a lady working on her donor journey

The Donor Journey Framework: 4 Key Sections

While donor relations and stewardship are extremely complex and detail oriented, they can be summarized from the donor’s perspective in a four-step Donor Journey, and this should be the framework of the fundraiser’s objectives.

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What is a donor journey?

The donor journey is a path of experiences that your donors go through when they interact with your non-profit organization. From a prospective donor looking to support a charitable cause all the way to a loyal advocate or a major giver, the donor journey illustrates each touch point that the donor had with your foundation. It allows you to see where you can enhance your donor stewardship to make the journey more enjoyable for your donors.

The field of donor relations and gift stewardship is always growing and changing, in part as a response to the changing demographics of today’s informed philanthropists and their increasing scrutiny of the outcomes of the organizations they fund. Donor relations is the art of cultivating interactive relationships with donors for the purpose of influencing donor retention, raising gift values and increasing the pace at which donors maximize their giving.

1. Inspire

The competition for donors’ dollars is increasing – some say more than 500 new charities are being registered every week. Donors are doing more research into causes they wish to support, and as the world becomes more global, the list of opportunities grows ever longer. As donors become more strategic in their giving, it is critically important to find ways to inspire them to include your cause in their long-term planning.

Integrated marketing is a sure way to inspire prospective donors to engage in a cause. Simply put, organizations must work together across all departments in a coordinated approach to achieve shared outcomes and attained goals. As well, inspiration comes in different forms for different people, so a multi-channel approach is essential — from direct mail, to videos, email, to multimedia advertisements — all are important to reach the different segments of your target audience.

And what should be included in these multi-channel messages to guarantee inspiration? Why, stories, of course. Storytelling takes us on a journey from thinking to feeling. They challenge us emotionally, and through emotions, we are able to build meaningful relationships and connections. Furthermore, stories can visually relate the impact a prospective donor’s gift could have on one individual’s future.

2. Engage

Once the donor has been inspired to make that first donation, you must then ensure that you retain the donor’s interest, involvement, and commitment: donors have to remain connected to the cause in which they found value and inspiration. They must also feel confident in the organization, as it is the connecting link between the donor and the cause. Donor engagement is maintained through communication: through thanking the donor effectively and often, providing information to the donor about the progress of the campaign overall, and the impact of his/her gift, specifically.

donor looking at donor wall in the donor journey

3. Communicate

Keeping the donor satisfied with their philanthropic choice in both the cause and the organization that is administering their gifts usually assures ongoing support. While there are no guarantees that a donor will never leave, there are ways to keep the majority of donors satisfied, which keeps donations coming in, and fosters partnerships between the donors and the foundations. Converse with your donors. First and foremost, thank them, and then thank them again. In addition, let them know how their gift is impacting the benefactors of your cause, and the progress your organization is making towards reaching your goals. Lastly, find out what they like and what they don’t like, which channels they prefer to communicate through, and what inspires them. In other words, cultivate a relationship.

4. Belong

Human beings are most comfortable when they feel they are part of a group. Donors want to be a part of your family of donors, as well as belong in the broader sense, to a group of people who are changing the world for the better. They want to belong to those people who make a difference in the lives of others. How will they know if they belong? You need to relate to them the impact that their gift is having, both in terms of your cause, and your benefactors or recipients. Impact stories can and should be related through a variety of channels, but must be an ongoing dialogue if the donor is to remain a part of your philanthropic family.

Connect, Engage, Expand, Repeat​

When you connect with your donors, ask them about the best ways to engage with them, and seek their suggestions and ideas. 

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