For Impact


On Engagement: How to increase attention, interest, and action from funders

Funding | | Nick Fellers

In school and in life, many of us are taught to present, but few of us are taught to engage. The difference is that the former focuses on how you appear and sound, the latter focuses on how you activate someone else’s brain.

So let’s talk about what it means to engage, or ‘engagement’.

We define engagement as a dynamic within a relationship that holds attention, heightens interest, and motivates action.

Moving from ‘presenting’ to ‘engagement’ is a critical leap to make … especially as we aim for more engaged teams, board members, and funders. Though it may help in some ways, your ability to raise large gifts is not a function of how well you can talk on stage, it’s a function of how well you create attention, interest, and action from funders.

Again: Attention! Interest! Action!

How do we maximize Attention, Interest, and Action?


  1. Ask questions. Listen. Or, just listen. There is no better way to engage than to simply listen — letting the other person speak. When a person speaks it engages his or her brain fully.

  2. Be 1:1. It’s tough to listen to a room of 200. Our experience suggests that engagement can be as much as 30X higher when you’re with a prospect 1:1 (in person or virtually).

    If you’re GREAT at raising funds from a room, you’re still not maximizing the potential of each individual in that room.

  3. Use visuals! Although some people are more visually oriented than others ALL of us are more engaged with visuals.

  4. Better than visuals, create an experience. If a picture is worth 1000 words, then a tour or an experience with your impact is worth many more. And, if you’re limited to a virtual experience during this time, that can still be very ENGAGING.

  5. DRAW! Create a visual experience with the prospect. We love using 2’x3′ ENGAGEMENT MAPS  – these make the case for support visual and they offer plenty of white space in which to draw while you’re visiting with someone. Picture two people standing over a blueprint. Talking, moving… giving a case meaning… creating engagement.

    When COVID hit, the very first thing we did was master the use of drawing over a Zoom call using an iPad and an Apple pencil. Prospects became more engaged when we could create/highlight visuals in real-time with them.

  6. Predispose. Predisposing someone to your visit or your conversation provides clarity ahead of the visit – making it easier to hold attention and it should create interest.

  7. Be simple. We need simplicity. If things are complex, you’ve lost my attention because I’m attentive not to YOU or your MESSAGE but to figure out what you’re saying.

  8. Be specific with an ask. Engagement is measured – in part – by action. To invoke action, you need to let the other person know what the action looks like. Being specific in an ask directs attention and lets the prospect know what action to contemplate. In the funding sense, you must ASK in order for the prospect to act! (See: Have a funding rationale.)

If we focused on ENGAGING, it would change some things…

  • We would worry much less about ‘what to say’ and instead think about what questions to ask.
  • We would probably stop defaulting to pitch decks and people would stand around flip charts with markers (or, virtually – one-pagers with writing tools).
  • Scores of organizations would ditch events (live or virtual) in favor of visits (live or virtual).

See also: