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Are You Taking Your Donors on a Journey?

March 10, 2015

Headshot_derrick_feldmannI spend a significant amount of time talking with donors about the things organization and causes do (or should be doing) to attract and engage them. That doesn't mean I don't have colleagues and friends on the for-profit side of the fence. In fact, that's where I get a lot of my ideas.

At the meetings and cocktail parties where I run into those colleagues and friends, I hear a two-word phrase over and over again. That phrase is customer journey – the idea that every point of contact between a company and its customers is important and should flow organically from one point to the next. As they explain it, it starts with a customer's first glimmer of interest in a product or service and extends to the point of purchase. But it doesn't end there; the journey continues as long as the customer remains engaged with your brand.

The same dynamic exists in the cause world. We just don't realize it.

It's time we did. It's time to focus on the donor journey – on how donors interact with your cause, from the moment you manage to get their attention to the call to action that leads to a gift – and beyond.

"But, Derrick," I can hear you ask, "why the change in terminology? Isn't donor journey just another term for stewardship?"

Yes and no. You can't expect a person to support your cause or organization if you don't ask them. But asking is no guarantee that support will follow, and it's not the same thing as inviting someone to take a journey with you.

Much like purchasing a product or service, giving often is driven by impulse. Once a company has connected with a customer, that company will work hard as hard as it can to maintain and deepen the relationship. I bet you've heard the old saying, "It costs three times as much to attract a new customer as it does to keep an existing one." Depending on which of my business friends I ask, "three" can just as easily be five, ten – one even told me his business calculated that gaining a new customer costs thirty times what it costs to keep an existing one!

The same is true for donors. If the journey for your donors ends as soon as they give a gift, you should expect to work three to thirty times as hard to bring them back into the fold after their attention – and dollars – have wandered elsewhere.

Given that, doesn't it make sense to invest as much of your time and energy as possible in creating a journey for donors that leads them from the all-important initial point of contact, to active support, to re-engagement, deeper participation, and additional support?

I do, too. Here’s what that might look like:

Step 1: Learning. Once you acquire a potential donor's contact information (interest), your first communication should aim to learn one thing about her you can use in subsequent communications. None of my business friends use that first communication to ask potential customers whether they prefer to be contacted by email or direct mail. Neither should you. Instead, ask a question that will reveal the intensity of her interest in your cause or organization. Give her an option such as: "Would you like to learn more about our work? Will you sign our petition?"

Step 2: Deepen Participation. Your second communication will be based on how the potential donor responded to the first. Did she choose to learn more about your cause? If so, deepen the experience for her by pointing to a video that tells your story in a compelling way. Did she add her name to a petition? Then make sure to thank her and invite her to take another action. The goal is to move her farther down the path of her own donor journey.

Step 3: Make the Ask. At this point, it's time to make the ask. Using what you've learned from your previous communications, ask for a donation, ask for her time, ask her to share her passion for your cause with friends who might be interested. It doesn't matter. Just ask.

Step 4: Review and Repeat. As soon as a potential donor becomes a supporter, you should begin to look for ways to deepen her support. Take a second look at the ways you're communicating with her. Are you learning anything, or are you just pushing information? Are you giving her an option to engage and participate on a modest level, with the thought that a little now will turn into more later, or is it all-or-nothing? What's working well? What isn't? Focus on the former and do more of it.

Again, the goal is to establish a relationship with as many potential supporters as possible and then move them down a personalized path of learning, engagement, and action – one that leads not just to support, but to ongoing support. Yes, it requires time, energy, and hard work. But it's an investment that will re-pay itself many times over.

Derrick Feldmann is president of Achieve, a creative research and campaigns agency based in Indianapolis. In his previous post, he argued that the future of fundraising is peer-to-peer. 

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