The Donor’s Journey: How to Reach Donors in the Digital Age

Today, it is no longer the sole responsibility of your development team to attract new donors. Things are moving faster, and advances in technology have altered the way donors come in contact with your organization. The moment a prospective donor experiences a triggering event, they discover a problem that connects to them and their passions, propelling them into action and a search for opportunities to make a difference.

The donor’s journey of today has changed drastically in this new digital landscape, which presents a challenge in the way organizations have traditionally connected and nurtured relationships with donors. Before the digital age, donors relied on donor-development professionals for information about nonprofits. Now prospective donors have instant, 24/7 access to information on multiple devices at a time and place of their choosing.

In the digital world, successfully attracting your prospective donors begins with connecting to their passions through targeted, personalized content. By producing engaging and accessible content, your organization can connect with prospects by solving their unanswered questions — automatically establishing your organization as a solution to their desire to give back.

When it comes to moving prospects along in their donor journey online, are you truly ready?

This new dynamic calls for a new approach. It requires a better understanding of who your best donor prospects are and what motivates them. It requires a more thoughtful approach to the way we create content. It requires a strategic collaboration between the donor development and communications departments of nonprofits and social good organizations.

Break Down Silos Between Donor Development and Communications

Your donor development team works to build relationships. They understand your donors’ passions and desire to make a difference in our world. Communications has a vision for branding and digital communications, and how to use them to better connect with people. Both teams are focused on what they do best, but are they aligned in the mission?

Through our work with nonprofits, we’ve experienced that for most organizations, donor development and communications often work in silos. The lack of coordination between these crucial teams of the organization can result in a duplication of efforts, overloading your donors with too many competing messages. Activities can cancel each other out, effectively moving a high-potential donor back to a lowly prospect.

When communications and donor efforts are aligned, the organization benefits in a variety of ways. These can include:

  • Increased organizational efficiency
  • Tighter definitions of potential and existing prospects
  • Ability to repurpose and streamline content based on donor personas
  • Creating emotional connections with donors, effectively moving them into deeper levels of engagement

All of which culminate in the ultimate goal: an increase in funding to support your mission. So how do you kickstart the process of bringing these two essential teams together and increasing your organization’s impact?

Align Internal Databases

Donor development teams often have a database to track prospects, their potential level of giving and other donor-related details in DonorPerfect, Raiser’s Edge, SalesForce or similar technology platforms. However, communications teams also keep a list of contacts for marketing use — often in an email marketing tool such as MailChimp or Constant Contact. The problem is that these two highly-important technology platforms are rarely integrated.

Integrating the databases of the two teams presents an opportunity to identify disparate data points in a way that allows your organization to communicate in a personal, more effective way. Perhaps the first step involves a shared session between the communicators and donor management professionals. Together, these teams can determine which donors or donor personas represent the most successful conversions and how to leverage that information to a digital platform that will engage individuals to continue down their new donor’s journey. What are some of the shared data points that these donors have? Perhaps they’re frequent visitors to a particular page of your website, or they are signed up for a specific email newsletter. Once donors have taken that step, are you able to track their progress through downloading any whitepapers, going to a donation page or sharing content from your site with friends from social media?

Donor development professionals can help define the actions showing that a donor is moving from one stage to the next, while communications and marketing teams can help pinpoint the data points that can be used to track their digital donor journey. Reducing data silos, creating a shared language and processes between communications and donor development professionals and aligning efforts around the organizations to a shared goal are some of the first steps that you will need to spearhead. When your systems and people are in alignment, you’re one step closer to being able to qualify, nurture, convert and cultivate relationships more effectively than ever before.

Invest in Technology and Infrastructure Support

You may be struggling with having enough staff available to create strategies and keep the donor funds flowing, but the long-term payoff of investing in and aligning the right technology tools can dramatically amplify your giving strategies.

An upfront investment is often required to pull together disparate data sources and consolidate technology and infrastructure to support your growing organization. Many nonprofits decide to work with a trusted partner to scope needs and requirements, vet potential vendors and ultimately perform the platform implementation. If you don’t have the budget for working with consultants, there are steps that your team can take to slowly bring together your donor and communications strategies into a unified and holistic view of your donors.

While the steps may feel a bit daunting when you’re first digging in, it’s important to keep in mind the end result of this new alignment. Both the development and communications teams are likely duplicating efforts — whether or not they realize it. By aligning their efforts, both teams can be more effective without adding more work to their already overflowing plates. This new way of working is truly a paradigm shift that may require culture change within your organization.

Distribute Engaging, Personalized Content

Engaging your audience and activating them to take action today requires more than a Facebook post with a compelling image and call to action to give. Creating content and distributing it on a regular basis can take a great deal of time — while providing very minimal results in terms of donor support received for your organization.

What if you could instead create a compelling string of emails that would provide small snippets of information meant to educate donors at each stage of their journey? From responding to an online request to triggering emails based on visits to a website, technology solutions can provide the content distribution channel that your donor communications strategy has been lacking.

Defining Your New Donor Strategy

The intent isn’t to overwhelm you but rather to challenge the way you are thinking and offer a new way forward.

When your efforts are aligned and you’re using the same success measures, the communications and donor management teams are able to achieve more together than would have been possible alone. We call this new way forward Connective Impact, and we have seen firsthand how it leads to increased donor engagement and loyalty.

Check back often as we share our ideas on how to connect with donors and navigate in today’s environment. You can also learn more by downloading Connective Impact: Accelerating donor support by uniting development and communications.


Photo credit: Raphaël Biscaldi via Unsplash

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