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Effective Donor Engagement for Churches – Part 1

Effective Donor Engagement for Churches

Top givers in our churches today are also generous supporters of other organizations – causes and charities for which they also have a passion. In conversations with major donors across the country, I’m struck by how poor their donor experience is with the church. Other nonprofits and charitable organizations do a much better job of stewarding, engaging and growing their donors than the church.

But we can – and must – change that.

In this series, we’ll be giving pastors and church leaders practical tools for improving the donor experience. Over the course of four blogs, we’ll unpack The Four-Part Cycle of Donor Engagement. This process is a best practice approach to building and stewarding donor relationships. We’ll take each part of the cycle and share specifically how it works in the context of a church. 

The Four-Part Cycle of Donor Engagement

This will guide you in how to best leverage your staff and your volunteer leadership throughout the donor engagement cycle. I have come to believe strongly in a four-part cycle for donors: (1) acknowledgment, (2) trust-building, (3) presenting the case for support, and (4) the ask. The cycle is important as it keeps the donor’s needs, interests, and values in view at all times.

So let’s dive in with the first phase of the donor cycle. The foundation of my relationship with a donor, like the foundation of my relationship with any friend, is what we call “acknowledgement.”

In your interactions with this person, you acknowledge his or her value as a human being. You can do this by giving attention to life details, activities, opinions and values. You also acknowledge a donor’s generosity and affirm the role he or she has already played in the ministry of the church. Gratitude and appreciation are core to the relationship. When you send a message of genuine thanks for the donor’s time, you build credibility.

So how do we apply this concept inside the church with our givers? 

  1. Team thanking. First, consider your staff – all your staff – as a team in this approach to your donors. Whether you’re a large, multicampus church or a staff of two or three part-time employees, have the conversation about donor gratitude and how everyone can be involved in thanking your givers. Set a goal of making sure your consistent, recurring donors hear from you. An occasional handwritten thank you card, a phone message or a personal email is a great way to do this. The thanks of the pastor is critical. However, your staff reaching out at times throughout the year to thank tithers and consistent donors also sends an important message of their value.
  2. Team thinking. No matter the size of your church, involving key volunteers in thanking donors can also have a significant impact. The adult volunteers who chaperoned the youth mission trip could divide up notes and photos to those who contributed to make it happen. Your worship or board volunteers could tag team occasional notes to your significant contributors. Tell them how their support impacts the ongoing work of the church’s ministries. 
  3. Strive for tangible, specific examples of impact. Use your broad “team” of staff and key volunteers to generate a list of all the specific and tangible things your givers make possible with their tithes and offerings. How are your donors advancing the Kingdom work on a day-by-day basis in your congregation? Refresh this list at least a couple times a year. And keep it in the forefront for your acknowledgments and donor communications. This is one area where the church could most learn from nonprofit organizations, who often share with donors EXACTLY what gifts at certain levels help accomplish. Use your budget and your ministry outcomes to be as specific as you can with givers about their impact.


Acknowledgement is the crucial foundation on which an authentic donor relationship and any eventual larger request for funds must be built. One might say I must “earn the right” to present the case for support for future projects. If I have acknowledged the donor and his or her impact adequately, I can eventually present a case for greater support with confidence that I won’t be violating the values of the donor, or unintentionally devaluing the donor. 

In the next blog of this series, we’ll explore the phase of trust-building and simple ways your church can enhance the donor experience.

Effective Donor Engagement for Churches guide

Effective Donor Engagement for Churches

No matter where you find yourself as a church in this season – from planning a capital campaign to thanking annual pledge donors –  the hands-on, simple  tools in this guide will help you and your staff effectively acknowledge and engage your best givers.


Tim Smith has over 30 years of experience in Church, Non-Profit Administration, Management, and Fund Development.  He has served as an Executive Pastor and Chief Development Officer in growing Churches and Non-Profit Organizations. This experience has provided him with a wide range of expertise and resources. Tim serves as Founder and CEO for Non-Profit DNA. This boutique firm helps nonprofits and churches build their capacity through fundraising, leadership, team building, staff recruiting, and coaching.

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