The Game Changer: Engagement for Growth and Success in the Nonprofit Industry



Corinna Krauskopf has 12 years of formal people experience.  A professional friendmaker first and fundraiser second, she has been able to take the best of her sales experience, keen strategy savvy and genuine interest in people to inspire support for nonprofits that fit with their desire to make an impact.  Her goal is ensuring those who wish to make a difference are connected with the means to do so.  A current student in the NYU SCPS Master of Fundraising program, she works as a Major Gifts Officer for an international nonprofit and spends her spare time going on adventures with her dog, Lotus. 


In 2011, the number of nonprofits in the United States totaled 1,574,674 and surpassed the growth rate of both business and government sectors (Urban Institute). This increase and continued growth will position nonprofits in higher visibility in today’s society. It will also lead to additional competition for resources such as time, talent and treasure from other nonprofits that share similar missions or service areas.

To remain competitive, nonprofits must focus on the root of their success - engagement of their supporters. The structures of nonprofit organizations are evolving towards operations and accountability commonly found in the business sector. However, engagement can be overlooked in the business sector, resulting in poor customer service. 

For example: Have you ever consciously thought about your experience conducting business? Whether it’s making a purchase online, getting your car serviced or a doctor’s visit, what is your impression of the experience? Do you dread it? Hope that things go smoothly? Look forward to it when it is over? This type of thought process has become commonplace. Rarely do we look forward to the actual experience of engaging a business to satisfy a need.

When we do look forward to dealing with a business, it’s because we’ve had a positive experience with them. That experience could be as simple as a satisfying response to a question. It could be how a company valued your patronage. Or, it could be because a trusted colleague recommended a particular business as a result of his positive experience. Regardless of the reason, when individuals have a positive experience, they are more inclined to support future business transactions as well as encourage others to do the same.

Historically, nonprofits have been started by like-minded individuals who join together around a common mission. Their interest and passion lay with the cause and they value support from others who care about the same issues. Continued engagement occurs when supporters feel not only appreciated but also when they have a personal role  in the success of the mission. 

Nonprofits must not lose sight of the importance of keeping supporters engaged. Information, involvement, acknowledgement and appreciation are the keys to turning an initial positive experience into a long time relationship — this is the cycle of engagement. The following offers an outline of the cycle of engagement.

Information: Track your data. Make sure it is organized, accessible and secure in a donor database. . This is your foundation for relationships and for the assurance that your supporters will have a personalized and engaged role within your organization.  Your information should address:

  • Who is supporting you?
    • Name
    • Address
    • Email
    • Phone
    • Business
  • How were they introduced to your organization?
    • Mutual contact?
    • Attend an event?
    • Are they a parent of a student who is involved?
    • Respond to a prospect mailing?
    • Find you on the web?
    • Does their company have an existing relationship with the organization?
  • What kind of support is s/he providing? 
    • Volunteer
    • Donor
    • Prospect
  • Support history
    • First gift date, amount, campaign and appeal
    • Subsequent gift data
    • First volunteer event, date, and role
    • Has s/he been acknowledged and thanked for each contribution?
    • Are there copies of all correspondence included in file?
    • Are there internal notes based on conversations and next steps?
      • Is there a pattern to their support?
      • Is there someone they should meet internally to help build their relationship with the organization?
    • Have they lapsed in their support?
      • If so, why?
      • Can it be resolved?
      • Is there something new they may be interested in supporting?
    • Have they ever been asked for more than they currently provide?
      • Strategy
      • Ask team
      • Outcome
      • Next steps
  • Where do their interests lie? Know what aspects to your mission inspire them.
  • How do they like to be contacted about additional events and news from your organization? 
    • Email
    • Phone call
    • Mail
    • How often would they like to be contacted?
  • Who is primarily responsible for this relationship? 
  • Executive Director
  • Board Member
  • Director of Development
  • Major Gifts Officer

This data will provide you with the necessary tools to relate and build a relationship that is based on fact and history instead of chance and happenstance.

Involvement: Once you have a picture of your supporter, you can begin to target information and opportunity for additional experiences within your organization. For example:

  • Was your organization mentioned in the media regarding a topic that s/he finds interesting?
  • Is there an event coming up that s/he would be interested in attending?
  • Is there an opportunity for volunteering?
  • Is there a new program that needs help getting started?
  • Is there a testimonial from a satisfied client that you could share?

Providing additional ways to get involved or examples of the results of their involvement allow for a deeper level of engagement. This also enables supporters to feel connected to your organization in multiple ways.

Acknowledgement: Volunteers, donors and staff all play a crucial role in the success of the delivery of your mission to the community. The acknowledgement process  should be the cornerstone of your development operations. Different types of acknowledgement could be:

  • Thank You letter
  • Personal phone call from a board member, key staff or volunteer
  • Email

The importance of the acknowledgement in continuing a positive relationship with your supporters is pivotal. Nonprofits should have protocol regarding proper forms of acknowledgement based on types and levels of support to ensure consistent delivery to all involved.

Appreciation: This step is similar to acknowledgement but there is a very important distinction. Acknowledgement is an act, appreciation is a feeling. Nonprofits want their supporters to walk away from the experience feeling good. A negative feeling will hinder future engagement efforts and as stated earlier, people support nonprofits to satisfy a feeling of positive impact. Perpetuate good feelings associated with the nonprofit and you build trust and supportive followers willing to continue towards the growth and success of your mission through individual actions and endorsements to others.

Prioritizing these steps will provide a way for nonprofits to continue the engagement initially instilled with the founding of the organization. Maintaining this momentum will aid in the growth of supporters and reduce fallout from disgruntled and unappreciated supporters. 

Understanding the value of an engaged supporter is something all nonprofits should not only recognize but also integrate into their development strategy. This is how we change the game of changing the world, one mission at a time.

Designed and Hosted by Princeton Online
© The George Heyman, Jr. Center for Philanthropy and Fundraising | Site Map | Privacy Policy | Login