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In  discussions about donor nurture and retention, the concept of the donor journey inevitably comes up.

The “traditional” donor journey is often couched in terms of the donor pyramid. That concept of acquiring donors then thanking and welcoming them. Trying to get second gifts. Then getting higher gifts or converting them to monthly giving. Then eventually turning them into major donors or bequestors.

Of course, not every donor follows this exact path. But the general idea is that you try to move donors from their first, often modest, gifts up the donor pyramid to bequests.

But at last week’s FIA Conference, the exemplary fundraiser Alan Clayton talked about the donor journey in terms of emotions. And it did change the way I view the donor journey (and I thought I was pretty good on emotional fundraising). This is what he said:

What is the donor journey?

Sadness – the donor feels “This terrible problem/ situation makes me so sad.”

Despair – the donor feels “There’s nothing I can do.”

Hope – the donor discovers “But I can help one person.”

Determination – the donor makes a decision “I will help more people.”

Triumph – the donor has made a difference “I’ve done it!”

This made me think. Perhaps we should not be thinking of taking the donor on one long journey from acquisition to bequest or major gifts.

Maybe we should be thinking of taking donors on lots of short trips. Short emotional trips where we constantly provide them with the joy of giving.

Then the donor journey towards major gifts, bequests and higher lifetime value should take care of themselves.

Alan Clayton also said this:

“Short-term fundraising is focused on need over and over again. Great fundraising is focused on emotional glow over and over again.”

This is why the common donor journey concept sucks. Because it’s focused on your need and what you want from the donor – larger gifts and long-term loyalty.

In contrast, the emotional donor journey is about what the donor wants from you as a charity. That glowing feeling of doing a good thing.

Do you take your donors on an emotional journey with each fundraising appeal? Or do you hammer them with repeated requests for funds because you need to make budget and get better ROI? And expect donors to understand by osmosis that your cause is the best?

Something to think about next time someone complains about your “emotional” fundraising appeals.


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