How to Create the Optimum Donor Experience
Donors at all levels should have as personal an experience as possible with the organizations they support. If donors do not feel positive about their giving experience, how can they have confidence that your programs are run with effectiveness?
Many organizations are good at immediate response, which is more transactional, but lack the depth to really engage in a meaningful, long-term way with their donors. When you speak of the donor experience or donor journey, it’s important that it reflects the organization’s (and its fundraising) culture, mission, values and brand.
Develop a Culture of Philanthropy
Culture will eventually trump just about everything. Here are some ways your culture of philanthropy will keep you from fulfilling your fundraising potential:
- It is disingenuous.
- It reflects a transactional (sales) approach rather than a transformational (giving) approach.
- It’s negative, and staff are not respected or supported.
- Your organization has constant turnover, and development staff doesn’t have the time to create deep relationships.
- Fundraising staff is not truly passionate about or dedicated to your cause and mission.
In a fundraising culture or a culture of philanthropy, both staff and volunteer leadership understand, embrace and live in practice, the importance of philanthropy for the nonprofit. Philanthropy should be a focus at board and senior staff meetings, with everyone engaged in stewardship and cultivation.
Meanwhile, the organization must understand that fundraising success depends on a donor experience that is rooted in engagement with all functions of the organization. Donors at all levels should be respected and honored. On top of that, there should be an extra effort to get to know donors and to personalize their engagement. Additionally, the highest level of ethics should be reflected throughout the organization.
Thank Your Donors
The donor experience is a crucial part of fundraising relationship-building. It's the sum of all of the touch points, content and interactions for your donors. So, it’s important these interactions are consistent.
“As a stewardship practice, never underestimate the importance of recognizing longevity and loyal service to your organization,” Dean Jones, senior vice president and chief development officer at the YMCA of Greater Charlotte, said. “It matters.”
Saying “thank you” is a good place to start.
“Let [donors] know that they did something great by giving,” Pamela Barden, a 44-year veteran in the art and science of direct-response fundraising, said. “Don’t just brag about everything your organization has accomplished, which can suggest that you can solve the problem without the help of your donors. Your organization will stand out because, frankly, too many nonprofits have decided that saying ‘thank you’ is an unnecessary cost.”
But even one misstep can counteract extensive positive engagement.
The advisory board chair for a college within a major university, who is also a donor, attended an alumni reception tied to the signature event that the college hosted. When the university’s vice president for advancement saw him and asked, “What are you doing here?” instead of welcoming him. That faux pas ruined the donor relationship to this day.
Many nonprofits are mirroring for-profits’ customer experience mapping processes to suit their fundraising needs. It starts with staff collaboration to determine the current methods used to reach donors and prospects at your organization, Alan Hutson, principal and managing partner at the Monument Group, said.
“We then study the intended and unintended consequences of positive interactions and negative interactions,” he said. “After assessing what we want the donor to think, feel and do from each of these interactions, your team determines the ‘front-of-house’ and ‘backstage’ opportunities needed to provide a richer experience to supporters.”
Welcome Your Donor and Learn Their Interests
An important part of the ability to create a personalized, tailored donor experience is to get to know the donor. From relevant personal and professional information to their history with your organization and their specific interests. Gather information through prospect research, donor surveys and personal visits with donors.
“A donor journey must be genuine and heartfelt. It must be true, which is why I say culture transcends brand every time,” T. Clay Buck, founder of TCB Fundraising said. “If donors are exhibiting behavior that defines their character, or who they are when they give, the donor journey is, in some ways, less about the brand of the organization and more about how the donor fulfills these thoughts of self in their giving.”
Barden advised that each step of the donor journey be planned.
“When it’s a first-time donor, how you respond is especially critical,” she said. “Welcome them and give them simple next steps for re-engaging. Most of your donors likely don’t feel connected to your organization. You are just one of many options they could give to.
And don’t forget to check in at least annually. Get a pulse on the relationship, their interests and preferences. Recently, the same major university I mentioned previously released an endowment report that reflected on $1 million in endowed scholarships and a professorship. The form cover letter was not personalized or hand-signed — and it was from the vice president for development who did not have a relationship with the donor and suggested the donor find their gift officer’s name on the organization’s website if they had questions. A total fail.
Ultimately, there’s no replacement for donors experiencing the mission and impact of giving first-hand, Jan Berry, regional development director at Operation Mobilization USA, said.
“Creating a tour or event where the prospective donor can experience the mission of your organization is priceless,” Berry said. “Planning it out ahead of time and having this prospective donor meet the testimonials first-hand brings things to life and helps paint the picture of the impact your organization is having.”
3. Personalize Each Donor Interaction
I’ve covered some personalization efforts already, but human touches and technology can go a long way to help you personalize your donor communications. Here are some additional tips and tricks:
- Refer to donors by their preferred names.
- Ensure that donors are appropriately recognized as they would prefer to be.
- Set up your database so staff can consistently enter and access appropriate donor information.
- Provide donors with future opportunities that align with their identified interests.
- Offer donors next steps for engagement beyond fundraising, where appropriate, including serving on committees, task forces, advisory councils and boards.
- Ask donors for help or advice in areas where the donor has knowledge and/or resources.
- Have organizational values in place that guide donor/prospective donor interactions.
- Secure the involvement of program recipients (as appropriate), volunteers and board members in the donor experience.
Rooted in a sincere, ethical culture of philanthropy, by working to ensure that the donor journey is as much as possible tailored to the individual donor interests, you’ll see your retention rates increase and fundraising soar.
The preceding blog was provided by an individual unaffiliated with NonProfit PRO. The views expressed within do not directly reflect the thoughts or opinions of NonProfit PRO.
Looking for Jeff? You'll find him either on the lake, laughing with good friends, or helping nonprofits develop to their full potential.
Jeff believes that successful fundraising is built on a bedrock of relevant, consistent messaging; sound practices; the nurturing of relationships; and impeccable stewardship. And that organizations that adhere to those standards serve as beacons to others that aspire to them. The Bedrocks & Beacons blog will provide strategic information to help nonprofits be both.
Jeff has more than 25 years of nonprofit leadership experience and is a member of the NonProfit PRO Editorial Advisory Board.