Donor Engagement in a Virtual World


Donor Engagement in a Virtual World

When you have relied on events and physical channels for fundraising, surviving during a pandemic requires a shift to a virtual world for donor engagement. The Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has had a wide-reaching global impact on people, businesses and charities. Despite the measures put in place in Australia the virus continues to spread in pockets requiring states to reintroduce restrictions. Even New Zealand, who took one of the hardest stances early, has had to reintroduce restrictions following an outbreak. As a result, many people are still working from home, universities remain predominately online, and whilst sporting competitions have restarted in most states these are very restricted to manage social distancing. These measures, while helping to contain the virus, will certainly impede global productivity.

As a result charities are continuing to face new and challenging fundraising obstacles, increased portfolio volatility, along with an increase in demand for services. Charities and not-for-profits must continue to engage their donors and advocates as now is the time they are most needed. When you are unable to use your tried and tested methods you may need to consider innovative options that overcome the social distancing constraints which may extend for some time. In this article we will provide you with some strategies for donor engagement in a virtual world.

Virtual Engagement

As many organisations have had to already do, we are fortunate to have technology that enables us to connecting with donors without creating risk to individual's health. This does not mean everything needs to be done via a Zoom meeting. Each individual is different and the more you can personalise their experience the better your results. Even if you have not yet segmented your supporters and developed a donor journey map, you can start now. Consider each donor and what you know about them. Do they like to chat? Do they generally prefer to read information before making a decision? Do they like to read and then discuss? Answering these questions will help you decide which of the following virtual engagement options will be most effective.


According to a 2013 Google survey 57% of people who watch a charity (not-for-profit) video go on to make a donation. You do not need flash equipment or anexpensive programme to make a video. Everyone can do it with a smartphone or your laptop camera. The key is to structure you messages before you start, keep the video to no more than 3 minutes and be genuine and down to earth.

You could show your supporters what you have been doing during the pandemic. It may be something you have adapted in your current process to make sure you are meeting the needs of beneficiaries. It may be a heartfelt update from your Chief Executive Officer or one of your recipients talking about the impact your charity has made. The content options are numerous and will be specific to your charity and your donor's interests.

Once it is filmed you then need to work out the best means of communicating it. Whether you decide to set up a YouTube channel, publish it on your website or Facebook page or email a link to your donors and members who would be most interested. Perhaps you will do all of those and monitor the clicks to see which is most effective.

Video Chat

For those donors who prefer to meet face to face you can either do a video chat via your mobile phone or set up an online meeting using any of the numerous platforms available for free. Virtual meetings allow donors to put a face to your charity and start to build, or grow, a relationship. Stewardship of donors can still continue in a virtual world.

Phone Calls

Now is actually a fantastic time to call donors. Your call does not need to start with an ask for donations, and in fact it we do not recommend it does. With isolation and health concerns restricting many people's interaction with others, there has never been a better time to get on the phone and check in with your supporters. Ask how they are doing, how their health is, have they been able to get out and about, how has their daily life changed, what keeps them awake at night. The questions are endless as is the opportunity to deepen your organisation's relationship with donors. Make sure you let them know how much your charity appreciates them.

To continue to build your donor journey map make sure you ask them how often they'd like to hear from your charity and what types of communications they prefer.


Email is still a great way to reach your community albeit you need to balance what you send, when you send it and how often you send it. The pandemic has actually seen a decrease in email traffic after an initial spike in mid May, according to Oracle. What is great for charities is that email open rates have significantly increased with unsubscribe rates much lower. This means email is a potentially great channel for charities to use effectivity to engage their community. As with all communications, it needs to be relevant, engaging and sent at the most optimal time. Determining this time may take some testing of different days and times to see which produces the greatest open and click rates.

Social Media

If your charity does not already actively use social media (Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter etc), now is a great time to start. Social media provides an easy way to stay engaged with existing and prospective donors. Using different platforms can allow you to connect with different supporters in their preferred channel. Whilst it takes a little time the payback can be worth it. Not only will you reach your supporters, but they will hopefully share your content with their networks to increase your chance of receiving donations. Find out more in our recent YouTube video from Social Media expert Ember Solutions.

Virtual Events

Here's where you can get creative! No doubt you have either heard about, or participated in, the various virtual events that have been held. Whether they are dinner parties, virtual drinks, Couch Choir, virtual concerts or meetings. There is nothing stopping you hosting a virtual event for your organisation. Perhaps you usually have an event that includes an auction of donated items. Why not host a virtual auction? If you usually put on a concert, or event with a guest speaker, and generate money from ticket sales, perhaps you could film the event or show and ask people to donate, like a telethon, or pay to view it.

Even if you run a trivia or game night, why not turn that into a virtual event? There are many free resources available to assist you.


The pandemic is having a huge impact on daily lives and the economy. The government, and economic commentators, expect this to be prolonged. Trying different ways of fundraising costs you little more than time and whilst that is precious, if it is going to be a long period before we can return to a new normal, it is surely worth giving it a go.

Make sure you adapt your communications to reflect the environment we are in. Engage your donors via the channels and frequency they prefer and stay connected. Being their for your donors will go a long way to maintaining their support.

Fundraising remains the primary way charities meet their budget requirements. Proactive communications, and outreach, to your community has never been more important. Utilising alternate engagement methods, as detailed in this article, can help your organisation stay connected and engaged with your donors and supporters.