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5 Steps to Building a Donor Journey

By the BBS & Associates Digital Team 


Creating a donor journey is a powerful strategy for any non-profit fundraiser looking for new ways to engage donors and help them feel connected and involved in supporting your mission.   

Rather than focusing on one-time donations from donors, developing a donor journey will allow you to build the kind of deep, long-lasting relationships that lead donors to an organization again and again.   

So, what is a donor journey? And how do you go about creating an effective one?   

Here’s what you need to know about engaging donors long-term and getting them invested in the success of your cause …  

What is a Donor Journey?

Every donor is on a journey — one that has a beginning, a middle, and an end. As fundraisers for non-profits, it’s essential to understand where your donors are on their journey so that you can tailor your communications to them accordingly.   
In fact, this understanding — which can provide insight into donor behavior, preferences, and motivations that would otherwise remain unknown — will be key to your organization’s fundraising success. You’ll be better able to determine the best methods of effectively capturing a donor’s attention, connecting with them on a deeper level, and retaining their long-term support.  

Let’s take a closer look at the five phases of the donor journey and how you can best engage with donors in each phase.  

Phase 1: Initial Contact

The initial contact phase is when donors first become aware of your organization and its mission. At this stage of the donor journey, you want to create an emotional connection and make sure they know who you are and what you stand for.  

You can achieve this by introducing yourself through email or social media and making sure they understand why their donation matters.  

Phase 2: Nurture Relationships

Once potential donors are aware of your organization, it’s time to start nurturing relationships with them. This involves offering relevant content to keep them engaged and connected with your mission.   

This doesn’t have to be complicated. It could simply involve sending out a monthly newsletter or making sure they know about an upcoming event or volunteer opportunity. Your goal here is to stay top-of-mind while providing value at every turn.  

Phase 3: Ask for Donation

Now it’s time to make your ask! This is the phase of the donor journey when you want to reach out to potential donors directly with a specific call-to-action or donation request.   

When you do this, make sure you communicate clearly why — why their support matters (including what their donation will accomplish and the impact it will make), and why now is the perfect time to donate. You’ll also want to provide multiple donation options so that potential donors can give an amount they feel comfortable with. 

Phase 4: Follow Up

Once someone has given to your organization, follow up promptly with “thank you” messages, as well as updates on the impact their generosity made (if possible). 

Doing so will show a donor their contribution was appreciated and respected — and also encourage future donations down the line! You may even consider setting up an automated system for sending out “thank you” emails after each donation is made. 

Phase 5: Reactivation & Retention

Finally, the last phase of the donor journey is reactivation and retention — which means engaging past donors to ensure they remain loyal supporters of your cause over time. 

You can do this by staying in touch regularly via newsletters or other forms of communication, offering them exclusive “insider” content, or inviting them to special events whenever possible.  

Visualizing Your Donor Journey

One great way to effectively manage the communications you are sending donors throughout their first year of engaging with your organization is to visualize the journey you’re taking them on.  

Take all the documents, emails, and other types of communication a donor will receive over the course of their first year and display them on a wall in order to give yourself a clear, visible picture of the donor experience. This will allow you to better understand how donors are engaging with your organization, what worked or what didn’t, which phases of the donor journey your organization needs to improve in, and which communications could be better tailored to the phase they’re being sent in … or ought to be sent in a different phase entirely! 

In terms of collecting information for this visualization, non-profits should track the following to get a truly comprehensive view of each donor’s journey:   

  • Any emails sent to the donor or prospective donor — including donation receipts, newsletters, or appeals 
  • Any events they may attend 
  • Any online interactions they may have — such as social media posts or advertisements 
  • Any direct mail sent to them 
  • Any conversations they may have had with staff members 
  • Any surveys they may have filled out 

With these details in hand, your next step will be piecing this data together to identify patterns in donor behavior. For example, are there specific types of content that result in higher engagement? Do certain messages trigger more donations than others?  

Understanding these relationship-building techniques and utilizing them will help maximize your fundraising efforts. Not only can this provide valuable insight for improving your overall relationships with existing donors, but it can also help you analyze which strategies have been most effective in bringing new donors to your organization.  

Once you have identified patterns within the data, use this information to create specific goals for your fundraising — both for short-term projects, like an upcoming event, and for long-term strategies, like strengthening annual giving campaigns.  

Additionally, this visualization can give you insight into how potential donors are engaging with your organization and spark ideas for improving your outreach strategy toward them.  

Ultimately, visualizing your donor journey is an incredibly useful tool for understanding how individuals interact with your organization and how you can build more effective relationships with them. With greater clarity over what works and what doesn’t in different scenarios, non-profits are able to craft more tailored experiences that lead to both greater donations and stronger bonds with supporters.  

Building a successful donor journey requires strategic planning and thoughtful execution. Remember — every donor is unique, so personalize your approach and create meaningful experiences that align with their interests and expectations at each phase along the way.  

If you have questions or want help creating a successful donor journey for your organization more specifically, please reach out to the BBS & Associates Digital Team at We’d love to share more with you!