As a fundraiser and donor relations professional, you work hard every day to make sure your donors feel important.

You know like no other that all donors need to feel appreciated, no matter how much they give or how often they donate to your organization. That’s why I’m still amazed at how difficult this seems to be, especially as organizations grow. Especially if there are multiple “cooks in the kitchen.”

Often decisions are made based upon resources. Sometimes decisions are made in departments that are less involved with donors on a day-to-day basis. These can have a major impact on donor retention.

You may know that I typically look at donor retention with a “monthly giving eye,” because that can give such a boost to donor retention rates, but what I’ll share here can just as easily apply to single gift donors. In fact, that’s still where it starts! And little things matter!

Here’s a real-life truth: What you think the donor experiences when he or she donates or what you think the donors receives may actually not be happening at all.

Especially with additional channels and media, it’s even more important to ensure that the ‘donor journey’ is mapped out and that everybody is on board and on the same page when it comes to the total donor experience.

The concept of the ‘donor journey’ is not new, but it has become more popular, because there are more ways to communicate with a donor. Years ago, you’d either speak to a donor by phone, in person and you’d send letters. Now, it’s all of that and email and social media and in some cases, voice broadcasts, face-to-face/street/door-to-door fundraising and texting. There’s a lot more to keep track of.

So here’s what I recommend: After the craziness of this year’s giving season is over, schedule an afternoon and invite everybody who ‘touches’ a donor, either directly or indirectly, for a meeting.

Include the fundraisers, gift processors, those answering the phones, donor base administrators or systems or IT department folks if you have them.

Get everybody in a room and talk through the donor processes in place. Assign someone who writes down each ‘touch’. Put it on a sticky note and then put in on a board, so you can move things around and you can see the visual “donor journey.” Then make sure everybody agrees to the journey and write it down!

(Some organizations may like a flow chart, others an excel sheet, some a word document or a calendar. Whichever way you do this, it’s important to have a record of what you all agreed to.)

I’ve done this a number of times now with organizations and it has always been EYE-OPENING. Because things change. Systems change. Donor bases change. New people come on board.  We found that things were sent we were not even aware of and other things weren’t happening any longer. Your organization may be absolutely perfect, but you will not know until you do this exercise.

Look at coding. Look at possible differences between donors flowing in from online, mail, phone, or other channels. What do you as Donor Relations Professionals do as part of this process? Who else touches the donor and when?

Let’s take a peek at just two pieces of the donor journey pie:

  1. What happens when a donor makes a one-time (single) gift online through your web site?
  2. What happens when a donor makes a monthly gift through your web site?

What’s the first thing they receive? The auto-responder. What does that look like? Is it up to date? Is it different if it’s a single gift or monthly gift or is it the same? Who’s responsible for creating the auto-responder? What happens with data-entry? How soon does the thank you email go out? Who’s responsible for writing it? Who’s responsible for keeping it up to date? Is it consistent with your other messaging and look and feel?

What does the thank you email look like? How often do you change it? Does it tie back to the message in the original email or direct mail appeal? Is the thank you email different if the donor makes a recurring gift or a single gift? (Ideally, it really should be.) Again, who’s responsible for this?

Who adds the donor to the database and how? How soon? Which codes are used?

Does the online donation feed into the donor base automatically? If so, what code is created and is there a check in place for duplicate records?

ALERT:  I have noticed recently with several organizations I help with their direct mail, especially those using SalesForce, that online donors were fed into the database automatically, but this created many duplicate records. Fortunately, we checked for those duplicates, so that the organization could consolidate the donor’s records. Just something to be on the lookout for.

Next: Does the email address feed into the email program automatically to start the welcome email series?

One of the major decisions I see many organizations struggle with: Will you send a hard copy thank you letter? Who creates it and what does it look like? How soon does it go out?

My recommendation is to always send out a postal copy of a thank-you letter or thank-you card, regardless of the gift amount, regardless of how the donor came on board. And of course, the more personal you can make this, the better you make the donor feel.

Then: How soon does someone pick up the phone to say thank you? At what gift level? Who is responsible for feeding the information to the caller?

These are just a few pieces of the new donor process and I realize there are a lot of questions to answer.  But, trust me, if you map it out, it’ll all fall into place!

This whole mapping process may sound simplistic, but it’s my experience that especially if more channels are used and more people come into the mix, it’s absolutely CRUCIAL to write down the process, so EVERYBODY knows what it is, who’s responsible and identify holes that may need to be filled.

Remember, it’s not about how you’re organized internally, it’s all ABOUT THE DONOR!

Let me share with you why this is so important. A year or so ago, I did a Monthly Donor Retention Check-up. I joined 10 small and 10 large organizations with a monthly gift and noticed that several —yes, even big organizations— actually never charged my card!!

Most never sent me a thank you letter in the mail and certainly nobody thanked me by phone. I, in turn gave them a card that was expiring a month after joining and it was even more depressing to see what they did not do when that happened. They brought me in, but they lost me virtually right away. If they had mapped out the process (and tested it themselves), I’m sure this would have never happened! I went from a $1,400 donor to a $140 donor very quickly… because I only kept giving to those organizations that approached me.

I’ve done a number of these Monthly Donor Retention Check-up’s now with some small and some large organizations and every single time we were able to find something that could be fixed.

For example, one organization thought they were sending out letters to monthly donors whose card didn’t go through, but their retention rates kept dropping.

After we flowed out the process, we found that a code had not been used properly and those credit card rejects fell through the cracks. Once we fixed that, we could finally work on improving their retention.

So, especially if you have had some turnover in personnel recently, you changed systems or if responsibilities have changed, do yourself a favor and go through the process. If you do this, the donor wins and the organization wins even more!

One final word of advice: Don’t expect gift processors, or tech folks to always understand the importance of donor retention. But if you tell them the value of the donors you could lose if you don’t get their buy-in and evaluate the process, they’ll understand.

Ask them for their input and experience to help you improve your donor retention by just a few percent. I typically calculate the total annual value of donors, both single gifts but especially monthly donors. If you do this, I’m sure they’ll be happy to jump onto this mapping of process as it will impact everybody.

Think of how many more clients, students, individuals, animals you can help with just a little bit more. Just because everybody spent a few hours thinking through the donor journey.

So, what’s your process?

Originally posted in the December 2017 issue of The Hub