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  The Tools You Should Be Using at Each Donor Stage

Tools, Tips and Strategies for Each Phase of Your Donor Experience

You’re now armed with a clear picture of the donor experience, including the value of breaking up the experience into a series of phases that can be designed.

In other words, by splitting up the experience you create an opportunity to focus on improving each part individually.

So many organizations feel overwhelmed by the need to improve their fundraising efforts. They look at their overall development program and feel daunted, not knowing where they should even begin to start working.

Breaking up your donor experience into phases helps address this feeling. It makes the process of starting doable.

What we’re going to do now is look at what you need in order to make each phase work as well as it can. That means pulling back the curtain on the tools, tips, and strategies you need to effectively steward your donors forward in their journey.

We’re going to start off each phase by describing what your goal is for the people who are at that phase of their engagement with you. This helps transition and focus your mindset as you move through the phases. By picturing what each person is coming to that phase with, and what’s needed to move them forward, you can narrow in on what you need to do for them.

And in order to give you what you need to work on these issues, you’ll notice there are also examples and links to a number of resources throughout this lesson.

So fear not:

You will have ample options for how to begin implementing improvements!

We’re now going to cover the tools, tips, and strategies you want to consider using at each of the donor phases.

Initial Awareness

YOUR GOAL: To get people who are unaware of you to be drawn to you.

The basic premise of this initial phase is to gain people’s attention. Of course, the idea is that at some point in the future they’ll be your donors. But, right now, you just need to focus on being in front of them in some way, capturing their attention.

Here are three excellent approaches to use at this stage:

Produce Evergreen Content — So many of us spend our time cranking out updates and little write-ups about projects where the focus is on how “timely” they are. The premise behind evergreen content is that you’re producing things that are, to some degree, timeless. These types of resources can be used over and over, and can actually gain in value over time as they are shared over time. These are also things that are so useful that your audience will use them not just once, but in an ongoing way over time. Evergreen content are the things that you keep coming back to.

Hacking Kickstarter: How to Raise $100,000 in 10 days (includes Successful Templates, Emails, etc.)

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Flagship Events — There has been a lot written about the pros and cons of doing fundraising events. In general, they tend to provide really low returns for most organizations, not too mention they take a lot of time to plan and pull off that could be put towards more effective areas of fundraising. However, for some organizations, running a flagship event is a huge deal and is able to simultaneously raise lots of money and draw. My good friend, Vivien Luk, runs an organization called Team Tassy that has received enormous publicity by partnering with companies like The North Face and Outside Magazine as dozens of supporters literally run across Haiti.

Run Across Haiti (includes documentary produced by The North Face)

Runners: You’ve Never Seen Haiti Like This

Campaigns and movements — One of the best ways to raise awareness and build momentum for your organization is to play an important role in campaigns and movements that are bigger than your organization. That means promoting the cause above and beyond yourself, using the belief that the audience will recognize you and your role in the movement over time. In a time when people are tired of being pitched to, using your organization to a greater end is really attractive to people.

Movement for Black Lives


YOUR GOAL: To get people to express interest in your work and capture their contact information.

The premise of this phase is that you want to get people to move from being aware of your work to being engaged with your work. In practical terms, that means getting them to opt-in to receiving more information from you. The most common and effective ways of doing this are online, so we’re going to cover those here.

Landing Pages — Landing pages are simple websites designed to encourage specific actions. The thinking behind them is that if you strip away all of the options a person could take instead of the one you’d like them to take (e.g. signing up for your email list) then you will increase the likelihood they complete that action. In general, landing pages typically consist of a small bit of really strong copy, nice images, clean design, and a really obvious call-to-action for visitors to take.




Exit Intent — One of the single most effective things you can do on your website to boost the likelihood of getting potential donors to become engaged with you is to use something called exit intent. These are essentially “smart popups” on your website that are triggered to show up only when a visitor is about to leave your webpage (they track the movement of their mouse cursor). Using these on the Fundraising Genius website, we’ve been able to boost the number of our email signups by 50% in less than a month. The real value of exit intent is that they provide a more active approach to encouraging signups than a passive signup box on your page. And you’d be amazed by how well they work!



Header Bars — One of the simplest, and least obstructive, ways you can capture prospects is by adding a little header bar to the top of your website. They don’t distract from what a person is doing on your website, but are effective at boosting your signup rates by a decent amount. Some eye-catching copy never hurts either :)


CRM — Of course, no discussion of tools at this stage of the donor experience would be complete without mentioning the fact that you need to have a database in which to capture your audience. This going to help you in innumerable ways down-the-line, from donor segmenting to communications to overall fundraising analytics. Get yourself one that’s easy to use, integrates with other software providers easily, and make your life a hell of a lot easier.




Activating Participants

YOUR GOAL: To increase a person’s engagement with you.

The premise of this donor phase is that you want people to transition from signing up to receive content from you, to actively being involved in supporting your cause in some non-financial way. That’s because, as a reminder, our goal at each phase is simply to move them to the subsequent phase, not to go for the gift ask as soon as possible. So in this stage you’re building in small opportunities for them to actively engage with you as a means of increasing their connection to you and, in each case, benefitting you in an ancillary way as well.

Onboarding Series w/questions — This is such a goldmine! Yet hardly any organizations are using it. The idea here is that once a person enters your CRM in some way (e.g. newsletter signup), then you send them a welcome email that includes a small ask: Why did you decide to sign up? It seems little (and it is) but the amount of insights you’ll gain from this simple question are astounding. Plus, you’re getting them to actively engage with you, which strengthens your relationship and primes them for the next phase.

Referral Program — Another little (but valuable) ask you can make of your prospects in order to engage them is for a referral. You’re not expecting them to raise money for you or anything like that; just to let somebody in their network know about you because there’s some kind of alignment of interests there. To encourage this type of action on their part — after all they are risking themselves socially on your behalf — it can be helpful to offer some kind of incentive. But there are real benefits to running a referral program like this (which we go into in another lesson).

Volunteering — Perhaps the most common way prospects are asked to actively engage with organizations is through volunteering of some kind. Because what better way to see that somebody is interested in supporting you than to borrow a bit of their time for your cause? Those who volunteer are clearly committed to your work and will make excellent future donors.

Social Sharing — Just like our organizations, prospects bring all sorts of things to the table. And, especially for younger prospects, one of the best things they bring is an interest in sharing valuable information with their social media audiences. If you know this about certain prospects, you can tailor your asks around encouraging them to share, rather than to do something else, and get a lot of mileage out of it.

1st Time Donors

YOUR GOAL: To get a person who has never donated to you to give for the first time.

The premise of this phase is, of course, that it’s time to get your engaged prospects to throw some money your way. You’ve been courting them, providing them lots of value, giving them opportunities for increasing their engagement with you and, generally, just getting ready for this moment when you ask them for a donation.

Clear Call-to-Action — If you’re going to ask for money from somebody, one of the single most important things you can do is to make it as easy and obvious for a person to give as possible. The first step in that process is to eliminate all other distractions for a person — say, not including any other links in an email campaign — and then making your call-to-action big and bold. Make sure they see it, know what it is, and want to click on it to begin the giving process.

Nonprofit Marketing: 40 Call to Action Examples that Drive Engagement

30 Call-to-Action Examples You Can’t Help but Click

Strong Copywriting — There’s no substitute for writing strong, compelling copy in your appeals. Give yourself plenty of time to write, edit, and rewrite it multiple times before you need to use it. The good news is that by this stage, you are going to have a really clear understanding of your donors, what their interests are, and what really impresses them about the work your organization does. Use all of that to make the strongest case for supporting you as you can!

35 Copywriting Tips and Tricks from the Pros

5 Subtle Yet Super Powerful Copywriting Tips

Well-designed Giving Experience — If you really want to get people to move from interested supporters (who don’t yet give financially to you) to being current donors, you need to make sure that your giving experience is seamless. You’d be surprised but even people who want to give to you can be easily persuaded out of it just by some part of the process being too confusing or too much work or even just taking too long to load. So to give yourself the best chance at getting first-time gifts from people, walk through your giving experience multiple times in advance with people to identify the parts that might impact people’s overall giving. The best guiding advice is to make each part — from the email campaign to the checkout — as easy and obvious to complete as possible.

Designing an Effective Donate Form

Higher Level Giving

YOUR GOAL: To get past donors to continue giving to your organization.

The premise of this phase is to help you think beyond the first donation from someone. Since there’s so much work leading up to that action, it can be easy to think about your work being done then. But the best approach is to think longer term, including how to retain them as donors next time and how to begin increasing the size of their gifts.

Ongoing Communication — There’s no formula you have to follow for what your organization’s ongoing communication should look like (though a lot of people wish there was!). However, what is absolutely clear is that if you hope to get another gift from a person, you need to communicate with them in some fashion, with some regularity. And even more important than your frequency is the value of what you provide your donors. Your goal should be to maintain a level of high quality (in your donors’ eyes) at a pace at that your organization can maintain it. If you use the design and copywriting techniques detailed in this course, with a deep understanding of your supporters, you will be in a great position to capture follow-on donations from new donors. (And don’t be afraid to mix it up and try something new every once in a while. Donors are human, and appreciate a little variety!)

Priming — One of the great secrets of fundraising is that success comes from setting your donors up for giving even before your ask. This process is known as priming, and can take a couple of forms from teasing an upcoming campaign early to creating another positive interaction prior to your next ask. Regardless of how you do it — and it’s ok to use multiple priming methods before your next campaign — what’s most important is that your ask doesn’t appear out of nowhere. Whether consciously or subconsciously, if you’ve prepped a donor well, they are going to be more likely to give to you again.

Anchoring — The truth is that if you want a person to give you a bigger gift, then you have to put a bigger number in their mind. This method of anchoring is central to how the most effective organizations raise more money from their existing donors. But in order for this to work, you have to be able to segment your donors based on their giving amount so that you can tailor your anchoring amount specifically to each person’s past giving. The key thing to remember here is that it’s the first number a person sees or hears that establishes the anchor. So if you remind a donor of their past gift first, their mind will be anchored to that past amount rather than the larger amount (which will feel like a burdensome increase). It’s like a negotiation: Anchor your donors’ minds higher than their past amount and maybe even higher than you expect to get, because in that gap will still be a higher gift amount.


I’ve found that it’s important not only to break apart the donor experience into phases, but to also detail which tools and approaches you want to use in order to be successful at each of them. This detailed lesson should give you a strong understanding of how to think about your primary goal for each phase, as well as how to best serve your prospects and donors based on where they’re at in your process.

Because once you know this, then you can really get started making your development efforts work even better.