Strategies for Donor Engagement and Retention

There is remarkable similarity in the way that community foundations engage with their donors. There is a standard package of stewardship that builds good relations, though some foundations build on this with some innovative practice.

Standard stewardship

Community foundations use similar methods in the ways that they manage their relationships with donors. Developing as close a relationship as possible is the norm. This entails regular reports including sharing project evaluations, sending email updates, news about what going is on in the area, inviting people to meetings, site visits and similar forms of communication.

Fundraising involves raising awareness of community issues, awareness writing letters to friends, setting up meetings with prospective donors, and keeping in touch with professional advisers on estate planning.

In addition to this 'standard' approach, many foundations had extra methods to attract and retain donors.

Participation in decision making

It was very common for foundations to engage their donors in decision-making.

In Romania, Cluj Community Foundation helps design a grant-making program starting from the match of donor interest and community needs, preparing agreed objectives and standards for the fund, as well as highlighting leveraging possibilities. Typically, a grant-making committee is set up for each fund, bringing together foundation and donor representatives as well as community leaders and experts in the supported field.

Similarly, the Community Foundation for West-Flanders invites donors (and other stakeholders) to take part in grant committees and roundtables. Commonly, this is a way of recruiting new board members. Again, in Poland, the Academy for the Development of Philanthropy engages donors to serve on grant commissions and advisory boards. In Slovakia, a similar process is used, but invitations are extended to people beyond the circle of high net worth individuals that are the normal target group for community foundations.


Another tactic was to hold special meetings. The Association of Community Foundations in Bulgaria, for example, has a packed program of personal meetings and events. The Initiative Bürgerstiftungen holds fundraising brunches and concerts. The Sampradaan Indian Centre for Philanthropy organizes regular donors' meetings.

The Dalia Association has a strategic approach to engaging donors based on promoting philanthropy through: 1) increased awareness about and respect for local philanthropy (traditional and strategic); 2) increased awareness about Dalia Association among thousands of newspaper readers and radio listeners; 3) high quality visibility in the business community as a provider of philanthropic services; 4) actionable information to help access Diaspora communities effectively; and 5) to generate and pilot systems that facilitate sustainable local and Diaspora contributions.

One good example about how to organize came from the 25th anniversary celebration luncheon of the Community Foundation of Muncie and Delaware County. The Foundation announced that a total of $25,000 would be awarded to four grantees determined by votes that would be cast the morning of the celebration. Each agency was allowed an eight-foot table or space and the chance to use their imaginations and resources in a display. The convention center was filled to capacity with 860 people anxious for the opportunity to vote for their favorite agency. The audience represented a cross section of the community. Donors, volunteers, agency staffs and many service recipients filled the room sharing stories and exchanging information. The organizers said:
"When the winners were announced it was bedlam! Everyone was applauding. It was a wonderful way to demonstrate the Community Foundation's impact."

Change culture

Some community foundations are working in cultures where community foundations are not well established, and it is necessary to address the culture of formal giving. In Korea, the Beautiful Foundation works not only to raise money, but also to cultivate a culture of giving. They focus on the 'joy of giving' for ordinary citizens: While most charitable organizations feature needy population and focus on sympathetic giving, the Beautiful Foundations suggests that you can give anything - such as 1 per cent giving, wedding giving, birthday giving, and celebrity fan club giving, as well as donor advised funds. The Foundation has organized 'Giving Korea: The International Symposium of Giving', 'NPO (fundraising) Conference', 'Philanthropic Education', and 'Public Service Awards'. These activities differentiate the Foundation from other charity organizations and help to engage younger donors.

In the Sinai Desert, the community foundation has several times distributed goods in-kind provided by companies or individuals. These include food parcels and drinking water to the poorest families, identified with the help of community leaders and NGOs. Such programs are highly regarded in the Islamic culture, and are seen as an important aspect of philanthropy. They enable the foundation to build relationships with donors.

Permanent arrangements

Another approach has been to develop formal relationships with local public and private institutions.

To take some examples, in Ukraine some foundations have established permanent contacts with the private sector and provide a platform for implementation of donors' charitable activities. Some organizations mail application letters to private businesses, proposing them to participate in local charitable programs or initiate programs of their own with the support of community foundations.

The Fundación Comunitaria Oaxaca (Oaxaca Community Foundation) has established six specialized funds dedicated to conservation, environment, culture heritage, education and nutrition in partnership with international institutions, government, businesses, families, and individuals.

Named fund

Another tactic has been to use 'named funds' to attract donors. For example, the Geelong Community Foundation is actively engaged in directly approaching potential donors who may wish to set up a named fund. The Ciutat de Valls Foundation allows citizens and companies to create named funds for specific philanthropic purposes, and then ensures the careful distribution of those funds in accordance with the donor's intent.

Where next

We explore the achievements of community foundations on the next page.