Donor Relationship Management: Designing and Delivering Successful Supporter Journeys

November 9, 2020 Brian Isaac

This content originally appeared in Powerful Relationships Through Meaningful Moments

Supporter journeys go beyond marketing schedules

As a donor-funded nonprofit, your supporters are your lifeblood.

And whilst many of our supporters are loyal, faithful, generous and thoroughly committed to our cause, finding them this isn’t always easy. Keeping them can be even harder still.

That’s why the idea of supporter journeys has become so popular over recent years. As buzz grows about this highly automated way of growing and retaining your donor base, the key question is, are supporter journeys as powerful as we’ve been led to believe? Can they really build strong relationships between donors and NFPs?

And if so, how can you create truly effective supporter journeys for your organisation? How about donor relationships and donor retention?

This whitepaper will answer those questions, and give context to what it means to build the right supporter journey for all of your donor relations.

At Blackbaud, we’ve had the opportunity to work with a number of Blackbaud customers on their supporter journeys and it’s so important to get the fundamentals right before you begin. We define the supporter journey as a series of moments that get someone from Point A to Point B.

That journey from Point A to Point B might be from non-donor to donor, from a one-off gift to regular support, or from advocate to volunteer. However, no matter what the journey, the key to success lies in the quality of each individual moment.

A true supporter journey is all about the impact of small moments that build on each other to lead the donor to the desired outcome.

Creating effective supporter journeys will mean being flexible and donor-focused, rather than simply creating a marketing schedule that works for you. There’s a big difference between marketing automation and supporter journeys, as only one will enrich your relationship with your supporters.

In order to gain a deeper understanding of Journeys within the corporate sector, Blackbaud Pacific engaged Saiful Nasir of CXD Labs, a Customer Experience (CX) consultancy firm providing journey mapping services to companies such as Australia Post and Telstra, to capture further insight on how Journeys used in the corporate sector may apply to NFP. Saiful carefully noted that the definition of Journeys may apply to both supporters within the NFP sector as well as customers in a retail environment.

Journeys are about understanding how your customer or supporter interacts with your organisation to achieve their goals. These include the moments your supporters or customers encounter, the decisions they take and the points where they decide to either exit their journey or take different paths moving forward.

Blackbaud has its own experience working with a number of NGO’s and it can take a lot of work to create those meaningful moments to ensure a compelling supporter journey experience.

To illustrate his point, we’d like to share an example from a Blackbaud customer who approached the Professional Services team to share their version of a donor journey.

What they presented to us initially was simply three marketing pieces delivered one after the other. For me, that’s a schedule, not a journey, because they had no answer when   I asked them ‘why?’ Why this frequency? Why not relative to when something occurred? Why this content; why is it meaningful and relevant?

Developing emotional journeys

Creating memorable moments means NFPs need to focus on the emotional outcome of each step in the journey, not just the transactional impact. And of course, that also means ensuring the supporter actually experiences and responds to those moments, otherwise they won’t be ready for the next step.

Each step is so crucial in the journey, so it’s vitally important you don’t just skip supporters onto Step Two if they haven’t yet experienced Step One. In other words, don’t just barrage them with messages, if they aren’t engaging.

A key to increased supporter engagement throughout the journey is offering different ways to let your supporter have the same experience.

Imagine you have a video that plays an important role in the supporter journey because it evokes a feeling of wonderment and compassion. How do you make sure your supporter sees the video before moving to the next moment? Ask yourself – are there other ways you can help them have that same moment through another channel if they don’t watch the video?


Featured resource: Donation Thank-You Letters Made Easy
Learn how to write simple, powerful, and effective donation thank you letters to turn your donation experience into an unforgettable one.


If your supporter doesn’t watch the video after receiving an email, perhaps they’ll be more likely to engage with a Facebook message containing the same video.

It’s just as important to assess the impact of the video, what if none of your supporters are watching it, or if they switch off a few seconds in. Journeys need to be assessed both from the perspective of the supporter experiencing the step and the quality/impact of the step once experienced.

Another way to help ensure your supporter experiences each moment fully is to ask them at the beginning of the journey, ‘How do you prefer to receive communications from us?’ That simple question means you’ll be communicating with them in their preferred style, not yours, thus increasing the likelihood that your constituent will engage with the moment.

The benefits of mapping out supporter journeys

CXD Labs’ Saiful Nasir, refers to the process of planning supporter journeys as ‘Journey Mapping’, which outlines each moment you want your supporter to experience, and when you want them to experience it.

According to Saiful, journey mapping has both tangible and intangible benefits for organisations, citing an example from a commercial organisation CXD Labs recently partnered with.

We conducted a journey mapping exercise for a large telecommunications organisation and identified a customer pain point related to delays to deliver projects to customers due to missed requirements. After conducting a root cause analysis, we found a potential $12m worth of tangible benefits that could be realised if we tweaked the journey and encourage better quality checks earlier on the sales process rather than during delivery.

Throughout the journey mapping exercise, we found that the biggest intangible benefit was the collaboration between all parties involved in the process. Often these parties have never worked together to solve a widespread problem and the journey mapping exercise provided that opportunity.

This collaborative approach to designing Supporter Journeys is even more important in nonprofit organisations that are often more stretched for resources than their commercial counterparts.

Supporter journeys are often a completely new way of thinking about communicating with your supporters. I would say don’t be hasty about setting up your journeys.

You need to know your supporters, and you also need to have a clear understanding of your organisation about the role journeys will play.

Supporter journeys operate in a very different way than traditional NFP marketing and fundraising schedules.

And unless the entire organisation is committed to making the journey a success, mistakes can occur that could jeopardise the very relationship you are working so hard to develop.

For example, an organisation may have developed a long email journey, but at the same time, the supporter could still be receiving direct mail pieces and general email marketing campaigns which don’t match up with the journey.

Within the industry, Saiful acknowledges that companies are using journey mapping as a way to identify potential stakeholder fatigue derived from over-communicating. This sits across an omni-channel view, that combines EDM, outbound calls, emails, social media posts, and how each of these channels shapes the experience for a customer without exposing them to communication fatigue. Journey maps also show information about customers’ sentiment towards the communications they receive, which in turn, highlights areas of improvement for both industry and NFPs.

This risk is even higher in organisations that are heavily siloed. Traditionally, organisations would create teams based around channels, as opposed to strategy; nowadays, the concept of a direct mail team or an email team is defunct—communications should be cross-organisational and integrated. This is also where the rhetoric of an organisation-wide CRM (Customer Relationship Management) platform comes in. It provides unfettered, holistic views of communication, across channels, across segments, and across internal teams.

Download the full whitepaper

For more information on donor management, long term donor relationship management, donor retention, creating meaningful communication and relationships through fundraising, make sure to download the full whitepaper, Powerful Relationships Through Meaningful Moments.

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