Perfecting The Donor Experience

Tina Jepson
Tina Jepson

Do you find that it’s hard to relate to donors when you’re knee-deep in the trenches of fundraising? If so, you’re in good company.

When you’re on a deadline, and you need to raise money, and you have limited resources, and you’re hearing that, even with your best efforts, you may not reach your goal, it’s easy to put your donor’s needs and experience aside.

You’re thinking about your organization. Your clients. Your mission. You may not be overly concerned with responding to Mr. Smith right away or moving Mrs. Doe to major donor status.

But when you’re organization-focused, you run the risk of alienating your donors.

Even when you’re stressed, overwhelmed, and overworked, it’s essential that you put your donor’s experience first. And one of the best ways to do this is to lead your donors on a set journey.

How? Why? What? Let’s tackle the ins and outs of perfecting the donor experience.

The Why: Things Are Changing ‘Round Here

The other day, someone called me asking me for a donation for a nonprofit I never heard of before. I stopped them partly through the conversation and asked them to give me their website address. I then told the woman on the other end of the phone that I may choose to give online once I did some research.

Once I started poking around, I realized that this wasn’t a cause I cared to support.

Today, your donors have access to virtually unlimited information about your nonprofit. They can access your tax forms, learn your organization’s structure, and even read reviews from other donors and clients.

An unhappy donor (or worse, more than one) can have a negative impact on your donor cultivation efforts for years to come. No, you can’t please everyone, but you can try.

One way to do so involves providing a structured and personalized donor experience to help your donor feel important, heard, and inspired.

The What: Segmentation For A Better Donor Experience

The single best way to improve your donor’s experience is to understand what makes them tick and adapt your fundraising strategies to meet those needs.

All too often, we focus on the wrong donor segments. That’s not to say that groupings based on age, gender, and volunteer status don’t matter. They do. But they’re not the key to a better donor experience.

What information do you need? It all revolves around their interests.

  • What are they passionate about?
  • What other causes do they give to?
  • Where do they volunteer?
  • Have they had a personal experience with your cause or family and friends who may have?
  • What motivates them to give?

It’s the personal connection to your cause that matters the most in the long run.

The How: Lead Your Donors On A Journey


1. Have A Conversation

Ideally, this journey starts with a conversation. “A conversation? I don’t have time for that!”

I hear you. Making the time to speak with every donor may seem overwhelming.

So, start small. Begin with your major donors or those who’ve been around for a while. Email them and ask if they’d be willing to schedule a short “get to know you better” meeting, maybe over coffee or at your office.

A short conversation can go a long way toward helping you understand their passions.

Another way to capture this information is through a personalized email or a more impersonal survey.

Along the same lines, you can also try the good old pen and pencil approach. At my nonprofit, we’d use these special “Q&A” cards during special events, such as donor appreciation gatherings, socials, and event fundraisers. We’d scatter these cards on the tables and chairs around the room (along with pens) and collect them at the end of the night.

Don’t forget to track this information in your CRM database. Treat it like gold!

2. Validate

After learning more about your donor, reach out to them and acknowledge that conversation/survey response. Let them know that you appreciate the opportunity to get to know them better, and tell them to stay tuned for more information on things that matter to them.

3. Segment

Next up, take a look at all the data you’ve collected, and group similar donors together. For example, some of your donors may love your animal shelter’s dog-walking program, while others appreciate the free immunizations you provide.

Then, create targeted communications for each segment. That may mean separate newsletters altogether, or similar content with a different feature story for each newsletter. You can also use this information to send segments targeted nonprofit stories and volunteer opportunities.

If you notice that one or two segments are larger than others, then cater to these audiences on social media platforms.

4. Ask

While asking every current donor for a gift during each campaign may seem like the best way to maximize your reach, a targeted approach may help bring in more dollars in the long run.

Armed with the knowledge of what makes your donor tick, you can target prospective donors for each fundraising campaign you run. Let’s say you know that 20% of your current donors are also volunteers. In that case, you may want to reach out to them about participating in an event-based fundraiser, such as a fun run or a polar plunge.

5. Thank & Then Begin Again

Continue to thank your donor for their efforts, and then begin the process again. Continue to get to know your donors by inviting them to special events, sending annual surveys, and scheduling in-person get-togethers.

Make every conversation about them and what they would like to do to help promote your organization’s mission.

Over time, your donor’s segments may change, and your approach may adapt, but the key is to work with your donors to give them what they want out of the giving experience.

Bonus Takeaway Tips

    1. Encourage Feedback Always be thinking of ways to learn about your donors. Answer calls, even when they’re angry ones. Respond to letters, email, and social media comments. Make an effort to get to know what your donors think about your cause. If possible, don’t let a negative experience or feeling go unresolved.
    2. Focus On Donor-Centric Cultivation: If your donor doesn’t fit in a segment silo, don’t push it. Test out a few different approaches to find the best one for them.
    3. Maxed Out? Ask For Volunteer Help: Can’t fit in another meeting? Don’t know how to create the right survey? When you don’t know where to turn, seek volunteer help. Your organization will be stronger for it.
    4. If At First You Don’t Succeed… Chances are, you’ll always have a handful of mysterious donors. You don’t know why they give, or their capacity for giving, but you know that they’re consistent. Don’t push your luck, but do extend the offer for a quick conversation at least once a year. Let them know they’re important, and you want to make their experience the best it can be. You never know what may happen if you appeal to them at the right time.

Understand what fuels your donor’s commitment to your cause is the number one way for you to provide them with the perfect donor experience.

Continue to learn about your donors, create a marketing strategy that inspires them, and then ask them to give to the campaigns they connect with.

Yes, your organization has needs. Yes, you are tasked with raising money. But to really connect with your donors, remember that it’s not about you.

It’s always about them.

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