Follow Us:


FOUR FUNDAMENTALS FOR CREATING MORE EFFECTIVE DONOR JOURNEYS: Why you’re likely leaving money on the table – or even turning donors away – with impersonal communications

They say that people give to people. Like a lot of things “they” say, there’s some truth in that chestnut, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. 

Perhaps more accurately, fundraising prospects give to people who take the time to engage them in meaningful ways, offer compelling giving opportunities that align with personal interests or passions, and paint a picture of the positive impact that their gift will have on the world. Sometimes people give to people, but would you make a $1 million gift to my organization just because I’m a nice guy? Or because I supported your favorite charity when you asked?

Prospects giving through gift officers are important in major gift work because the level of gifts being made, and the passions behind the act of giving, warrant an individualized approach that is best developed on the person-to-person level. That said, there is a limit to the number of relationships a gift officer can maintain and on the number of gift officers an organization can employ. So, what happens when promising prospects can’t all have a personal relationship manager?

Changing Our World supports organizations not only in optimizing and growing major gift revenue, but in creating an innovative donor journey to help build and scale an effective fundraising program. The merger of traditional best practices in donor journey development with advanced digital outreach tactics can facilitate a truly personalized gift solicitation process for annual fund donors – and a more compelling engagement experience for your future major donors.

Below are key fundamentals for creating an effective donor journey.

1) Persona Messaging – Donor journeys are most scalable when they rely on creating 3-4 different but effective messages that resonate with each persona type.   The differentiation points between personas are often intuitive to fundraising teams.  A graduate of the business school will be more likely to respond to college-related content than stories about events in the college of arts.  A donor who has only contributed to rugby in the past may not respond well to messaging about a dean’s innovation fund.  Remember, fundraising is an art and a science – there may be alumni with MBA degrees who care more about theatre than finance.

2) Actionable Systems – In order to properly harness the power of persona development, the donor CRM or database must be prepared and functioning properly.   Ideally your CRM is well updated, contains enough relative donor characteristics to delineate between persona groups, is fully integrated with your online giving system so that donation details are automatically stored, and holds not only email addresses but other digital profile information (social media accounts, etc.).  The more advanced systems are completely in sync with online giving tools, and able to provide advanced insights like message resonance on online giving pages, attrition or drop-off points in giving, opens on specific bulk emails, behavior on website, and track mentions of your organization on donor social media feeds.  Remember, your ability to effectively connect with prospects is a product of the quality of your constituent data and your ability to strategically interpret it! If you need help determining which CRM system is right for you, read our article

3) Journey Creation – If your CRM is properly configured, each ‘persona’ can then be assigned a relevant journey or pathway to either becoming a donor, increasing frequency of donation, or overall amount.  Fundamentally these efforts are geared towards increasing generosity – which requires knowing what your donors want to hear, when they want to hear it, and how they want to be solicited. This journey does not end with the gift, however, there are multiple touchpoints along the donor journey that will provide opportunity to cement long term relationships.   The donor journey often begins with research and consideration, a decision-making point, a gift type/program selection, gift size selection, donation mechanism selection, making the donation, receiving receipts, feedback and thank you communication, ongoing updates on gift effects, and solicitations for sharing or socializing gifts.   Each donor persona will require a different journey, with alternative styles, frequency, and types of engagement opportunities.

4) Assessment and Iteration – Planning is important, and if you’re planning effectively, that plan will always be changing.  Are constituents appropriately assigned to the right persona?  What are your highest-performing messaging points, and what do they have in common?  Do you need to change the channels, frequency or donation mechanism to optimize your donor journey?  Always be looking for opportunities for learning and improvement.

IT IS CRITICAL TO REMEMBER THAT BUILDING AND ENGAGING ANNUAL FUND AND MID-LEVEL DONORS IS THE BEST PRACTICE FOR CREATING FUTURE MAJOR GIFT OPPORTUNITIES. For giving programs that face common limitations in staffing, developing proper personas and online donor journeys represents the best way to scale a personalized giving program for the next generation of major donors. The more personalized the approach, the greater the likelihood of engagement. Still not convinced? Consider the impact of the opposite approach:  simply communicating with donors through a generic mass-marketing email program will often have the negative outcome of turning donors off for future giving opportunities and future engagement with your organization.

Written By:
Michael Hutchinson, Managing Director
[email protected]
Michael has worked in the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors for 20 years. He is dedicated to supporting organizations in realizing their vision and has a track record of partnering with clients to align operations and talent to maximize impact, sync strategies with market trends to realize growth, and generate revenue and resources through effective relationships, programs and campaigns. 

Fill out the form below to download a pdf of this article.