A Critical Exercise: Donor Journey Mapping

Understanding the donor journey has been top of mind for organizations in recent years – and for good reason. As fundraising programs have gotten more complex, and now span across more channels than ever, it is becoming increasingly more important to understand how and when those channels and program layers are working together, how they may be working in competition, or at worst – at odds, with other communications across the organization.


The thing is though – anyone that has started out doing a donor journey map – and we’re talking a real map, not just a communications calendar, but a map that layers in each path a donor could take in response to communications they are receiving across the organization – will tell you, this task is not for the faint at heart. It doesn’t always result (and in fact rarely results) in one big answer to the question “what is the donor journey?” or “how can we improve the donor journey?” But you should walk away with a lot of information that will help improve overall communications across various audiences.


Here are some questions we think through as we begin a donor journey exercise. These can help you mine for loopholes in the experience for key audiences quickly (because that full mapping can take some time!):


How long is it taking your new donors to be added into communications?

The sooner a new donor receives another communication the more likely you are to receive the coveted second gift. When you look at the experience of a new donor, how long is it actually taking for them to receive their acknowledgement? To be folded into their first appeal? To begin receiving communications across channels based on information they provided with their response? Once you have this information, identify ways to cut down on that time in the process so that you are getting out to new audiences faster. This is also a great time to set up some testing for your new donor audiences to make sure that in addition to getting out faster, you are also serving the right and most effective message.


What’s happening with your new sustainers?

When a new donor joins and becomes a sustainer, or when an existing donor converts and becomes a sustainer – what are the next communications they receive? If they became a monthly donor during a time when you aren’t actively reaching out to monthly donors, are they now going to go several months without hearing from you after making such a big commitment? Or, if they become a monthly donor leading into your giving season, are you then including them in one-time asks right away without acknowledging their recent decision to take their giving to the the next level? Map out a plan to iron out the opportunities you find to ensure that when a donor (new or existing) becomes a sustainer, they are getting the right message about how important their gift is to the organization.


What’s happening with your lapsed sustainers?

Take a look at your contact strategy for sustainers when they lapse. Do they just stop giving when their credit cards expire, or when they stop sending in their monthly checks, with no recapture strategy? And if there is a recapture strategy, what is the timeline for the follow up? Should this audience then be folded back into some other standard communications to get a renewal gift prior to just letting them go completely?


What is the multi-channel donor experience?

We know, we know … integration is not always about making sure donors are always seeing the same message across channels (we could not agree more) but it is important to make sure donors are not seeing competing messaging across channels. For example, do your systems talk to each other enough to ensure that your renewal messaging in one channel reflects giving across all channels? Are there donors receiving messages telling them they are lapsed in one channel, where they may be identified as an ‘active and loyal supporter’ in another? While some of this may at times feel like minor nuances in messaging, this does not get overlooked by donors. Ensuring that you are appropriately messaging to your audiences is key to a positive donor experience.


What’s going on with your mid-level donors?

If you have a nice mix of fundraising and stewardship in one channel, are you following those same principles in another channels? And if your mid-level donors are ‘named’ in one channel, are you carrying that through in others, or could they be getting a little bit of whiplash trying to figure out their identity within your program? When it comes to segmentation, we often go deeper into our mid-level audience when it comes to defining active or working to get this audience to renew – and that makes perfect sense. But have you tailored the ask accordingly for this group? If they have not given or upgraded their giving in 2 or more years (after being asked very directly), should you really be asking for that upgrade again, or meeting them where they have told you they are comfortable and focusing on that annual gift? Another great thing to check out is what the contact strategy is for those mid-level donors who upgrade into major giving status and maybe pulled out of direct fundraising solicitations. Very often donors fall through the cracks in this transition so making sure there is a streamlined process and communication flow for this group is important.


What about those active donors who are starting to lapse?

When a donor has been included in communications for 12 months and has not responded, should they go right back in those same communications for another 12 months? Take a look at what your 13+M donors are receiving, and how they are responding. It might be time to shake it up a little bit and show them you know them, you miss them, and it hasn’t gone unnoticed that you haven’t heard from them. Show them what you’ve been up to, and all that you’ve accomplished and tell them you need their support to keep it up.


The questions above are just the tip of the iceberg and we hope if you are starting to really wonder about your donor journey, these will provide a nice starting place to dig down into your messaging, data, and processes in a way that will be meaningful at enhancing the journey for your donors – ultimately translating into higher revenue and a healthy file for the future!

Candice Briddell

Candice Briddell, Managing Partner and Co-Owner, has worked within the fundraising and marketing industry for nearly twenty years and has been a part of the MINDset team for over a decade. Prior to that, she was integral in the retention marketing program at AOL.