No one buys a Chevy because GM needs the money. By the same token, donors don’t give because your organization has a need to balance its budget.

Although many think otherwise, donor expectations aren’t usually driven by an organization’s brilliant programmatic details, the expertise of its staff, the number of regional offices or other versions of organization-centric stuff board and CEOs love to brag about.

Most often donors are propelled by far more general and emotional factors: the need to feel good about themselves … the warm glow that comes from supporting a cause or helping another person … and even the desire to appear noble in the eyes of friends and peers.

Consequently, it is the job of the nonprofit to provide donor experiences that reinforce these expectations, and in the process, make donors feel an integral part of the organization’s success.

In short, it is the actions of the organization itself, through the experiences it offers its donors, that determine whether donors stay or go. Whether their loyalty and commitment grows or whether they move on.

The problem is that few organizations truly know which donor experiences are good, which don’t matter, and which are destructive of donor loyalty. Long on conjecture and folk wisdom, short on empirical insights.

Sadly, even fewer even bother to find out which donor experiences are good; which ones are bad. And so, endless meetings are filled with conjecture about how the ‘donor journey’ should be designed … whether the ‘magazine is essential’ or not…whether we’re ‘mailing too much’ or not, and on and on.

This simply shouldn’t be happening today. Not with the tools and knowledge available.

‘Donor experiences’ can be specifically identified and measured. The ‘good experiences’ can be scaled up and offered more often. Those experiences the donors view as ‘so so’ can be improved or cast aside. And the ‘bad’ eliminated.

There are several ways an organization can gain insights on which actions it’s taking and which experiences it’s offering are ‘good’ or ‘bad’.

Surveys on Commitment/Donor Experience

There are a variety of survey techniques — ranging from the simple to the complex — to determine the quality and value of donor experiences the organization offers.

Our sister company DonorVoice uses a survey and modeling methodology that enables organizations to not only determine which donor experiences are strong, neutral or weak, but also understand the financial value of each.

The DonorVoice graphic below pinpoints the weaknesses (red type) and strengths (blue type) of the key drivers of donor experience for a specific organization. Then, using modeling techniques, illustrates the financial value of each.

[ Click here to enlarge the graphic ]

Of course there are other survey methodologies less complex and less expensive than this.  I’ll do a piece on surveys in a future series, but for our purposes here, I’m concerned about the key ways to gain insight into donor experiences that help or hurt.

Feedback from Donors

Although the commercial world spends literally billions of $ seeking feedback on customer experiences — like the surveys you get after an airline flight, a hotel stay, or an online purchase — it continually amazes me that few organizations who consider themselves donor-centric make any effort to listen to listen to their donors and learn from their comments and complaints.

The Agitator has pounded the feedback drum over and over and over. On our homepage we even offer a free—forever—feedback widget that’s easy to use.

What mystifies me is the apparent unwillingness to put in place a process so simple — and human. Reciprocity is central to all human relationships. One-sided communication, as in treating a donor like an ATM and ignoring actions such as seeking the donor’s feedback — because ‘It’s a cost center’ — ignores the essential part of the donor relationship and experience equation.

I could use the next 20 paragraphs listing the benefits that spring from seeking donor feedback. On a tactical level the process can be used to spot and improve problems with the Donate Page … determine whether you’re sending too much or too little information …learning what types of fundraising experiences you’re not offering … and on and on and on.

Strategically, taking your finger off the ‘mute’ button and getting donor feedback is about the fastest, least expensive ‘silver bullet’ fundraisers have in their quivers. (See the post Better Than ‘Fundraising’)

The reason I’m so focused on both the importance of donor experience and the key methods for understanding which experiences you offer are most important to your donors is that, otherwise, any exercises in designing ‘donor journey’ efforts are not much more than pure navel gazing.

The process of building truly effective relationships with donors must start with knowledge of the donors, an understanding of their motivation and learning which experiences you provide are motivators or pain points.

What are you doing to measure the positives and negatives of the donor experiences your organization offers?


P.S. Two free Agitator/DonorVoice Webinars focusing on donor experiences and designing and mapping donor journeys will be held on June 22nd and June 29th.  Click on the links below for times, an outline of content and to register free.

Making Radical Change with High Reward and Low Risk — June 29th. Effective donor journey mapping with insights from specific nonprofit examples.  These control-beating journeys represent nothing short of ‘radical’ change for the organizations involved. But, because they were evidence-based and empirical the perception of risk was lowered and organizational buy-in increased.

Missing from Your CRM: Quality Data that Shows What’s Killing Your Retention. June 22nd. Examples of charities that are reaping large financial rewards by capturing and using non-transactional data.