Thursday Thoughts | Engaging Women as Nonprofit Supporters

March 9, 2022 | Grace Duginski
Thursday Thoughts: Engaging Women as Nonprofit Supporters
Welcome to another installment of Thursday Thoughts, a dedicated space for our friends in nonprofit sector leadership to reflect on reports, statistics, and other trends—because when our community shares knowledge, we can all do more good. Check out last month’s post here!

Nonprofits always want to be sure they’re connecting with donors authentically—and experienced fundraisers and practitioners know that will look different across audiences and demographics. Increasingly, this is backed up by research from academic bodies like the Women’s Philanthropy Institute at IUPUI, who regularly investigate how women express generosity compared to other genders—how they give; what motivates their giving; which causes they tend to prefer; and more.

In honor of Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day on March 8, we asked some of our partners about ways organizations can ensure they’re engaging, including, and making the most out of their relationships with women supporters. Here’s the wisdom they shared with us!

Maureen Wallbeoff

I’d start by confirming that my organization was actively working to improve gender inclusivity in our communication and fundraising programs. Next, I’d gather my supporters’ interests: communication channels, content type, involvement preferences. I’d begin to use these data points to segment my audience a bit, and do some content testing—social media, website, text message, email marketing—to learn what engages my supporters the best.

I worked at a reproductive rights organization for many years, and here’s something I found to be true: women are often quick to make connections and form relationships. If you have a highly engaged social media audience, pick one channel and build a community. Ask questions and use polls. Start having deeper conversations there. Make it a safe space—ground rules can help, and don’t be afraid to enforce them. Use DMs to follow up with a personal note. Create a positive, active place for all women to share their passion about your mission, and you might also find those volunteers, staff, and new donors you’ve been looking for!

Maureen Wallbeoff is a nonprofit digital strategist and technology coach. She helps nonprofits make smart decisions about their technology and use those systems effectively. Check out her latest eBook! Getting a Return on Your Nonprofit Technology Investment: A Guide for Accidental Techies.

Hannah Leigh-Brown, Interactive Strategies

Diversify imagery and avoid gender clichés. Women want to see their authentic stories and lives represented in your organization’s brand and campaigns. We all get tired of the stereotypes of women that are ubiquitous in stock imagery:

  • The young professional wearing a gray skirt suit and typing in an open office. (Who wears suits anymore?)
  • The happy mother and baby lying in a meadow. (Looks itchy.)
  • The woman holding a plant seedling in her palms. (We get it, a representation of growth and new ideas. Yawn.)

Research from the Women’s Philanthropy Institute (WPI) shows that when it comes to nonprofit fundraising, women respond more to empathy than men. To ensure that your campaigns and designs elicit an empathetic response, avoid cliché stock photos and use powerful images of real people whenever possible. Audit your website, emails, campaigns, and social media to make sure that your imagery represents a diverse array of genders, ages, professions, races, sizes, cultures, family structures, etc.

Show the value of giving with tangible messaging. This is helpful advice for all donors, but from WPI’s research, we know that women especially respond to seeing the value of their donations, especially when their gift makes a positive impact for other women. Tying specific donation amounts to a tangible impact can increase donation conversions. An example: “Your $21 monthly donation can provide one warm blanket each month to a mother and newborn in need.”

Send appeals from women. Confirm your email campaigns’ send names and email signers include women. Sending messages from women can strengthen the connection to women supporters. According to research by the WPI, women make up the majority of donations on GivingTuesday, so it’s especially important to represent women in email signatures and creative assets on major days of giving.

Learn from your donors with a survey. Consider deploying a donor survey that asks demographic questions, allowing women to self-identify. Include questions that will later allow you to personalize content to their unique interests and motivations. With nuanced segmentation, you can build intentional campaigns and cultivate long-term relationships with your women supporters.

Hannah Leigh-Brown is an Associate Director of Client Services at Interactive Strategies (IS), a web design and digital marketing agency based in Washington, DC. IS acts as a strategic partner for many nonprofits and associations—including EveryAction clients Special Olympics, American Association of University Women, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, and Environmental Working Group. Do you have a digital fundraising problem that Interactive Strategies can help solve? Contact us.

Sally Heaven and Charlotte Kresse, Raise HECK

When it comes to engaging with supporters and donors, knowledge is queen. The more we know about our supporters, who they are, and what’s important to them, the better chance we have to build an authentic relationship with them. For fundraisers, it also means that we have a better chance to know what motivates their giving so we can make our ask the best it can be.

Research from the Women’s Philanthropy Institute at IUPUI shows that women have different giving patterns from men, and tend to base their giving on empathy for others. They participate in giving days at higher rates than men, especially GivingTuesday. Knowing that women’s wealth is rising and they are more likely to give in general, how can organizations make their fundraising more accessible and resonant with women?

Storytelling is a particularly effective way to connect with women supporters. Telling someone’s story about how they have been affected by your mission may well be more motivating to women than all the facts, figures, and statistics you can cite. Stories are gold, so how do we get them? Ask for them. Invite people to share their stories with you. In fact, you can collect and sort stories in the EveryAction Story module.

While being a woman brings with it certain commonalities and shared experiences, womanhood is not a monolith. Additional identities and factors may also have influence on people’s view of themselves and their giving patterns: race, class, religion, sexual orientation, and ethnicity, to name just a few. Gender, and specifically womanhood, is important, but it’s not the sum of a person. Never forget that you are talking to real people who have real lived experiences.

To that end, Raise HECK recommends that you regularly survey your supporters of all genders to find out more about them and what motivated them to get involved with your cause. Then use that data to bring them more content that relates to their interests. If you can target your emails by gender, it might be interesting to test half your women supporters with an empathy-inducing personal story and compare it to a facts, figures, and statistics email. Which one will perform better?

Let’s not forget that part of our population does not identify with gender binaries. A 2021 study by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law found that approximately 1.2 million people in the U.S. identify as nonbinary. EveryAction recently made product updates to expand the number of options available in Self-Reported Demographics to allow for a wider range of options for gender.

At the end of the day, each person is a unique individual and regardless of gender, the more we can learn about supporters and their unique motivations, the better we’ll be able to authentically communicate with them.

Charlotte Kresse and Sally Heaven are Raise HECK. With a combined 40+ years of experience in nonprofits, software-as-a-service (SaaS) technology, and progressive spaces, they have helped some of the largest nonprofits in the country meet their technology, fundraising, and advocacy goals. Learn more about Raise HECK or get in touch!