfortunately, I think the rich concept of donor engagement has been cheapened to the point of meaning something akin to simply visiting with donors — much in the same way as the Prospect Management term, “cultivation,” has become synonymous with “visiting.”

Are we really committed to engrossing and absorbing our donors with the work of our institutions?  Are we serious about truly involving and creating a deep sense of interest in our donors?

In my experience, we spend much more time strategizing the solicitation of our donors and much less time simply engaging them.  That’s like a guy spending only a little time with his girlfriend and far more time planning how he will ask her to marry him.  It’s not about the ask, it’s about the relationship.

When we understand that we get the best results when we seek to absorb, engross, involve, and interest our donors, we will practice authentic engagement.


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