The journey the organization wants the donor to go on is not usually the journey the donor wants to go on.

The reason for this disconnect is that few organizations truly understand why donors choose to stay or leave, let alone know when the donor makes the decision to leave.

This is not a new insight. The reason donor experience and donor journeys are becoming such a big issue is not because organizations have suddenly seen the light. It’s because donors have become more powerful, more informed and less loyal.

As a result, lots of money, time and effort is spent constructing donor journeys designed with all sorts of nonsensical terms like ‘stewardship’, ‘engagement and loyalty touchpoints’, and (this is my favorite) ‘ask/no ask’ schedules.

I’ve not seen any of these strategies work. In fact, most have resulted in increasing churn. And for good reason. These techniques are too often applied after the donor’s decision to hit the exit. Too little too late. The horse is out of the barn.

I suspect that one of the principal problems involves the organization’s own mindset. You can’t design a winning set of donor experiences if the organization’s business model is to exploit the donors.

This is not necessarily a deliberate strategy. Rather, it’s a ‘natural’ inclination in this trade to follow the myth that asking more often will produce more money.  ( You can see how The Agitator regards that myth in our four-part series titled Raise More, Ask Less (Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4.)

So, what to do?  Fixing churn requires addressing its root causes by determining, at each interaction point with the donor, across all channels (web, donor service, email, direct mail, face to face) whether the organization delivered a positive or negative experience. (See Part 3 of this series on ‘donor experience’ and ‘feedback’.)

In short, stopping unnecessary attrition requires fixing churn before donors have decided, because of the organization’s action, they are leaving. This is illustrated in the graphic below:


Click here to enlarge graphic.

In an earlier post — Donor Churn: How To Stop It Before It Starts — I summarized the four issues that get in the way of stopping attrition or churn:

  • Thinking churn can be addressed when donors call to quit or with a reinstatement program.
  • Believing churn can be fixed by sending more communications dubbed ‘engagement’ or ‘loyalty’ touchpoints, meaning those with no hard ask.
  • Only assigning value to transactional data and being forced to guess at the ‘why’ of donor behavior.
  • Treating donor service as a cost center and a burden.

Accompanying that post is reference to a white paper, titled “Donor Churn”, prepared by Kevin Schulman, the CEO of DonorVoice. I urge you to read it carefully because you’ll find details and recommended fixes for each of these four barriers.

Also, for those readers who’d like to dig into this — and take issue with these observations — pay particular attention to readers’ comments at the end of our post Donor Churn: How To Stop It Before It Starts.

Fortunately, as Kevin notes: “Slowly, ever so slowly, the nonprofit sector is waking up to the realities of donor churn and attrition. Leading organizations — distinguished by their mindset, not size — are re-examining the way they think about donors, non-transactional data, relationships and service and the overall donor journey. They are systematically tackling the four issues that undermine retention and growth and dealing with them before the horse is out of the barn.”

What steps are you taking to improve your donors’ journey?


P.S. On Thursday, June 29th Josh Whichard, a partner in DonorVoice and I will hold a webinar titled Making Radical Change with High Reward and Low Risk. We’ll explore effective donor journey mapping with 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.

Agitator readers register free right here.


This article was posted in: Breaking Out of the Status Quo, Donor Centricity, Donor retention / loyalty / commitment, DonorTrends / DonorVoice, Innovation, Nonprofit management, Research, Starting Over.
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