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The Donor Journey Framework

Updated: Nov 24, 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 how we approach the donor journey.

#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.

Where Do We Start?‍

The good news for institutions and nonprofit organizations is that they occupy a brand recognition position most companies would love. In higher education, your alumni spent formative years working towards a degree, and once they graduated and moved on with their life, you are still their alma mater. How many brands have this type of lasting effect/lifelong relationship on their consumers?

For nonprofit organizations, there is no need for a “CSR” or “cause marketing” department ...your very existence is about a cause! Naturally, your work makes your supporters feel good about themselves.

Despite these premium brand positions, there are pitfalls to be wary of. So much of our alumni’s experience and impression of our institutions happens during their student experience, which is largely outside the control of advancement offices. Unless you have Doc Brown on speed dial, you can’t change this.

For nonprofit organizations, the issues of the world can seem overwhelming. Are you inspiring change through your supporters? Or have stale tactics leading your supporters to view your outreach as just another digital message contributing to a sense of dread?

That’s ok though! One of the best realizations for advancement is that you cannot be everything to everyone. A 100% donor participation goal is never going to be realistic, but increasing your donor participation year-over-year is.

Institutions have been excelling at engaging their most loyal supporters for decades. These are your volunteers, your-set-and-forget annual fund donors, your familiar faces at events. These are the people that will show up when asked - we need to expand this group.

Introducing the Donor Journey

To do this, we need to build a framework for appeals that rethinks the way we talk about philanthropy. A framework designed to move people who show interest in supporting your organization further down your marketing funnel. We need to focus on the donor journey.

As fundraisers, you know why you’re raising money, what type of impact it can have and how important it is to your institution’s mission. Do your prospective donors have this same knowledge of your mission and the related impact of their gifts? It’s easy to get caught in this false consensus bubble when you spend your entire weeks and months in pursuit of this goal.

That’s how we arrive at the “they only reach out when they want money” narrative. Don’t believe me? Take a look at this John Mulaney bit and listen to the audience’s laughter.

Why are they laughing? Because it’s a shared experience!

Rethink How We Communicate

Think about your appeals that are sent out over the course of a year. How many touch points do prospective donors get during your calendar year-end, fiscal year-end or Giving Day campaigns? It’s a tall ask to combine all the successful elements of a campaign into one or two weeks, yet that is often what happens.

A tall ask, compounded by the fact that the majority of your audience are not opening your emails, organic reach on social media is at all-time lows and direct mail ends up in the trash more often than not. Often, it means you are asking a top-of-the-funnel audience to perform a bottom-of-the-funnel action. That’s how we end up as a punchline in a John Mulaney bit.

So how do we change this?

This series will outline the stages to the donor journey framework we use at {{firstname}}, which you can apply to your work. Next up, is an article outlining the Awareness stage.

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

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