X Marks the Donors: A Nonprofit's Guide to Creating a Donor Journey Map

October 16, 2023
7 minutes

For centuries, we've relied on maps to get us where we need to go. From grabbing a free road map at the gas station to sailing across oceans for a chest of gold doubloons, maps have helped us navigate unfamiliar territory and reach our goals. And that's just what a donor journey map can do for your nonprofit.

What is the donor journey?

The donor journey is the entirety of interactions and experiences a donor has with a nonprofit organization, from first learning about a cause to becoming a recurring and active donor. The initial acquisition steps are often likened to a donor funnel, as donors are brought into the nonprofit's fold.

Here's the thing: when a potential donor becomes aware of your organization, they don't just Google your website, fill out a donation form, and hit "submit." They research your nonprofit. They read an annual report and maybe a blog post. And they carefully consider whether (and how much of) their hard-earned money should go to your cause. In the long term, their journey may end after a $5 donation. Just a quick trip! Or, they might go from a first-time donation to a monthly donation to becoming a major donor and eventually chairing your board.

The point is that every journey is different, but you can control what type of journey your donors are on. By carefully considering all the touchpoints a donor encounters as they move from the awareness stage to that online donation and become a consistent donor, you can create a journey that's long, enjoyable, and memorable. But to do that, you need a plan. And that means you need a good map.

Why your nonprofit should do donor journey mapping

Just like drawing a map without Google Maps is a lot of work, so is mapping your various donor segments' journeys. So, why should you put in the effort to create a nonprofit customer journey map? 

Donor retention

If you want prospective donors to become first-time donors and first-time donors to stick around, you need to offer them an easy and intuitive experience with your charitable organization. The better the constituent experience, the more loyal donors you'll cultivate.

Donor recruitment

In addition to improving your donor retention strategy, effective journey mapping can help with your marketing efforts, driving visibility and attracting new donors. You can see what's working and what's not, then implement those lessons to meet your fundraising goals.

Foster donor empathy

Nonprofits spend a lot (A LOT) of time trying to figure out how to get additional donations. Now, you can walk in your donors' shoes and experience exactly what they experience, pain points, and all! Huh, suddenly you realize that your CTA is really confusing and that marketing content is pretty darn grating.

Deepen donor relationships

Sometimes, nonprofits put so much energy into recruiting new donors that they forget to put in the effort with existing donors. But when individual donors feel like you see them, whether it's through a personalized donor engagement strategy or a volunteer onboarding process that anticipates their every question, they trust your organization. 

Lay groundwork for predictable revenue

The more carefully you map the donation process as well as your various donor touchpoints, the more patterns you can identify to create a reliable framework for generating revenue. 

Volunteer recruitment

If people have a great experience with the donation process, their journey won't end with a one-time donation. With a well-thought-out journey, you can highlight volunteer opportunities while supporting your fundraising efforts, building out your community with minimal effort.

Improve personalization

By understanding all the different paths donors can take and what they respond to, your fundraising team can create more personalized communications and experiences for everyone. And that's a recipe for success.

Donor journey map vs. customer journey map: What's the difference?

A donor journey map is a type of customer journey map. It focuses on donors' interactions and experiences with a nonprofit organization, while a customer journey map refers to customers' interactions across any one business, brand, or product rather than just a nonprofit.

So, while the two maps may have a different target audience, they both have the same goal: optimizing the user experience. Just as a great sales and purchasing experience can turn one-time visitors into lifelong customers, a great giving experience can turn one-time donors into loyal supporters. As such, customer journey mapping offers valuable lessons for nonprofiteers seeking to ensure a rewarding expedition for all your donor-travelers. For starters, the five phases that customers go through on their journeys also apply to donors: awareness, consideration, decision/purchase, retention, and loyalty/advocacy.

How does a donor journey differ from a volunteer journey?

Everyone who interacts with your nonprofit is on their own journey, including donors versus volunteers. So, the donor journey is the experience potential and current donors have with your nonprofit, while the volunteer journey refers to the interactions of your volunteers.

Since every journey is unique, you want to personalize the experience based on your audience segment. Just as taking a cross-country road trip requires a different map from finding the closest coffee shop, so do the different members of your donor base require their own paths for an optimal experience. A volunteer's journey will look very different from a major donor's journey, which will look quite different from the journey of a monthly donor.

How do you map a donor journey?

With all those different types of journeys out of the way, you can finally move on to the actual donor journey mapping. To map your donors' journey, you create a visual representation of all the touchpoints a donor goes through when interacting with your nonprofit. You can then use this outline to better understand the donor experience and optimize it going forward.

So, where do you begin? Let us map the journey mapping process.

Journey maps start with donor personas

Before you can start your map, you need to know your donors. And when you want to connect with your key audiences, your most powerful tool is ... (drumroll, please) donor personas. Basically, a donor persona is a representation of a type of ideal donor. You take all your demographic data and key insights and behavioral information and use that to create profiles that help you understand motivations, preferences, and needs for key donor segments.

For example, an animal shelter might have Carolina, a 30-something professional who doesn't have time for a pet but loves animals, as well as Richard, a retired man who loves dogs and finds himself with extra time on his hands, among two or three others. What attracts them to your nonprofit? What types of opportunities and interactions appeal to them? Write up a profile for each one. Then, with that information, you can start exploring what the journey with your nonprofit looks like for each persona.

Stages of the journey

With donor personas in hand, we can start mapping for real. Remember those five customer journey stages? Now, we're going to determine how you address critical needs for each donor persona at each stage. As you go through each stage, write down key donor touchpoints to see what the journey looks like for each persona.

Awareness

In the awareness stage, you're examining what your digital marketing strategy looks like in terms of spreading awareness of your cause. Before donors ever know your organization's name, how do they realize you exist? Maybe you rely on social media posts to spread the word, or perhaps you buy targeted ads. It could be that someone Googles your industry and your site pops up, or they hear about you through a peer-to-peer campaign. At this stage, you're not trying to get a donation; you're just getting the word out.

Consideration

Now, your donors know that you're a thing—congrats! Once they know your name, they start wondering if they should make a gift, and that means you need to prove that you're the best option out there, taking names and making an impact. Just like for-profit organizations that are convincing a customer to buy, buy, buy from them, you want to use various communication channels to convince would-be donors to give, give, give. This is where educational and informative websites and social media channels pay off.

Decision

Your Instagram account was amazing, and now, you have a potential supporter waiting in the wings—they're on the cusp of opening that donation form! Here, you're moving away from educational pieces of content and helpful articles and focusing instead on closing the deal. They decide to sign up for that newsletter, and through personalized emails with clear CTAs, they complete the donation process.

Retention

Hurray, a donor donated to your cause! Now, you want to use good donor management practices to get those previous donors to stick around for years to come. Send a donation receipt, say thank you, and start nudging them in the direction of lifelong supporters. Here, it's about providing a consistently positive experience, including personalized communications, regular follow-up, and steadfast support. 

Loyalty/Advocacy

Finally, there's the loyalty stage. Loyal donors are in it for good, and they're doing more than just making a donation every once in a while. They have a meaningful relationship with your nonprofit, and they'll spread the word near and far. From participating in P2P campaigns to singing your praises on social media channels, you have a loyal partner, so don't mess it up.

How donor data affects the journey

One more must-address area before we get to the map itself: To get your personas and map into tip-top, most-useful shape, you've got to follow the data. Data is your secret weapon when it comes to understanding donors' journeys with your organization. By analyzing demographic and behavioral data, you can curate a personalized experience for your donors and optimize future engagement. Data helps you create a content strategy that resonates with your donor segments, choose communication channels that connect with your base, and identify persona-specific touchpoints for maximum effectiveness. Happily, Funraise has you covered with data and dashboards that provide all the essential insights to craft a top-tier digital strategy.

Simplified donor journey map template

Organizational objective
What's your goal for the journey mapping process?

Donor personas
Note: You do not need to fill out every section below for every persona; aim for a complete profile for each one.

1. Name
    Age
    Education
    Average donation
    Location
    Job
    Communication preferences

    Goals
    Frustrations
    Motivations

2. [Same]

3. [Same]

4. [Same]

Donor journeys
Choose your most common persona to start and map the journey. Then, you can replicate the process for other personas later.

Table of a donor persona with Actions, Emotions, Touchpoints, and Potential solutions in the rows, with Awareness, Consideration, Decision, Retention, and Loyalty in the columns

Journey map obstacles

Of course, no journey is without its obstacles. Here are a few hazards you may encounter along the way.

Limited resources for innovation projects

Sometimes, an optimal journey requires an innovative approach, but innovation often requires ample resources. Nonprofits, alas, are often short on those, so you may have to compromise your ideal vision in the name of budget and practicality.

Traditional structures and extended decision-making periods

Nonprofits with hierarchical structures and a tendency to draw out the decision-making processes might struggle to agree on a course of action that takes into account changing donor expectations and needs.

Involvement of multiple stakeholders

Too many cooks is a real problem when it comes to implementing effective journey maps. Managing input and getting alignment among various stakeholders can be challenging and may slow down the process.

Not treating the map as a living document

Just as your project and strategies change, so does your donor pool. Your map is not static, and you'll need to revisit and update it regularly to ensure you're consistently meeting donors' changing needs and behaviors.

Small audience

Smaller nonprofits may move through the decision-making process more quickly, but a smaller donor base means limited data, which can be a challenge for creating detailed personas or conducting in-depth analysis.

Difficulty moving donors through the funnel

As with any journey, sometimes, participants get stuck. Likewise, some donors may get stuck at certain stages, and you'll need to motivate them to progress to the next level of engagement. 

What happens after a donor has... journeyed?

Trick question! The donor journey never ends, my friend. Creating an intentional and thoughtful digital journey for your various donors is a lifelong process, and you'll need to continue to tweak your communication strategies, email marketing, social channels, website, and interactions to meet donors where they are and ensure they stay engaged with your organization.

Effective donor journey map tools for nonprofits

If you really want to dive into the world of journey mapping, you'll want a journey mapping tool to help you visualize the comprehensive donor journey. Here are a few places to get started:

  • Lucidchart. Lucidchart lets you drag and drop to make visually appealing, easy-to-navigate diagrams for workflows and project management.
  • Smaply. Smaply is all about managing the customer experience, with tools for journey mapping, stakeholder mapping, and persona mapping.
  • WebMaxy. WebMaxy's data-driven marketing platform has specific tools to analyze the customer (or donor) journey, allowing you to see your website from the visitor's perspective.

Even for the most experienced and confident nonprofiteers, the rugged landscape of the nonprofitsphere can sometimes leave you feeling unsure or lost. Luckily, you can build a donor journey map to find your way out of the deepest darkness. Gear up, intrepid adventurers, and let's go!

Donor journey: Key takeaways

  • The donor journey encompasses the series of interactions a donor has with a nonprofit, from the initial awareness stage to becoming a loyal supporter.
  • The nonprofit customer journey can be highly varied, with different donors taking different paths. Some make a one-time donation, others become volunteers, and others become lifelong supporters.
  • Mapping the donor journey is a powerful technique that involves understanding the donor's POV by identifying touchpoints at each stage of the journey.
  • The customer (and donor) journey consists of five stages: awareness, consideration, decision, retention, and loyalty/advocacy.
  • Donor data is essential for effective mapping, enabling personalized engagement and targeted communication for different donor segments.

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