Donor engagement will be different for a long while – perhaps forever – even after a vaccine for COVID-19 is in place and distributed widely. The ways in which we engage or involve donors will change because of the reduction of in-person opportunities, events, and activities. Additionally, a change in our approach to donor engagement will occur because societal-level expectations regarding the use of technology to communicate will increase while at the same time, the ROI of in-person donor meetings (think: flying to visit donors in your portfolio over a 4-day trip) will most likely be devalued.
Yes, of course, in-person events in the future will still occur. And, yes, gift officers will still travel to visit key donors. But, it is safe to say that these engagement strategies won’t happen nearly as often as they did 6 months ago. And, it is also wise to assume that we will all be expected to layer-on video-conferencing and other technology tools to engage donors well.
The challenge, today, is that many advancement leaders (and gift officers themselves) equate meaningful “donor engagement,” with “meeting in person.” Yes, everyone can understand, from an intellectual standpoint, that our use of technologies such as video-conferencing is most likely here to stay. That’s easy to say. But I’m already finding the well-worn “engagement=in-person activities” mindset to be a hard habit for many advancement leaders to break.
We must dust off and remind ourselves what the authentic definition of donor engagement has always meant and will continue to mean into the future. It is not synonymous with “in-person.” It is far more comprehensive than that:
Donor Engagement is a process of gathering input from or deeply involving individuals, business leaders, community leaders, and other donor prospects who care about or are positively impacted by your mission.
When we accept fully that high-quality donor engagement starts with our being open and willing to listen and learn from them, we are setting our institutions on the right path. Those advancement leaders and gift officers who are creative, innovative, curious, energized, and willing to use all viable tools, channels, and platforms will be the ones who employ winning donor engagement strategies for years to come.
If you aren’t already, in the future you will be performing major gift donor discovery, cultivation, gift invitation, and stewardship outside of in-person meetings. You probably should start practicing now.