You know how it feels when someone goes out of their way to help you, or when you get exceptionally good service? Those moments where you say ‘wow’ to yourself, and you smile?

Think about the feeling that comes with the ‘wow’ – that warm glow, smiling inside feeling. Stop for a moment right now and recollect one of those moments. Those feelings create good memories that cause us to lean in, come back and look for more. It is those feelings and those memories that are the basis for creating the ultimate donor experience.

There is no magic, no ‘one size fits all…’

…and certainly no silver bullet when it comes to creating the best possible experience for your donors. But there are best practices, common sense solutions and a whole bunch of corners you just shouldn’t cut.

StewardSHIP is Key

Steward, report back, be accountable, show impact and steward some more. When you’re absolutely sick of hearing about where the money goes in your organization, your donors are likely just starting to hear it. Be specific and direct and make it meaningful – it’s not enough to tell them you’re ‘delivering the best healthcare’ or ‘working to end poverty’ – these are all very admirable, but donors want some detail to better understand what you’re doing to achieve that goal. Producing one Annual Report or one Community Impact Report per year just doesn’t cut it. The number one reason why donors stop giving is because they don’t know where the money goes. It’s not their job to ask you, nor is it their job to go digging for it. Be accountable and be straightforward with this information. Have some stewardship/impact content in everything you do or produce. Tell them again and again.

Have a solid articulation of your case for support.

Why should donors give to you? Simple, right? It might seem so, but I can honestly tell you that many organizations I’ve worked with over the years cannot tell me in an inspiring way (or at all) exactly why donors should give to them. Your case for support should be written down, everyone in the organization should know what it is and be able to articulate it. Your case should come through in everything you do.

Create unique, timely and meaningful content.

Re-purposing content is a great idea – taking a story, an offer or an idea and telling it in a variety of ways and in a variety of places is good marketing practice. On the flip side, using the same story, same content, and same offer time and time again gets stale and doesn’t inspire. For instance, I know organizations who will send the exact same direct mail package to their donors right down to the copy and images, in the same month year over year, for many years! Rationalized as predictable, I’d argue that it’s akin to getting the exact same issue of your favourite magazine year over year, or the exact same gift for Christmas every year.

You actually might not notice right away (at least not consciously) but somewhere deep down, getting the same thing/same content time after time reduces the joy factor, delivers fewer inside smiles, and ultimately takes the shine off the donor experience.

Be prompt, responsive, friendly, and get it right!

What is your fundamental promise to how you serve your donors? Do you have one? How quickly you get receipts out, respond to donor complaints, interact with donors, answer the phone, how frequently you ask and steward, how you manage your data – are an outcome of your donor service policies. Donors aren’t yours and they often don’t much care about you. They care about the cause they want to support, and your organization is the facilitator to help them achieve giving happiness supporting something they care about. It’s your job to facilitate their happiness. And it’s your job to do it quickly, accurately, respectfully and in a friendly manner.


When you ask for money and a donor sends a gift and you send a receipt – that’s called a transaction. If that same donor is asked to also share an opinion, send a note of encouragement, pledge their allegiance, join with other supporters for an event, stretch their giving or engaged in a real conversation, that becomes engagement. When someone is engaged, they tend to be more loyal, responsive, interested and open to new opportunities or asks. If you can notch up the engagement factor, just a little, donors will give more and more frequently. And the bonus? When you engage with your donors, you’ll become a better fundraiser and happier in your job.

Make sure you’re firing on all cylinders.

Is your website up to date and does it have an easy to use, one-click donation form? Are you mobile optimized? Are you properly resourced to steward donors? Is your board/senior management on side regarding your strategic direction? Do you have a well thought out, stated strategic direction and operational plan? Is your data in order? Is your donor service as good as it can be? Do you have a written case? Are your fundraising tactics well planned, resourced, realistic and evaluated? If your organization is like most, you’ve got some work to do on this front, and let’s face it, there’s always something that needs attention. Tackle it with an organized, consistent process and plan. Trying to do everything all at once is overwhelming and paralyzing, but of course, getting these things done contributes towards creating the best experience for your donors.

Every gift, and every donor who gives, no matter how big or small deserves gratitude and graciousness. And every donor who parts with their hard earned money deserves to know their giving is advancing the cause they care about.

At the end of the day, I urge you to look at everything that touches donors with a critical eye. Is it the absolute best you can do? Are you creating the best possible journey for your donors? What can you do in the coming days and months to improve that donor experience?