Building a donor journey

A donor journey, in our minds, is a set of principles that help your organization understand all the different ways a donor can become more deeply involved in your organization.
A couple of important parts of the previous sentence:

  • It’s a guiding set of principles, not stone-cold facts. Not every donor follows an exact donor journey.
  • It contains multiple ways for donors to be involved.

A simple outline for a donor journey

  • Awareness
  • Engagement
  • Give
  • Thanked
  • Give again
  • Advocate

For the purposes of this article, we’ll just look at the first 4.

Your keys to success

  • Base it in fact
  • Base it around how your donors really feel and act
  • Keep it realistic in terms of what you can execute
  • Build multiple activities at each step


How not to do it

Many times we see a donor journey mapped out like this:

  • Awareness – they see us on the news
  • Engagement – they sign-up for our newsletter
  • Ask – we ask them at the end of the year
  • Thank – they get an auto email after their donation and then more newsletters

While it’s simple and easy to execute, it fails in a few ways:

  • It assumes you’ll be on the news more than once. (Good for you if this is the case, but for most organizations it is not!)
  • It assumes that only people that are signed up for your newsletter are engaged. (There are actually many more!)
  • It groups all donors together for a year end ask. (There are probably other, maybe even better times to ask).
  • It assumes donors feel thanked when they get an auto-email.

Build a better donor journey

Here’s how to build out a more robust donor journey (this might even be a good exercise to do with your board):

1. Make three documents: Donor Journey, Information to Learn, Things to Track

2. Start by listing all the ways people have historically become aware of your organization. You might have “hear about us on the news,” “hear about us from a friend,” come to an event, learn about us through their work, use our services, hear about us from a public official, see our sign, etc. Think of as many as you can.

3. If you don’t know how most people become aware of you, add that to your “information to learn” document. Start asking your donors “How did you first learn about us?” (Repeat this step for every section of your donor journey brainstorm. This list becomes a wish list for technology and your database tracking).

4. Now, next to everything in this list, write down how YOU know or how you can track when someone completes an awareness item. (Note: for some, you won’t know). But here are a few ideas:

  • At an event, they might have to sign up or drop a business card
  • They come to your website and you might be able to track them with a social media pixel
  • You might have a “share this article” widget on your website that tags you in the post
  • If you answer “I don’t know how we’ll know when that happens” think about how you might start to track more for example, by having event attendees sign in, or building in calls to action. (Note: we said track more not track every single thing precisely and exactly).

5. Now list all the ways people can become engaged with you WITHOUT giving a donation. A lot of organizations find they don’t have a lot here and most organizations find that building more engagement activities increases their fundraising.

  • Sign up for your newsletter, sure, that’s one.
  • Could they sign a petition?
  • Take a pledge?
  • Volunteer virtually?
  • Your goal is to think of quick and easy ways someone could have a great experience with your mission.

6. Now list all the different times and ways you ask people to give. For most organizations it’s the end of the year by email and by letter. But what about other key moments for your organization? When do you have the most need? For food banks they see a surge in the summer when kids are home from school. What a great time to ask for support.

  • Do you have a way to ask people at the exact right moment? At the peak of their engagement?
  • What are “ask events” you can sprinkle throughout your year?

7. Finally, think about all the places your donors go after they make a donation:

  • The thank you page – does it really feel like it’s thanking them? Or does it feel like a dead-end, the last page of your website?
  • We cannot say this enough. An auto-response donation email is not a thank you. It is an acknowledgment of a donation. It should definitely say thank you, but what about a heart-felt email from a real person a few days after they make a gift?
  • What about an update on the impact of their gift after 30 days?

Now you have three documents you can use to build yourself a robust digital communications plan for the year plus two documents of “wish list” and “tracking” to-dos that can help you get better at all of this.