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#NoColdAsks - Awareness Stage

Updated: Dec 31, 2022

The job of annual giving fundraising has never been more difficult. Luckily, we have a framework to help you raise more money from more donors by focusing on the donor experience. Learn more about the first stage in the donor journey; Awareness

NoColdAsks - Where did all the donors go? The job of annual giving fundraising has never felt more difficult. Each week brings a new set of deadlines, deliverables and demands, some weeks feel like you’re bailing out water rather than making progress. It’s easy to get in a pattern where you’re trying to get work off your plate, and let’s be honest, we could all use more time in the day!

When you’re sitting down with your team to plan your next campaign, what steps do you take? Maybe you refer back to a successful appeal from last year and try to recreate certain elements? Or maybe a team member has a great new idea and you’re figuring out how to incorporate it? There are a number of considerations and questions that should be a part of your strategic planning.

But maybe the best question is, “are you asking the right questions?”

When is the last time you thought about your donor’s experience? More specifically, when is the last time you focused on the journey your prospective donors take to become supporters?

In this series, I’m going to outline what we at {{firstname}} (shameless plug - follow us on social; LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook) believe are essential stages in a donor’s journey. As you follow along, I hope you’ll come away with a new perspective on how to approach annual giving work and become a proponent of our NoColdAsks movement.

As always, let me know what you think about this post by connecting with me on LinkedIn, Twitter or at!

This is part of a series focusing on donor experience, with a goal of providing a framework for a modern, multi-channel approach to fundraising.

  • Read past sections of this series at the bottom of this page

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Step One: Build Trust and Awareness

We need to put ourselves in our donor’s shoes and take a holistic approach to their journey, not just focusing on the ask. The first step in this process is awareness, not of the institution, but of the purpose behind the ask. When we talk about the awareness stage in a donor’s journey, we don’t need to introduce them to your organization (remember that whole premium brand discussion from the first article?), but to your fundraising goals.

This is where advancement shops have a chance to position their case for support and set the stage for their campaigns. Outlining what you are trying to accomplish and what the donations will support helps set expectations for how prospective donors will be communicated to and gives you guidelines for narratives to continue.

If you include a mention about donations supporting a stronger student experience, give an example of this in action in one of your next touchpoints (which we will expand upon in the next article).

What touchpoints are available? Think about the channels at your disposal, some of which are more traditional, like direct mail, email, organic social media and your website. Others, like digital ads and texting, are full of untapped potential.

Not all channels serve the same purpose, and just because you can leverage them, it doesn’t mean you should. For instance, texting might have a great response rate, but if the recipient didn’t opt-in, think twice before sending. Remember, we’re in the relationship-building process - don't ask your top-of-the-funnel audience to perform a bottom-of-the-funnel action just yet.

Example in Action

Let’s take the stronger student experience example from above and game out a scenario. You email your audience about how their donations can help improve all facets of the undergraduate experience on campus.

What exactly does that mean?

It’s purposefully broad because annual fund support touches so many parts of campus, but are you making it easy to understand from the donor’s perspective? Vague descriptions and a lack of specificity produce confusion, not donations. You solve problems every day through philanthropy, paint a picture for your donors what those problems are and why they need solving.

Your next touchpoint in this donor journey could take email openers and continue to build a narrative. Maybe it’s an article about an individual student who was able to perform research thanks to support given to their academic department. Perhaps you’re running a digital ad campaign featuring similar stories, targeting the same email audience, concurrent to your email marketing efforts.

These stories are everywhere, around your campuses and organizations, they just aren’t being told or delivered effectively. The mix of channels and mediums will vary by organization, but we need to start thinking more about how our audience consumes information so we are in a position to deliver the right message, at the right time.

Goal of the Awareness Stage

Ultimately, the goal of this stage is to establish a mutual understanding between donor and organization. An understanding of why your organization exists and the type of change you are trying to make possible. An understanding from the donor of why you are contacting them.

We want them to go from “They only reach out when they want money,” to “They’re reaching out for a donation because they are trying to solve X, Y and Z problems.”

It may seem simple, but this type of transparency is a crucial step in improving the donor experience. This is the start of reframing the narrative and making the case for the college as a cause.

From this foundation of mutual understanding, we can move into the next stage of the donor journey; asking prospective donors to think through the how and why of their participation.

Tell us what you think about this series by connecting with us on social media - join the NoColdAsks movement!

This is part of a series focusing on donor experience, with a goal of providing a framework for a modern, multi-channel approach to fundraising. if you haven't yet, be sure to read the first article, The Donor Journey Framework.

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