Level up Your Nonprofit's Donor Experience

October 9, 2023
5 minutes
A young woman is separated from a crowd by a flurry of shiny bubbles floating around her. The whole image has a magical, rainbow quality to it, and she looks mesmerized by the experience.

If building lasting relationships with donors is the name of the game, then an exceptional donor experience is the play. And while most nonprofits are good at the short-term experience, which is really the transactional part of giving, what about the parts beyond the transaction? What grade would you give your nonprofit overall?

If your answer isn't a resounding, "We get an A+! Our experience is beyond reproach," then let’s get to work on leveling up your current donor experience.

What is donor experience?

Donor experience is the sum of all the touchpoints, content, and interactions your donors encounter as they engage with your organization. This includes your website, online donation platforms, personalized communications, mobile accessibility, and follow-up. A positive end-to-end experience is a key tool for nonprofits looking to foster donor loyalty.

Why is a good donor experience important?

You want an A+ experience for your donors for SO many reasons. Mainly, to:

  1. Boost efficiency
  2. Increase donor engagement
  3. Customize the giving experience
  4. Raise donor retention rates
  5. Strengthen donor relationships

Boost efficiency

When they're donating, donors want it to be quick, easy, and intuitive. A good experience means a streamlined donation process that makes it easy for donors to support your cause.

Increase donor engagement

A positive experience fosters deeper connections with your donor community, leading to greater donor engagement in the form of active participation, more volunteers, more potential donors, and greater support for your organization's mission.

Customize each donor's experience

The best experiences are tailored to our individual interests. By providing various options for donors and tailoring interactions and content to donor preferences and histories, you make each and every donor feel valued and understood. 

Boost donor retention

Just like a satisfied customer sticks around, a happy donor stays connected to your organization and keeps the gifts coming. 

Strengthen donor relationships

Simply put, a positive experience with your nonprofit organization helps you build better personal donor relationships. A better relationship generally leads to greater engagement, more involvement, and better word-of-mouth.

What are the 4 pillars of the donor experience?

If you're poking around the world of donors and their experiences, you'll probably hear murmurs of a certain four pillars. Those come from "The 4 Pillars of the Donor Experience" by Lynne Wester, and they consist of knowledge, strategy, culture, and emotion. The book focuses on "not only why we create meaningful interactions with generous people, but lets us understand the fundamental truths behind why these people continue to respond to our work, continue to give, and deepen their relationships with our organizations." Thanks, Amazon description!

The transaction experience is just one part

When most people think of the donor experience, they think about the transactional part, which includes your donor making their gift, you sending a receipt, and any follow-up communication. While the transactional part of each donor's experience is super important, especially when it comes to moving folks from potential donors to first-time donors, any nonprofiteer worth their salt would agree that there's so much more to the nonprofit-donor relationship.

Still, the transaction experience is a key aspect of a memorable experience, and that means you want a donation journey that supports your fundraising efforts while making the giving as easy and intuitive as possible, so that every person who lands on your donation page completes a gift. When it comes to improving the transaction experience, here are some considerations:

  • Online donation forms. Your online donation forms are doing the heavy lifting, and that means they need to be on point. What does a modern donation form experience look like? It's on brand, with as few clicks as possible. You use pop-up donation forms as well as multi-step forms, which increase conversions and donations. (Psst, Funraise's donation forms have a 50% conversion rate, so you know they've got all those must-do's down pat!)
  • Donation confirmation page. Once donors donate, what happens? You want a donation confirmation page that fosters engagement with donors, reflects your campaign messaging and unique brand, and gives the donor somewhere to go from here. Most of all, it should express your appreciation, with a resounding thank you.
  • Immediate donor communications. It's very likely that your donors already receive a thank-you email within an hour of donating, and that's great! Use this email as an opportunity to engage with donors and build stronger relationships by offering other ways for them to get involved, like checking out an impact story, subscribing to your email newsletter, or sharing their donation on social media.
  • Future donor communications. Now, the donor management begins for real. A great giving experience means regular communication. Within one or two weeks of donating, each donor should get a (personalized!) thank you letter and/or tax receipt. Ask yourself: What can you do to surpass donor expectations and make this piece of mail really special?

How do I create a donor experience?

Or, more precisely, how do you create a great donor experience? Because if you're accepting donations, your donors are already experiencing something!

Day in and day out, you’re immersed in executing your fundraising program. That makes it easy to feel removed from the actual experience of what it’s like to give to your nonprofit. To reconnect with this part of your work and get intentional about crafting an amazing donor journey, try making a donation to your nonprofit. At each step, note what you're seeing and doing. Then, get it all down on paper (or screen) by creating a donor experience map. This helps you see everything your donor base does during and after their donations.

Once you’ve completed your deep-dive donor journey mapping, carefully review each touchpoint and every word, then consider ways you to improve. These improvements might be changing existing points on the journey, like the thank you page, or it might be adding in new points, like a stewardship email three days after a donation. Until then, here are some key points to keep in mind for a flawless donor experience.1

Storytelling matters

Effective storytelling is a key strategy for any nonprofit, making it an integral part of the experience for donors. Storytelling lets you connect with your audience and build a sense of trust, so lean into your unique narrative in all your written and visual content.

Make the ask

If you're all about meeting those fundraising goals, then you need to make the ask in the first place. That ask is the jumping-off point for the whole experience, so make it good.

Your website is key

While everything contributes to your donor experience, your website is at the center. It's where your fundraising strategy comes to fruition, where donors give and supporters sign up for fundraising events. Here, months of donor outreach pay off #literally.

Branding makes a difference

Consistency is crucial, lending credibility to your cause and building trust. Make sure your nonprofit looks and sounds the same everywhere for a cohesive donor journey.

Donating should be easy

Nothing turns a donor off like a difficult donation experience. By making donating fast and easy with as few clicks as possible, you'll build donor loyalty (and a major gift pipeline).

Focus on donor privacy

The perfect donor experience isn't just about what donors experience in the moment; it's about the behind-the-scenes experience, too. As such, you need to prioritize your donor's privacy with a secure platform that protects their data.

Do the outreach

A great relationship with donors is built on strong communication on a regular basis. Make sure you establish regular points of contact, and make them multichannel if you haven't already. Direct mail and email are great but don't forget about social media, monthly newsletters, and voice messages.

Thank your donors

Even the most selfless, generous person wants some form of recognition (unless they're donating anonymously, obvi), so don't fall down on the job: close the giving loop by showing your appreciation for donors with a custom message that offers a big, genuine thank you.

Tax documentation is essential

It's not glamorous, but providing accurate and timely tax documentation is a key part of a perfect donor experience. 

Make it accessible

The best experience is one that works for everyone, so ensure your donors have an experience that's fully inclusive and accessible. You can increase access for donors through virtual fundraising events, culturally competent materials, language translation, and diverse fundraising initiatives.

Donor feedback is mighty

In the end, a great experience is all about accommodating donor preferences, so follow up to get feedback from your donor community. Ask what's working, what's not working, and then make the necessary changes to avoid a decline in donor participation.

Tech tools to improve the donor journey

These days, to create a modern donor experience that meets donors' every need, you'll need an assist from technology. There are some seriously amazing features that many commonly used tech tools offer—and a lot of us don't put them to good use. Here are a few must-haves for a positive experience for donors.

Recent donation automation emails

Within your emailing platform, set up a sequence of emails to start going out to donors as soon as they’ve made a donation. For example, send an email immediately after the donation, an email two days after the donation, an email seven days after the donation, and an email fourteen days after the donation. In total, that’s four emails over two weeks. This might seem like a high volume of emails, but donors are highly engaged after a recent donation, so now is the time to keep them engaged with great content.

Custom content based on recent activity

Most email tools will also allow you to track what actions your subscribers take on your website, such as when they visit and how long they stay on your page. With the right platform, you can build automated email sequences that are triggered when a subscriber or donor visits a certain page on your website. This will send content that's tailored to the visitor's recent interests and activity, customizing their experience.

Shareables FTW

Some donors are legit stoked about making a donation to your organization and would probably share about it on social if you asked them. On your donation thank you page, test shareable content and graphics to encourage social media sharing and engagement. This is also a great way to find your donors on social and engage with them there.

How can AI help your donor experience?

If you want to boost efficacy and impact through a digital transformation, you'll need to call on the cyborg power of AI. You can use AI to build personal donor relationships, write winning appeals, draft social posts, take your design up and notch, make sense of your data, and much more. To start, there's AppealAI, Funraise's free AI tool to advance fundraising goals and increase donation conversion rates by personalizing the donation experience and crafting fantabulous appeals. 

How a CRM can help you avoid donor experience pitfalls

So, you have a stacked set of tools and a clear strategy to give your donors the best experience ever. But if you want to create an A+ experience, you also need to avoid certain pitfalls--and that's where a CRM comes in. With a great CRM, you have accurate donor information at your fingertips as well as a plethora of tools to optimize every donor interaction.

Since your supporters' experiences include each and every interaction they have with your nonprofit, you want a nonprofit CRM that provides ease, flexibility, and options for donors with minimal effort on your part. You want to avoid pitfalls like lengthy forms that require numerous clicks, confirmation pages that don't support donor retention, outdated campaign sites that bury actionable steps, and ticketing sites that take folks to different platforms.

The right tools can help with all of these issues and more. The right CRM will stop any decline in donor participation in its tracks by boosting fundraising through intuitive forms, company matching, recurring donation tools, personalized appeals, quick follow-up, and much, much more.

What does a donor experience officer do?

If you're all in on an amazing experience for your donors, and you have the budget, you might want to consider a donor experience officer. This role works to create a donor-centered fundraising experience while deepening connections with donors and achieving fundraising goals. Specifically:

Ensure outreach to the correct audience

Officers make sure that the right people are getting asked for the right things in the right way. They know how to target the right audience and tailor communications to reach them, ensuring outreach is appropriate, personalized, and timely. 

Manage the giving experience

The giving experience is complex, but an officer can keep everything on track.


During this phase, officers use data, institutional knowledge, and their experience to set goals and plan, laying the foundation for a successful donor engagement strategy and positive giving experience.


Next, those carefully planned strategies are put into action through donor-centric fundraising campaigns, marketing plans, and tailored communications.


With everything in place, it's time to see what works and what doesn't. By rigorously assessing and polishing strategies and processes, officers determine what resonates with donors and gets the best results for the organization.


Once they find processes that work, officers continually monitor and optimize their efforts to keep donors engaged, maximize donor retention, and sustain a positive giving experience.

Oversee post-donation outreach

Finally, officers continue donor engagement beyond the donation, maintaining relationships through thoughtful online and in-person interactions that foster donor loyalty and long-term support.

When you think about donor experience as an essential part of relationship building, it becomes a critical part of your strategy and planning. The small things you do to improve the experience do make a difference. Start with one or two improvements to your donor journey and keep building from there. Your donors will appreciate it.

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