10 Tips on How to Improve Donor Journeys


Updated 6/7/23

As your nonprofit organization works hard to make a difference in the world and improve the lives of others, it’s equally important to recognize the unique qualities and motivations of your donors, and to cultivate strong relationships with them in order to ensure success and growth in the long-term. Doing so can help your organization maximize online donations and attract prospective donors.

By personalizing donor journeys — the unique digital paths that supporters embark upon when they engage with your nonprofit — you can create stronger, longer-lasting donor relationships and increase donor engagement. Customizing journeys will enhance the overall donor experience to strengthen your donor base and drive online donations. Put simply, getting personal with your donors is essential to your success as a nonprofit marketer.

You can provide a deep and meaningful experience to your site visitors, email recipients, and most importantly, donors. And you can achieve this by thinking through the process of engagement and using the tools in your eCRM. In fact, the tools to personalize digital communications are more available than ever.

Keep reading to learn about the power of donor journeys and donor personas, followed by ten different tips on how to maximize engagement with your donors with tools such as personalized email, forms, and experiences through technology.

Why Donor Journeys Matter

You might be wondering about the utility of fostering strong donor experiences. If you’re already doing great work to help improve society, shouldn’t that be enough to win over potential donors? While that’s super important, that’s one piece in a larger puzzle.

You should express to your individual donors how much you value them by recognizing their efforts to support your cause. FreeWill identifies three major areas that donor recognition can boost:

  1. Retention: Constituents will stay engaged when they know you’re engaged with them.
  2. Recurring giving: If you recognize the meaningful support of your donors once, they will want to be recognized again and again.
  3. Donor acquisition: Change-makers seek community and connection — word will get around about your organization’s knack for personal engagement.

The optimal way to put donor recognition into practice is through donor journeys. To make them effective, you will need a donor engagement platform with sophisticated features such as form customization and testing — and you won’t need to pay extra for these features.

The more sophisticated your donor engagement platform, the more specific you can get in acknowledging your supporters through personalization.

Understanding Donor Personas

Strengthening your fundraising efforts requires enhancing donor journeys — and that necessitates understanding your donor personas. These are categories that represent the characteristics, motivations, and behaviors of previous and potential donors. Here are a few examples of integral donor personas:

  1. Recurring donor: A recurring donor regularly donates to an organization over a long period of time. Such donors are crucial in creating a sustainable funding stream for a nonprofit. These could be monthly or annually recurring donors. 
  2. Active donor: An active donor not only donates money but also takes advocacy action and volunteers their time and resources to support a cause. These donors are invested in the mission of the organization. Understanding the motivations of active donors can help nonprofits design targeted fundraising campaigns to encourage them to stay engaged.
  3. Lapsed donor: A lapsed donor has previously made a donation to a nonprofit organization but has not given any further contributions within a certain period. These donors have already expressed an interest in supporting the organization’s mission and have demonstrated a willingness to donate — therefore they can be re-engaged.

A well-defined set of ideal donor personas can help nonprofits design effective strategies to carry out the most appropriate types of personal engagement. That’s why customization is a must.

With Engaging Networks, you’re not stuck with one-size-fits-all donation pages. We offer excellent out of the box templates that can incorporate custom content based on the particular donor persona you want to target. In addition, to allow your pages to be an extension of the brand on your website, we give you full access to the JavaScript CSS and HTML (in case you want flexibility, not a one-size-fits-all form).

Donor Journeys — 10 Tips for Impact

As digital communications have advanced, so have expectations. Donors don’t want to receive an email that just says, ‘Hi friend’, anymore. In fact, they expect much more than just the correct name in their email.

A study commissioned by WP Engine on Generation Z found that:

  • 66% of Zoomers surveyed believed that all websites “talk” to each other, so every site/app/appliance will present a personalized experience
  • 70% of Zoomers surveyed believe websites will know what they are looking for automatically

It’s clear that personalization isn’t just about knowing someone’s correct name — personalization is about establishing a connection, anticipating a donor’s desires, and mirroring their emotions.

The following ten tips will help you enhance donor journeys in order to maximize donations, engagement, and impact like never before:

1. Personalize with names and more

The easiest way to relate to your donors is through the simple addition of their name. The majority of donor engagement platforms out there today do this. Here are five excellent places to add your donor’s name, making their experience personal from beginning to end:

  • Subject line: [name], can you help us protect the Outer Banks?
  • Email greeting: Hi [name],
  • Email ask: The Outer Banks is in trouble, [name], and we could use your support with a gift of [x amount of dollars] today.
  • Landing page (donation form): We’re so glad to see you [name]. Here’s how you can help.
  • Thank you page: [name], thank you for your gift. Your donation will make such a difference for shorebirds and other sea life on the Outer Banks.

Using a person’s name (even in a redundant fashion) tells them that you know who they are. You’re connected — and this establishes connection and trust.

Engaging Networks allows deep customization of emails and landing pages as well as one-click donations and a multitude of mobile wallet payment options. You can pre-populate all of a donor’s personal info when they click over from an email, making the donation submission process easy, personalized and frictionless.

Here’s an example of how the Animal Legal Defense Fund implemented personalizations with their agency CCAH, increased donations and decreased form abandonment.

2. Customize the donation form for your donor

You can anticipate your donors’ wants and desires based on data — and your donation form can reflect this. On a very basic level, you can estimate your donation ask based on general donor groups. For example, if your segment is donors who have given $10 – $100 in the past, you could use an ask string of $25, $35, $50, $100 for that segment. 

But what if you wanted to maximize an online gift from an individual just like you do in Direct Mail? On your donation form, you can create custom ask strings based on the donor’s past giving history (highest previous contribution, most recent gift, etc.) and calculate a specific ask relevant to each individual donor. You can do this in Engaging Networks using our Next Suggested Gift tool. The National Trust for Historic Preservation has seen a 20% higher one-time gift from using the next suggested gift tool. Here’s a case study sharing how they did it. 

When a donor lands on the donation form, all their data from their profile will be prepopulated (this helps to increase conversion rates). The donor can also choose their method of payment, and they can be given the option to cover any credit card processing fees as a way to give more money to your cause. You can also customize donation forms to offer supporters the ability to make a memorial/tribute gift in honor of a loved one, all without having to send them to a separate page. Learn how St. Labre Indian School raised an additional $19,000 by inviting their donors to cover the transaction fees.

3. Get to know your donors based on the data

You know when donors have signed a petition, completed an action, responded to forms, or donated on a specific page. This is all valuable data worth collecting and tapping into.

Use what data you have to build relevant audiences — we call them profiles — based on donor interests and behaviors. The more detailed you get the more effective it will be. Once you’ve built profiles and you’re planning your email copy, pause and consider your landing pages too.

You can conditionalize content in both email and landing pages in Engaging Networks based on the profiles you have set up. When you build an email or page, you can build it to show different content to different people based on their profile.

4. Use email segmentation

Segmentation comes in different forms, but it’s always essential. Some organizations segment emails simply by donor group. Some dive deep into levels of engagement using our Engagement Scoring tools. Some have dozens of unique segments and variants for every email.

Find a level of segmentation that is comfortable for your organization. Then, send messages with relevance and authenticity. That way you can zero in on the specific donors you want to communicate with for a campaign, and you can exclude those you aren’t trying to target.

If you can’t get too granular don’t worry. Consider mapping out donor journeys and using our segmentation generator to give you some ideas. Here’s an example: All donors > EXCEPT recurring donors > Who gave in the last year > Who gave more than $25 > Who are in the XX region. As this example shows, our queries can allow for both segments to include (donors who gave in the last year) and segments to exclude (all donors except recurring donors).

Email segmentation correlates with the ability to create custom ask ladders based on real donor data. On Engaging Networks, you can create custom ask strings that are truly based on donor giving history (such as Highest Previous Gift, Most Recent Gift, gift frequency, etc).

Use the Survey tools in Engaging Networks to record responses in the database that can be used for personalization and to develop custom messaging. Collect survey data to see how you can continue to build on the passions, emotional connections, and experiences of your supporters.

5. Send the right email content

As mentioned, authenticity is more important than ever because it establishes trust. Lack of authenticity tells donors you don’t know what you’re talking about, or worse: that you don’t care. Write copy and source images that are relevant to your message, donation ask, and donor’s interests. Plus, take the time to fact check your copy and images.

With Engaging Networks you can even show conditional content to donors based on what they’ve told you they are interested in. For example, you can survey your donors asking them what program they are interested in and then show them content for that program. 

Generic asks will certainly raise money but speaking to people about issues they are concerned about or things they have a connection with will raise more. If you’re not sure, test it.

Some of the most important email content is the welcome series — imagine being asked to be part of a nonprofit’s grassroots mission without even a simple “hello” to usher you in! When a new supporter fills out a donation form on Engaging Networks, that automatically triggers both an email receipt and any welcome series you have set up. And, a bonus with Engaging Networks is that your welcome series can be set up as a dynamic email marketing automation, but you can also include an SMS message to get your supporters attention.

You don’t have to wait for data to trickle into your CRM and then be migrated back out to a separate set of email tools or do the dreaded data download/upload. Everything is seamlessly connected.

6. Tap into emotions

With good copywriting and imagery, you can deepen a donor’s experience. You can find some good tips on copywriting for fundraising emails here. Give these consideration when writing:

  • Empathy: If you were the recipient of this appeal, what would you want to see in order to give?
  • Storytelling: Based on what you know about the donor(s), what story can you tell to connect them to your cause? Give them a sense of place, attachment and purpose?
  • Connections to the senses: Talking about sights, sounds, smells, tastes, touch connects the reader to your story in a deep and meaningful way.

Think about how to not just empower your recipient with moving calls to action, but how to connect them to your story in a physical and emotional way. Upsell lightboxes can also help with this. When a donor completes a  donation form, you can use upsell lightboxes or pop-up to catch the eye of prospective donors and help convert one-time donations to monthly gifts.

7. Provide an engaging experience

Your supporters have clicked on your very personalized email and come to your landing page. You could send them straight to a donation form from the email and wrap up your fundraising effort right then and there. Or, you could continue to immerse them in the donor experience.

With Engaging Networks, you can do this using Redirect and Filter. Based on how the user responds to form fields on the first page, donors can be redirected or filtered into a specific experience.

Let’s say someone comes to your fundraising campaign’s donation form from an unknown source. You know nothing about them. Here’s an idea for how to guide them on a donor journey:

  1. Page one simply asks for their name, email, and state. Based on their entry in the “state” box they’re sent to one of six regionally focused pages.
  2. Let’s say they entered North Carolina, so they go to the Southeastern US page.
  3. On that page, you summarize how your campaign pertains to specific issues in the Southeast and ask — as part of the donation ask — which of the mentioned issues are most relevant to them.
  4. Then, of course, they finish on a personalized thank you page.

8. Relate to people geographically

A fantastic way to relate to people is geographically. Like any other personalization, this can start basic and get much more granular.

At a minimum, collect zip/postal codes on your email sign-up forms. You’ll of course already have the zip code of your donors. You can backfill information later if needed to get geography. If you’re doing that, you generally know what state/region/province your supporter lives in. You can include information related to that for personalization.

In Engaging Networks, you can use our Geotargeting tool to include anyone within a specific radius. This can be used for polling, local events, emergencies, political rallies, and more. For the purposes of personalization, think of the message and how it relates to the donor experience.

9. Ask, listen, and mirror

Communications theory varies depending on the discipline and the goals. But three basics of communicating with an individual that work well for creating a personal experience entail the following:

  • Ask: Ask donors what they think and feel and record that information on their supporter record. People love to tell their story and it connects them to yours.
  • Listen: If you ask for information in a survey, form, or through one of the other processes outlined above, use that information or at the very least acknowledge that you received it and explain how you plan to use it. This is a listening exercise — tell your donors you hear them.
  • Mirror: Mirroring shows empathy and builds trust. It’s the process of reflecting back to the supporter what you’ve heard: “Yes, I hear you and this is what you’ve said.” If you can add more information, even better: “This is what you’ve said and this is what we’re doing.”

10. Leverage the latest in AI

Imagine a tool that can do everything mentioned in this article for you automatically.


A tool powered by artificial intelligence that can recommend your segments based on relevant data, tell you the most effective messages to send those segments, make recommendations on content that will resonate with these supporters, suggest the giving level — and more. This tool exists — within Engaging Networks and nowhere else. It was created by our founder, Graham Covington, and runs through our sister company, Accessible Intelligence.

There’s so many to choose from, but we’ll give you one example of the potential of AI. With our AI Smart Lists, you can target online activists and other supporters who are ready to become a donor based on our AI algorithms suggesting lists to target for your next fundraising campaign.

Sounds amazing, right? To learn more, watch this quick video about how machine learning can change your online marketing.

Ready to maximize donations?

By creating personalized journeys, nonprofits can build stronger relationships with their donors, resulting in increased support and donations. With the right donor engagement platform, you can effectively track and analyze donor behavior, all while fine-tuning and improving your engagement tactics. Incorporating effective donor journeys into your fundraising efforts will help your organization better connect with donors and increase overall impact.

Every organization has its limitations of course, so keep that in mind — you can’t do everything. But you can likely pursue a combination of the mentioned tips, so find a place to get started that fits your organizational capacity.

With the help of our Donor Engagement Platform, you can develop captivating donor journeys that will resonate with your community and inspire them to support your cause in the long-term.

Want to learn more about how Engaging Networks help you improve your donor experiences? Connect with a team member today, or request a demo to learn all about how we help organizations around the world engage with their audiences.

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