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Downes Murray International News

Could 'donor journey' be our sector's term of the decade?

Supporter journeys aren’t about your organisation – they’re about your donors, as Marisol Gutierrez explains.

If our blood’s ever boiled from being on the receiving end of rudeness; if you’ve logged a ‘Note to Self’ to never set foot in a certain store again – or if you’ve simply lost interest in someone disappointed you, you can relate to how donors feel when they’re regarded as banks rather than believers in our causes.

We frequently hear the term ‘donor journey’; in fact, it’s a bit of a buzzword within the NPO sector – like so many
other terms that risk becoming clichéd
from overuse. Not that this phrase is in
the league of ‘state capture’, mind you – which the Pan South African Language Board (PanSALB) recently declared the
2017 South African word of the year.

Still, our beloved ‘donor journey’ may as well refer to a road trip requiring padkos and not-so-scenic stops along the
N3 unless we truly understand its intent. In that regard, I like the no-nonsense description that international fundraising expert Tony Elischer penned in one of his blogs:

"...the supporter journey is a useful strategic framework to help us develop a full portfolio of options and opportunities to connect supporters and meet their needs."

Like everything else, the journey we want our supporters to enjoy with our organisations should be grounded in strategy. Strategy that’s developed through internal and external exploration, consultation and, of course, passion! That is, passion for the organisations we represent, for our work – and for those who fund it and support it.

Without this strategy, we essentially pick up donors like hitchhikers along a rocky fundraising route and drop them  off with no clue as to where they’re going next.

This is tantamount to saying a casual goodbye to a friend and finding out a few days later that she’s moved to Macedonia. 

But before you grab your iPad to thrash out ideas for your strategy, here are five pointers to help navigate your thinking: 

  1. Supporters often begin their journey without you — before you even know their names – because it’s your purpose they connect with first, not necessarily your organisation.
  2. Everyone – regardless of rank – should be part of the fulfilling experiences that your NPO sets out as markers in its journey framework. Responsibility for the full spectrum of supporter journeys cannot be assigned to one fundraiser or one department. It’s not a one-man show but an organisational imperative.
  3. Take into account potential mistakes and mishaps. No strategy is bullet-proof and accidents can and do happen. Contingency communication plans, as part of your overall strategy, can influence whether mishaps amount to minor fender benders that can be fixed or fatal collisions.
  4. Tip the balance between what your NPO wants donors to experience and what your donors want from you in the donors’ favour. Consider your capacity. If you weigh in too heavily with your own preferences and sideline the donors’ needs, you set yourself up for failure.
  5. Supporter journeys are not about your organisation; they are about your donors, volunteers and fans. As the late Dan Eldon said, ‘The journey is the destination.’

So, how do you know which direction to take? Where do you start?

Remember the good old map – that thing we used before the joys of GPS? We begin with something like that: a donor journey mapping process.

Start this by digging deep to uncover and understand how your donors interact and engage with your NPO. Depending on the size and complexity of your fundraising programme, your initial map could be as basic as an assessment of online giving activity – or as complicated as a multi-channel audit.

Ideally, work through this process with an objective and experienced fundraising and communications specialist. This will help to ensure that you maximise your opportunities and develop an integrated, inspired action plan that’s realistic, relevant – and received with glee by your donors.

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