As a fundraising professional, you already know how important your major donors are. In fact, statistics show that around 88% of all nonprofit funds come from just 12% of donors — your major donors. Having a dedicated and data-driven strategy to engage and build relationships with major donors is critical to your fundraising goals and success.
However, just because you know who your major donors are doesn’t necessarily mean that they are outreach ready. This could be for multiple reasons, such as major donors not being in a good place financially or because they recently donated a large amount and are not looking to give again so soon.
So, what is a valuable way to combat this discrepancy? By enhancing your major donors’ journey!
What Are Donor Journeys?
Let’s go over the basics of what a donor journey is and how it can aid your fundraising efforts — especially in regards to soliciting major gifts and engaging with those important supporters.
The donor journey describes the steps a prospective giver makes before deciding to support your organization in some way. When you understand this process, you can better funnel major donors through this journey and engage them at high-impact touchpoints.
The specific steps in a donor journey will differ depending on your organization and the unique supporters you’re targeting. However, there are elements that will generally stay the same regardless of your situation, including:
- Awareness. Without awareness, the donor journey can’t begin. For your passionate major donors, it’s very likely that they found out about your mission through an impactful moment in their life. Maybe they have a loved one who has benefited from your organization or they volunteered at a major event in the past. Once your mission piques their interest, it leads them to the next step.
- Research. It’s extremely likely that as soon as someone is aware of your organization, the first place they’ll go for research is your nonprofit website. This is the hub of all of your nonprofit engagements and should host all of the necessary information that viewers have questions about. Some important content to consider is your mission statement, "about us" page, upcoming events and blog posts with recent accomplishments.
- Decision. After doing their research, this is when the individual decides if and how they want to support your organization. They might give a gift, sign up for a fundraising event or volunteer on your organization’s behalf. Ensuring that the awareness and research step goes smoothly is critical if you want to secure any type of support.
- Appreciation. As soon as someone gives to your organization or supports it in any way, you need to show appreciation. Appreciation ideas include sending a simple donor thank-you letter or planning a more elaborate event. Showing gratitude is especially important for stewarding brand new donors. Starting off this relationship on the right foot is integral to building long-lasting and valuable connections.
- Repetition. The goal of the donor journey isn’t just to get that one gift. In fact, it’s to build the foundation for a donor relationship. After all, it’s much more cost-efficient and beneficial to retain your current supporters than it is to constantly acquire new ones. And supporters that are with you for a long time are much more likely to become major donors than ones who have just been introduced to your mission.
Why Your Major Donors’ Journey Matters
When it comes to your major donors’ journeys, consistent engagement is critical. Your major donors require steady and valuable engagement to sustain and grow these relationships. Just because a donor has the means to make a large gift, doesn’t mean they will. If you want that major gift, you’re going to have to put in the necessary work.
If you want to ensure that your major donors continue to thrive after the "repeat" step, you need to cultivate these relationships accordingly.
Here are some major donor relationship-building tips to keep in mind:
- Don’t only send fundraising communications. Sending constant gift requests isn’t the best way to develop a meaningful relationship. Make sure to check in with major donors and show them that they’re more than just a source of funds. For instance, you can send updates on your organization and updates on your mission.
- Segment your major donors. To ensure that your communications are targeted to your major donors effectively, you need a reliable donor segmentation tool. This allows you to segment your supporters into groups, like your major donors. This way, when you create specific messaging for major donors, you can rest assured that they’re being sent to the appropriate people!
- Offer ample (non-giving) engagement opportunities. To build your major donor relationships, you need more than just a couple of emails a year. It’s recommended to go a step further than your email tool, like sending a handwritten letter, calling supporters on the phone or even meeting in person. You might even consider creating a specific event for your major donors to thank them for all of their important contributions.
Using these engagement tips is critical to optimize that “repeat” step of the donor journey. And when you continue to foster these important relationships, you can better set your organization up for success and ensure consistent support for the long run.
Tips for Charting your Major Donors’ Journey
While your major donors’ journey will follow basic elements, that doesn’t mean that every one of these supporters will be taking the same steps.
That’s when you turn to your fundraising data! Your data can tell you where your major donor strategy is working and where it's falling short. This information can give you a greater understanding of why and how your major donors are choosing to interact with your organization
Here are some data-driven tips to keep in mind:
- Define your key performance indicator (KPI) metrics and actively track them. KPIs like website visits, email opens and other metrics can be helpful to follow if you want to get a better understanding of how major donors engage and give to your organization. It’s a good idea to also review benchmark data to see how similar organizations measure success.
- Create and use audience personas. Audience personas are created to help marketing leaders better understand their supporters and create more targeted content and strategies to reach them. Consider your nonprofits’ major donors as an audience persona! As you gather more data on them, keep adding details and metrics to the profile as you see fit.
- Look at your database and make note of any areas you might fall short. You can use your KPI metrics to help determine this. Do you have a good amount of engagement but not an increase in gifts? Do you see a high website bounce rate indicating a bad UX? This can also give you a clue into how you can improve your recruitment and retention strategies.
- Revisit and refine your major donors’ journey as needed. Don’t just outline this donor journey once and think that you’re done. It’s critical that you continue to review and track how your major supporters engage with your offerings. The modern fundraising world changes (whether it’s due to new tech solutions or a global pandemic), so the major donors’ journey is sure to change over time.
If you want to shape your major donors’ journey accurately and foster them to continue supporting your mission for a long time, you might want to partner with a nonprofit technology consultant to conduct thorough research and use key nonprofit insights to map out the most accurate major donors’ journey. Good luck!
As founder and CEO of Kanopi Studios, Anne Stefanyk helps to create clarity around project needs, and turns client conversations into actionable outcomes. She enjoys helping clients identify their problems, and then empowering the Kanopi team to execute great solutions.
Anne is an advocate for open source and co-organizes the Bay Area Drupal Camp. When she’s not contributing to the community or running her web agency, she enjoys yoga, meditation, treehouses, dharma, cycling, paddle boarding, kayaking and hanging with her nephew.
Allison is a recovering (and award-winning) designer who applies her creative and organizational skills to marketing strategy for Kanopi Studios as its director of marketing and communications. Her diverse, multi-disciplinary background — which in addition to design includes glassblowing, publishing, podcasting, and figure skating — contributes to strong relationships to which she offers a broad perspective.
Her job is to tell the story of Kanopi by sharing information, writing, working with staff and partners and keeping the brand cohesive across all channels. When not keeping the Kanopi brand on point, Allison is working on double jumps on an ice rink, chasing small children, or organizing something somewhere.