CDE project 5 sec­tion 2: putting the prin­ci­ples and actions into practice

Written by
The Commission on the Donor Experience
April 29, 2017

Putting the principles and actions into practice

The issues that have affected the fundraising sector over the past year and the new legislative requirements that will be coming into force regarding data protection mean that charities have to focus more carefully on the way in which they interact with their donors.

The charities that have shared information with us regarding their supporter journeys are already working hard to ensure that donors are satisfied with their communications. From their responses to our survey, we have been able to pull out some principles that are either common to all of them or to which they aspire in the future. 

1. Supporter journeys have to be relevant to the donor who is receiving them

A supporter journey is not about what is convenient for the organisation’s dissemination strategy, but has to be based on the donor’s reason for deciding to engage with your organisation. Communication must be relevant for each donor and will thus require more thought regarding the development of communication to take this into account.

When possible, the donors should be asked why they have made their donation to you; this question can easily be incorporated into most recruitment channels. This information should be used to determine on-going communications to ensure that they are relevant to the donors’ needs.

“It is essential to our programme and sustainability of our fundraising to ensure supporters have a great experience when interacting with us. We need to design a programme which is relevant and impactful for them, and journeys help us to achieve this” (Anon).

Getting started: Make sure that you have incorporated a question into your recruitment communications about the donor’s motivation for giving. If you are communicating with donors who are already giving to you, ask them the next time you are in contact.

2. Supporter journeys are about how we make donors feel

The supporter journey is not about the organisation delivering their communications to the donor; instead, it is about ensuring that the donor feels valued and delighted to be supporting the cause.

The Ontario Nature case study in the following section is a great example of how a charity has started to develop its supporter journey by asking themselves ‘how do we want donors to feel about us?’ rather than ‘what will we send them?’ This starting point puts the donor right at the forefront of the communications and avoids the organisation taking centre stage and boasting about its achievements.  Communications then become about ‘you’ and the impact that the donor is making instead of ‘we’ and what the charity is doing.

“When the starting point is ‘how do we make them feel’ over ‘we send them this brochure at month 5’ a donor journey takes on a very different approach” (Ontario Nature).

Getting started: Look at all of your communications to ensure that the donor and their support is at the centre of them and not the organisation talking about what it is doing.

3. Supporter journeys need to be authentic and genuine

The supporter journey has to be about delighting the donor and engaging them to stay with you over the long term. It is not about introducing additional requests for support or for short-term gain. Donors need to feel that they have control over the number and type of communications that they receive, and that there is a benefit for them in continuing to be in touch with you. This, in turn, will generate additional long-term support, but the journey can’t be compromised by being focused on return on investment.

“We decided to develop a supporter journey because it was the right thing to do for our donors – if it brings in extra money that is a bonus” (Anon).

Getting started: Make a case for your supporter journey to be run without the need for a financial target.

4. Investment in the supporter journey has to be made

The supporter journey requires investment to succeed. It is as important as your acquisition budget, and needs to be taken as seriously within the organisation. In many organisations, large amounts of money are spent on recruiting donors and very little is then set aside to ensure that they remain engaged in the future. The supporter journey needs investments in terms of money and resources to ensure that it is delivered properly, in a timely fashion and via the channels that donors want. It is no longer acceptable to send everything by email because it is cheaper if the result is missing out on a segment of donors that has not given permission to be contacted via email or donors who would be delighted to receive a phone call or postcard.

The cost of investing in a supporter journey will be rewarded by happier donors who will continue to donate over the long term.

“Our supporter journey includes postcards, emails, SMS messages, newsletters and telephone calls. If a supporter opts out of one channel we make sure that we replace that communication with another channel” (Anon).

Getting started: Make sure that you have secured the budget to deliver the supporter journey that you know will delight your donors. 

5. Engage with the rest of your organisation so that you have its support and stories to tell

Bringing donors closer to your cause through a supporter journey requires you to have internal buy-in from the rest of your organisation. One of the things that the charities that answered our questionnaire said was that they needed to have more contact with those delivering the services, volunteers and beneficiaries in order to be able to tell the emotional stories that donors need to hear.

Our case study of Ontario Nature makes that point and shows that, by starting internally and ensuring that the people who had the most knowledge and passion about the cause were involved, they were able to engage with donors in a completely different way than previously. 

“It’s a great message to share with staff and volunteers that sharing our passion and stories makes our members and donors have a great experience and together, we advance the whole mission. Everyone started sharing stories and information that could be sent to donors that demonstrated need, impact and started to develop a ‘bridge’ between the programmes staff and donors. It developed real enthusiasm for seeing donors as partners, as people who shared values rather than people who simply donate funds” (Ontario Nature).

Getting started: It is not always an easy task to get the rest of the organisation engaged in fundraising but, by beginning with those who are receptive to the idea and building up a support group throughout the organisation, it can be done over a period of time. 

6. Decide who will be included in your supporter journey

Supporter journeys have to be relevant to the donors receiving them; therefore, you need to work out who to include in each journey. A campaign to recruit face-to-face regular donors will need very different communication system from communication with someone who has signed up to run a marathon. You need to plan for that.

Ideally, you will plan your supporter journey at the same time as you plan your recruitment campaign, so that you have everything ready to send when your donors interact with you. You should also plan what channels you will use to send the communications, bearing in mind the permissions you have from your donors.

It is better to have one supporter journey running successfully than to have several with which you struggle to cope; therefore, consider what capacity you have to manage this before you start.

It’s also never too late to start a supporter journey for current supporters. It’s as relevant to have a plan for on-going supporters as it is for newly acquired donors. Think about donors who don’t come in from recruitment campaigns – what does someone who signs up to a direct debit on-line receive? Donors who are not part of a campaign with targets are often overlooked by journeys attached to specific campaigns.

“The practicalities of running the programme can be tricky. We have to find suitable volunteers who are willing to regularly send us content and photos. We like to have a selection working in different continents and in different sectors (health, livelihoods and education)” (VSO).

Getting started: Plan a supporter journey for the next recruitment campaign that you intend running and map out the communications that you intend to send to those who respond before you even ask them.

7. Be able to manage your donor preferences

A supporter journey is about communicating with donors in the way that they want and at an appropriate frequency.  You need to be able to switch communications from one channel to another if they ask you to, so be prepared to manage this.

If you ask donors to give you permission to contact them via multiple channels they will expect you to do that; therefore, alternate your communications in order to ensure that you attract their attention in different ways.

You also need to be able to manage moving donors out of your supporter journey if they don’t want to be communicated with in that way. Thus, there needs to be an exit strategy that will take them on a different journey that meets their needs.

“Our supporter journey includes postcards, emails, SMS messages, newsletters and telephone calls. If a supporter opts out of one channel we make sure that we replace that communication with another channel” (Anon).

Getting started: Check how donor communication preferences are managed on your database and ensure that they are properly recorded for each donor. 

8. Tell your donor a story

Storytelling needs to continue from your recruitment message throughout the supporter journey. Whether this takes the form of continuing the chosen character’s ‘story’, updates about the money raised in the appeal or telling the story from a different perspective, the donor needs to feel that the next communication somehow relates to the first.  Stories are very important in keeping the donor engaged, and the problem and solution that you introduce in your recruitment message needs to be resolved at some point; otherwise, the donor will feel that s/he has not made a difference. You need to report on the impact that the donation has made on the issue that needed to be resolved in order for the first story to be concluded when another problem and solution is introduced.

The communications also need to take the donors on a story journey through your cause, beginning with what motivated them to donate to you in the first place, reaffirming their support by updating them, helping them to explore the issues, expanding on their knowledge of the charity and then building on that to deepen their commitment.

Your stories need to be emotive and compelling. You should introduce some WOW moments in which you deliver the unexpected to your donors.

“The first communication is usually the volunteer’s feeling and preparations before they leave home. The next is their first impressions upon arrival. Subsequent emails/postals tell the story of the volunteer’s placement: challenges, successes, food eaten, friends made, things missed!” (VSO).

Getting started: When you are planning your communications for your next campaign, use Post-it notes to plot out the story you are trying to tell the donor over the next few communications. By doing this, you will know that you have continuity of the story and that you have reported on the impact of the supporter’s donation. 

9.Don’t always ask for something

Your supporter journey should have a combination of thank-you messages, informative communications, non-financial asks and financial asks. How much of each will depend on the group of donors you are addressing.

Think about using postcards, surveys, thank-you telephone calls, invitations to events, video messages and newsletters, so that your donors are happy to receive a communication from you rather than expecting a financial ask all the time.

If you engage your organisation, content will start to appear organically and you can begin to include some ‘ad hoc’ communications that your donors will find relevant and authentic. These non-ask communications, such as ‘we thought you might like to see this’, which are sent in a timely way (in other words, not part of a rigid plan, but part of a more flexible journey that is about highly relevant communications) can be more engaging than something highly ‘designed’.

“Asks can include signing petitions, sharing messages and other non-financial actions” (Anon).

Getting started: Think about getting some photographs relating to your beneficiaries that you could make into postcards to send to your donors as a surprise thank you. 

10. Ask your donors how they feel

Measuring donor satisfaction is an important element of the supporter journey, but is one that seems to be quite difficult to implement. Survey forms are one of the ways of doing this, but do make sure that you are able to react to anything about which you are informed on the form. Other simple ways to measure satisfaction are to ask for feedback in your communications, or to pick up the phone and talk to your donors occasionally.

However you do it, you need to be able to adjust your supporter journey based on the feedback you get. The main reason for beginning a supporter journey is to make donors feel more engaged and involved with your organisation; therefore, you have to have some way to determine if you have succeeded in this regard.

“They love it! We have an inbox where donors can send messages and comments to their linked volunteer. We manage the inbox and send the messages to the volunteers in a bundle. We’ve had so many lovely comments, and one donor even named their grandchild after one of the VSO volunteers!” (VSO).

Getting started: Next time you have a campaign, pick up the phone and thank some donors. Use the conversation to find out what they thought about the communication and what motivates them to donate. 

Delivering supporter journeys can be a daunting prospect; however the benefits of having more engaged, informed and happy donors are worth the investment of the time and resources to begin the journey and to do it correctly from the beginning. 

Click here to view project 5 in full - PDF format

About the author: The Commission on the Donor Experience

The CDE has one simple ideal – to place donors at the heart of fundraising. The aim of the CDE is to support the transformation of fundraising, to change the culture to a truly consistent donor-based approach to raising money. It is based on evidence drawn from first hand insight of best practice. By identifying best practice and capturing examples, we will enable these to be shared and brought into common use.

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