4 min Read
January 21, 2015

The five steps on your ladder of engagement

Rachel Hope Allison

This blog post was originally published on April 10, 2013.

Ah, the ladder of engagement. 

The simple but compelling idea that your nonprofit will be more successful at gaining (and keeping!) new supporters if you ask them to engage in quick and easy ways before asking them to take bigger and more meaningful actions over time.

But what if your mission doesn’t naturally lend itself to easier, lower-rung engagement opportunities? How do keep your ladder of engagement from becoming one intimidating high bar?

Never fear, here are some ideas and inspiration for adding compelling first steps to your ladder of engagement, no matter what your mission is.

First rung: Get their attention, usually by getting them on your list. At least twice a year, give people an easy, quick way to take action. The trick here is to make it feel both easy and meaningful–either because the action has a clear impact (yup, this is where online advocacy is helpful) or a clear value, like the potential to lead to interesting information, answers, or just a heartfelt way to express your dedication.

In any of these options, make sure you get the most out of it by capturing a small amount of contact information from anyone who takes action, so you can stay in touch. (An email address, a “like” on Facebook, an address, etc.)

Second rung: Stay in touch, become top-of-mind. Once someone is on your list, it will take a while for your organization to become familiar and top-of-mind. If you give them regular ways to see and hear from you, though, they’ll be primed and ready to act when your next fundraising appeal rolls around.

And no, you don’t have to stay in touch with a big behemoth of a monthly e-newsletter. Try shorter monthly or weekly communications via email, social media, or good old-fashioned snail mail. Just make sure your regular communication offers some way to take action again and gives content your audience will value.

  • Some inspiration: Daily Good’s daily email highlighting projects or campaigns they feel are making the world a better place. And, just ’cause I can’t help but brag about my fellow Ducks, Meghan’s Weekly Roundup of nonprofit communications links on our blog.

Third rung: Get them to go public with their support. Any time you give people a way to take action or use your resources, make sure you encourage them to follow up that action by telling their friends or going public with their support. “Share” links and tell-a-friend emails are great ways to do this, but we’ve seen plenty of innovative share graphics on Facebook, and you could consider printed shareables as well.

Some examples: HRC’s use of Facebook share graphics that let “likers” go public with their support of LGBTQ equality and the “Challenge a friend” prompt after the NHS’s “Act FAST” stroke awareness campaign.

Fourth rung: Get them to make their first donation. Once someone has joined your list and taken action, getting them to give a first gift is probably your biggest benchmark of success. A welcome series of emails that ends with an appeal is a tried and true way to work new list members up to donating, but there are lots of other ways to target your most promising prospects.

Fifth rung: Get them to give more… or monthly! If a segment of your list has given before, they’ve already proven their dedication, so be sure to avoid under-asking!

Ask these donors for at least as much as they’ve previously given, or encourage them to take the next step and become monthly givers. Segmentation is your friend here–break out these donors and try some creative tactics to get them onto those highest rungs.

  • Some interesting examples: When donors gave to the Obama campaign in the 2012 election, they got a follow-up request to chip in a small additional amount soon after. And we’ve also seen several organizations try following up to recent donors a month after their gift, encouraging them to give a fraction of that amount monthly.

And just to think, that’s only the beginning!

How are you getting creative to engage supporters across different rungs of the ladder? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!