How to Create A Donor Journey that Increases Engagement and Retention

How to Create A Donor Journey that Increases Engagement and Retention

Personalized donor engagement is the new normal—but can your nonprofit meet this new demand? With so many essential and critical missions worldwide, how can you stand out from the noise? 

There’s a simple solution: responsive donor journeys. 

Responsive donor journeys help you bring donors from awareness to engagement, then onto generosity and advocacy. 

In this comprehensive guide, you’ll learn why it’s critical to your fundraising strategy to have a donor journey mapped out so you can scale your supporter’s generosity. 

Most importantly, you’ll walk away with a free workbook to help get your team started right away!

Let’s dive in!

A Generosity Crisis

Increase Donor Engagement By Automating Donor Journeys

Unfortunately, in increasing numbers, nonprofits are losing ‘everyday donors,’ causing fundraisers to rely more on large gifts and less on mid and low-level donors.

In the latest research from the Fundraising Effectiveness Project, nonprofits are seeing a sharp decrease in donations now that pandemic giving has plateaued. Let’s take a look at some key figures from their report: 

  • Donors are down 3.8%, primarily in new and low-level donors.
  • New donors declined 19%, which typically make up 40% of a donor file and continue to be the main drivers of this decrease. 
  • Donors giving more than $50,000 declined by 7%, and donations from those donors declined by 11%, which accounted for 54% of the overall decrease in dollars.

As we move into this generosity crisis, the question remains, how do we fight this decline and encourage our existing donor base to give and give generously to your cause? 

Today’s donors differ from five, ten, or even fifteen years ago. Long gone are the days of generic emails, phone calls, and traditional fundraising tactics. Donors expect a deeper personal connection to the causes they support.

Enter responsive donor journeys. 

Laying the Foundation: What is a Donor Journey?

Because donors expect and crave a personalized connection with your cause, providing a unique experience to each donor can seem daunting – especially if you’re working with hundreds, if not thousands, of supporters! 

Thankfully with a donor journey, it’s easier than ever to automate personalized outreach to your supporters at scale. At a basic level, a donor journey is a path each person takes to evolve from a stranger to a highly engaged supporter of your organization. It’s a web of personalized engagements and responses that are repeatable and scalable. This is typically accomplished by sending your supporter personalized emails, texts, calls, and direct mail. 

Creating a donor journey ad-hoc can become confusing and inconsistent, but if you take the time to map out your plan, you’ll be more likely to succeed! 

Mapping a Donor Journey

Step One: Creating a Persona 

Before we dive right into creating new communications with our supporters, it’s essential to identify your donors and segment them into buckets. A first-time donor’s journey will look wildly different from a recurring, long-term donor! You can deliver a personalized, scalable journey to your supporters by identifying specific segments within your donor base. 

These are the first segments that you can craft unique journeys for: 

  • Volunteer Donors: Their journey should acknowledge the holistic picture of their giving both time and financially 
  • First-Time Donors: Their journey introduces them more fully to the organization and guides them to their next gift (donors who receive this within the first 90 days of giving will give again!)
  • Monthly Givers: Their journey celebrates their loyalty and brings them even deeper into your cause

To keep things simple, we recommend starting with one donor segment before scaling to others, but this is a good starting point! 

Step Two: Establishing a Map

To make a donor map, you’ll need to identify the points of engagement and messages you want to include. You’ll also want to plan the timing of those messages. No one wants to receive five emails and three texts in one day! Be considerate in how often you communicate with your supporters.  

Let’s take our first-time donor as an example. You could create a donor journey map like this: 

Initiate When: Donor makes a gift for the first time.

Engagement 1: Automatic Thank You Email 

  • Channel: Email 
  • Message: Thank you for giving! 
  • CTA: None
  • Timing: Immediately after their gift 

Engagement 2: Personal Thank You

  • Channel: Phone call  
  • Message: Thank you for giving to our cause!
  • CTA: Follow us on social media
  • Timing: One day after the automatic thank you message

Engagement 3: Connect with Impact

  • Channel: SMS
  • Message: Learn more about the impact of your donation
  • CTA: Watch this video / read this blog post / look at this infographic
  • Timing: 4 days later

Engagement 4: Offer More Involvement

  • Channel: Email
  • Message: Become more involved with our cause
  • CTA: Volunteer / attend an upcoming event
  • Timing: 2 weeks later

Step Three: Leveraging Automation

Remember how we said you could easily scale these personal outreaches to donors? You can through the power of automation!

With marketing automation tools, you can build scalable donor journeys and reduce time spent by your team hitting ‘send’ each time (not to mention crafting each piece!).  

Marketing automation ensures that your team sends timely and personalized communication to your supporters, encouraging them to become more deeply engaged with your cause and continue to give generously. 

Increasing Donor Engagement and Donor Retention

Donor journeys are a strategic way to increase donor engagement and retention across your supporters—whether they’re new, lifelong, or lapsed. By mapping out journeys that suit each segment of your donor base and creating personalized messaging to fit, you can expect a 12% increase in donor retention and a 10% increase in average gift size! 

Download The Donor Journey eBook

Even though it’s a complex process, it’s not complicated to create or implement at your nonprofit. You simply need a map.

This ebook gives you a step-by-step guide for building a donor journey. We’ll also help you create a map for each donor segment which will act as a daily reminder to your entire team of who your target audience is and how you can reach them.

Download the eBook today to increase your nonprofit’s donor retention and engagement! 

Author’s Bio


Kelly Cristaldi serves as Sr. Partner Marketing Manager at Virtuous. In this role, she helps identify opportunities with partners to help fundraisers increase their supporters’ generosity. 

Before joining Virtuous, Kelly worked for five years in the animal welfare sector and specialized in marketing, PR, and fundraising, focusing on major donors and corporate sponsorship. 

Share the Post:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recent Posts

Fundraise Up: Transforming Nonprofit Fundraising with Cutting-Edge Technology In today’s rapidly evolving digital landscape, nonprofits must continuously innovate to keep pace with changing donor expectations and behaviors. One platform that...

Preparing for a Powerful End-of-Year Fundraising Campaign As the temperature rises and activity slows, summer provides a unique opportunity for nonprofits to prepare for the high-energy demands of end-of-year fundraising....

If you are a nonprofit organization looking to deepen donor engagement, offering volunteer opportunities can be a transformative strategy. These volunteer opportunities allow individuals to explore a variety of roles,...

Get free insights on proven communication strategies & techniques to help create lasting change!