Saturday, 21 July @ 5:51 PM

We have all been there.  You are sitting comfortably on your couch and you are watching your favorite late night movie channel.  It is time for the commercial and staring back at your from your 54” flat panel screen is a sad looking puppy.

You know what is coming next.  They need your help.  They need your money.

You like animals.  You wouldn’t exactly describe yourself as a dog person, but just as you are thinking that, as if they were reading your mind, a cute, sad kitten is on the screen mewing at you.

Now your heartstrings are in full tug mode.  They nearly have you.  The number displays on the screen and you reach for your phone.  But you are distracted by a Facebook notification from a friend and by the time you are done with that conversation, the movie is back on.  The kitten is now a distant memory.

Three more times in that hour, the commercial plays.  You silently wonder if the cable TV company had problems selling their ad inventory.  But you don’t pick up the phone and you don’t donate money.

Why?  Because you weren’t in giving mode to begin with and the repetition of the same exact commercial over and over again actually became noise.  The ad ignited irritation versus the passion that the producer of the commercial intended with the sad-eyed animals.

So what is it that ignites your passion enough to donate money to a worthy cause?

I have a theory.  I have put that theory into a graphic, which I call the Engagement Ladder.    I originally developed the Engagement Ladder when I launched a radio show series on BlogTalkRadio in 2009.  Social media was relatively new and mobile marketing and commerce were still in their infancy.

At the time, while most organizations understood the potential of these new channels, they completely misunderstood how to use them.   It was easy to believe that leveraging the efficiency of these new channels would translate into effectiveness.  I have now tied the theories into both real life (where most donor relationships are formed), as well as online.  Here is the Donor Engagement version of that ladder.

I love the following statement by Terry Axelrod.  She has developed a practical and very powerful model for non-profits to increase engagement known as the Benevon system.

“Passion isn’t enough.  You need a system.”

Terry Axelrod, Founder and CEO Benevon


The Benevon circular model, which Terry eloquently describes in a video entitled 17 minutes to Sustainable Funding, takes you from the intrigue step on my version of the Engagement ladder, all the way up to building lifelong relationships and sustainable, multi-year funding for both capital projects and operations.  It is deceptively simple!  And I have talked to my friends at the Children’s Home here in Tampa and they tell me that it works.

Whether you use the Benevon model or you have your own approach, the higher that you can move up the Engagement Ladder (higher relationship value and higher engagement), the more likely that you can not only obtain a donation, but you can get a regular pledge for a recurring donation.  The goal is then to move into the highest form of relationship and engagement, which yields that lifelong relationship with your donor and results in what Alexrod refers to as sustainable giving.

I firmly believe that in addition to having a “system” for engagement, timing and relevance are two key elements in ensuring that your communication with potential donors ignites passion.   It is that passion that gets you to an initial response and on to a dialogue quickly.  Then, getting into a true conversation about the passion surrounding  your cause (including educating and sharing results before asking for the donation) should follow.  Many non-profits stop here once they have received the donation, but we believe it is possible, both in real life and through your various online communication efforts to actually get the referral and then the multi-year contribution/pledge.

Next week, I will be publishing a white paper entitled the Donor Engagement Playbook that describes the Engagement Ladder in greater detail.  I look forward to sharing it with you.

Check back on Philanthropegie next week for a link to download the white paper.In the meantime, I’d love to hear about how you are igniting the passion of your supporters and how you are engaging them.

Stay tuned.

Chicke Fitzgerald









  1. Thank you for another great post! I am looking forward to next week’s post and the Donor Engagement Playbook download – it seems that it will be very useful to me in the near future!

By creating an account you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

Not sure where to start?

Read most read articles & helpful resources