This is the Age of Engage.

Marketing trendspotters, like Accenture and IBM, have announced how market leaders have shifted today to a model of customer engagement that drives authentic relationship and emotional connections. Forbes magazine has written about it.

Our friends at Gallup have even conducted cross-industry research that clearly demonstrates that engaged donors give more, stay with you longer, and are more profitable than average donors. They understand a simple fact: organizations that engage their donors outperform those that do not. Engagement should become a core strategy and one of the most important success metrics in fundraising.

Engaging donors in today’s marketplace does not mean blasting them again and again across the year with solicitations. In fact, two-thirds of donors today say that they will stop giving or reduce support to non-profits that over solicit. BTW: In 2005, only 41 percent of donors said that they would stop giving or reduce support to non-profits that over solicit.

We believe engaging donors is interacting with them in ways that foster an emotional connection and relationship. Engagement is all about what we can do for donors to inspire their generosity and bring them meaning, more value or more inspiration — rather than constantly emphasizing what donors can do for us (which is usually to give, give, give, and give again).

Yes, an important component of donor engagement does involve calling donors to give. But only asking donors to give is not the kind of engagement experience that today’s donors want, especially the next generations of donors — Baby Boomers, Gen X and Millennials who are already giving three-quarters of all dollars annually. Today’s donors are weary of constantly being treated like ATMs by the non-profits that they support.

At Masterworks, we define three types of interactions that engage today’s donors. Over the past decade we have used three letters to represent the three key types of engagement interactions: X-type interactions, Y-type interactions and Z-type interactions.

Z-type interactions are designed to deepen a donor’s passion for the cause. An example of a Z-type interaction might be creating an inspirational, story-telling video that shows a day in the life of a child who must walk miles daily to fetch clean water, robbing her of the opportunity to attend school. Z-type interactions don’t ask for money. They create opportunities to deeply experience a cause. Having passion for the cause is an important activation gateway and cultivation asset in the Age of Engage.

Y-type interactions are designed to deepen a donor’s relationship to the organization. An example of a Y-type interaction might be creating a powerful and vivid video that shares stories of the specific impact that your organization is having. Y-type interactions don’t ask for money. Today, some 80 percent of Baby Boomers want to have a relationship with a brand before they buy that brand’s products or services. It’s the same thing in fundraising. Relationship to the organization (an emotional connection to the brand) is an important activation gateway and cultivation asset in the Age of Engage. (A recent study from Canisius College found that an organization’s brand today is its most important fundraising asset.)

X-type interactions ask for money, or time or talent. If you’re driving your organization’s fundraising. You are quite familiar with X-type interactions. The typical non-profit today blasts out X-type interactions again and again without realizing the impact that an endless stream of solicitations has on the next generations of donors who go out of their way to avoid marketing messages.

To maximize donor engagement, organizations must diversify their portfolio of interactions with donors to provide experiences that donors look forward to, rather than go out of their way to avoid. If you want to engage today’s donors meaningfully, donor engagement pathways should be made up of X-, Y- and Z-type interactions — not just X-type interactions that constantly ask for money.

Do you know how your donors experience you? Is it time to rethink how you could engage more meaningfully with your donors to create faster, better and more sustainable revenue?

Next week in our follow-up blog, The Age of Scoring and Assists, we’ll share how X-, Y- and Z-type interactions can work together to provide experiences that donors look forward to.

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Kn Moy

Kn Moy

Kn has more than a quarter century of experience as a marketing strategist. In his role, he helps non-profit decision-makers and strategy implementers grapple with the complexity and uncertainty of the changing donor landscape. Kn was recently invited to become an adjunct professor at the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University. Contact Kn at

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  1. Martin Johnson says:

    Great insights from one of the best in the game. Thanks Kn.

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