Getting Out Of The Donor Zone (Corrie Oberdin)

Corrie Oberdin

Do you ever feel like your nonprofit’s social channels are stuck in the “Donor Zone?”

The Donor Zone is that space where a nonprofit’s social content is almost wholly geared toward donors & potential donors.

It’s easy to spot a nonprofit stuck in the Donor Zone: go to their social media channels, and you’ll see messaging that focuses solely on fundraising events, Amazon Smile reminders, save the dates, and donation links.

Don’t get me wrong—engaging with donors is VITAL. We want their support, and nonprofits couldn’t do what they do without donors. But exclusively speaking to donors and asking for money can limit the reach of your social communications.

If you work for or volunteer at a nonprofit stuck in the Donor Zone, there are three things you can do to get out:

1. Talk to your clients—the people who use your services—on your social channels too!

Treat your clients like consumers who want to learn about a product or service. Take lessons from our friends in the for-profit world, and share about your programs, projects, and services with an eye toward the clients who use them.

The bonus is that donors (and potential donors) will also see these messages and can better understand what your organization does.

If you’re not sure what to share, the best resources you have are the team members who provide your nonprofit’s services. Talk to the program managers and the front-line staff who liaise with clients or put on programs. Work in partnership with them to figure out what you can do to engage with clients. Talk to them about questions they get or what programs need some love and promotion on social.

2. Tell your staff stories to tell your story

One of the biggest challenges in branching out from the Donor Zone is the fear of sharing a client’s story in a way that gives too much information or retraumatizes them. I’ve worked with many nonprofits that focus on mental health and trauma issues, and the last thing we want to do with our messages is to take a client back to their worst day.

Highlighting the work of your staff—what they do, what brought them to the work, and asking them to share about the programs they run or the role they play—can help everyone understand your organization’s mission better. Using staff stories puts a face on your organization for clients and donors.

3. Educate the public about your issue, not just what you do about it

When we talk about our programs to donors, it can be easy to focus our messaging on our nonprofit—what we do, our impact, the programs we run.

But you can’t ask people to advocate for you if they don’t understand the problem you’re trying to solve.

Create educational messages designed to share information about the problem you are solving. You get bonus points if you tie it to your service area and provide education about how the issue manifests in your community with accurate data, numbers, and information.

Remember—there will always be someone who doesn’t know about your issue so that you can distribute this content year-round! Educational content is evergreen.

You’ll leave the Donor Zone by including messaging that focuses on services & programs available to clients, highlighting staff, and educating about your issue.

The best thing?

When it is time to ask for money, event attendance, or volunteers, you won’t have to explain what you do—because you’ve been doing it all along.

Corrie Oberdin @corrie
Freelance social media/content dev for nonprofits & also love to helping small businesses market themselves sustainably.

Let Us Know Below:

Do you work with—or follow—any non-profits who have been doing great work communicating outside of “The Donor Zone”?

What have they been doing to build & nurture those engagements & relationships?


Great points to remember @corrie ! I’ve worked with a lot of non-profit social media managers and this is something they have to work on constantly because the client is so focused on the donations and doesn’t see the value in being “social” – but the storytelling is what really helps the most with future donations I think.


Thanks Phyllis! I’ve had the same experience - so many communications programs (particularly with the regional nonprofits I work with) are actually run in tandem with Development teams, so there’s a HUGE focus on donations & events. But like you said, storytelling - and continual storytelling (and listening!) helps come donation time!