Why It’s Important to Understand the Donor Journey

Any time you meet someone new, there are a few stages you go through. First, you’re acquainted with the person, then you begin to learn more about them. Maybe you share a few similarities and have similar experiences you laugh about. You become friends with them, and you’re likely to introduce them to your other friend.

A lot of really smart business folks have discovered a similar get-to-know-you process between customers and companies. It’s called the customer journey.

And just as the for-profit world has a customer journey, the nonprofit world has a donor journey.

The Donor Journey Map

What is the donor journey? The donor journey, simply stated, is the process of taking potential supporters of your nonprofit and turning them into donors and advocates for your cause and mission.

the donor journey map with four stages: awareness, consideration, decision, evangelize
Image: The donor journey map displays the four stages of awareness, consideration, decision, and evangelize.

In this article, we’ll break down the donor journey by each stage on the donor journey map—awareness, consideration, decision, and evangelize—and share strategies for using it to find new supporters while also strengthening the relationship you have with your current supporters. At the end, we’ll share a free donor journey map template to get your organization started on mapping your own donor journey.

1. Awareness

For-profit: The buyer realizes they have a need.
Nonprofit: The donor realizes they want to give/help.



Awareness comes down to how much people know about your nonprofit. The more people who know you, the higher the chance of increasing your donor base.

The #1 best way to spread awareness? Be discoverable.

If someone wanted to give to your mission but hasn’t heard of your nonprofit, how would they find you? Unless your nonprofit’s name is a searchable phrase, like “save the children,” then you need a strategy around promoting awareness.

In marketing terms, there are two methods to build awareness: inbound and outbound (or push and pull).

Push (or outbound) marketing efforts include things like paid advertising, trade shows, and cold-calling. It’s basically an interruption – people weren’t asking to see your ad; it’s just there.

Pull (or inbound) marketing is non-invasive. The goal is getting your nonprofit to show in search results when someone is looking for related causes or missions.

There are plenty of ways to promote awareness of your nonprofit.

Use personas* to determine who you should be talking to. Who are the ideal people who give to your organization? What are they like? For more information about personas, check out our Persona-Based Marketing ebook.

Determine how you’re driving people to places where they can learn about you.

  • How can you use Facebook and Google Adwords to approach people who would be interested in your mission?
  • What pieces of content are you posting that would be of interest to potential donors?
  • Are you actively using your social media channels to give updates on your mission?

*a fictional representation of a group of donors that have similar interests

2. Research/Consideration

For-profit: The buyer defines their problem and researches options to solve it.
Nonprofit: The donor determines the cause they support and researches options on where to give.



Once someone finds your organization, the next stage is to introduce them to it. While there’s plenty to inform these new people about, you should be analyzing the words you say and the tools you use (or would like to use) to communicate.

Think about what you say to help them connect to your value and purpose. Get these people to emotionally connect and engage with your purpose using a variety of methods. Consider other organizations the donor might consider giving money to in your community. Why should they give their money to you instead?

This is the stage where you give your donors everything they need to know about you. Since giving is such a personal (and sometimes emotional) interaction, it’s important they really get to know your organization. The more they feel connected to your cause, the more likely they are to give.

What do people engage with before making a decision?

  • Success stories – Firsthand accounts of how your nonprofit is impacting lives. Include photos and quotes that show impact.
  • Infographics – This is just like it sounds: a graphic display of information. Charity: water donors might ask, “How many wells did you drill?” The organization would then visually show the statistics in ways that are easy for donors to understand.

ALS infographic

  • Annual Reports – This is a compilation of all the great work you’ve done over the past year. Include stats, stories, charts, graphs, or financials. Make it interesting and engaging so you keep people’s attention.
  • Video – Use video as much as you can. Studies show that people are 59% more likely to watch video than read posts, and 51% of marketers name video as the type of content with the best return on investment. These videos can be footage from the field, clips of beneficiaries saying, “Thank you,” videos that show impact – get creative!
  • Testimonials from donors – Here’s where you get your donors to help recruit other donors. Have them explain why they give to you and how it makes them feel.

All these ideas give potential donors reasons to give to your organization. In this stage of the donor journey, they want to find as much information as possible. It’s your job to make it available to them.

3. Decision

For-profit: The buyer chooses a solution.
Nonprofit: The donor decides to give a donation.



Now that they’re thoroughly in love with your organization, it’s time for your admirer to give a donation. We just have one thing to say about that:

Make it easy for them to give!

Don’t hide your donate buttons three pages into your website. Make it very accessible. Our advice is to put it in the top right corner of every page of your site so donors always know where to find it.

Think about other businesses you’ve visited online. Nine times out of ten the top right corner of the site has a call-to-action – buy now, get a demo, sign up. As consumers, our eyes have been trained to go to the upper right corner when we’re looking for important items. And the same is true for your donors. Make sure the most important action you want your donors to take is in the upper right corner.

You can also put donate buttons within your content – even in the middle of a great story you’re telling. If a donor is compelled to give at that moment, why make them scroll or look elsewhere to find a “donate” button? The donation process should be as smooth as possible.

4. Evangelize

For-profit: The buyer tells their friends about their solution.
Nonprofit: The donor tells their friends about your cause.



This is the stage where you ask your loyal supporters to help you increase your brand awareness as well as recruit other prospective donors.

Ask them to share your posts on social media. Ask them to run a birthday campaign, inviting their friends to donate in lieu of gifts. Organize a race. There are creative ways for everyone to promote your nonprofit.

At this point, you should have gleaned this donor’s email (from their online donation in the last step) and added them to your email list. By giving them regular updates and more giving opportunities, you can continue to engage that donor, reminding them to spread the word.

This stage is a prime place to make sure you’re engaging your donors to cycle them through the donation process time after time.

Keep the Journey Going

By understanding the donor journey, you can create the marketing and fundraising materials needed to take them through the cycle. From awareness and research to making their decision and sharing your cause with others, there are multiple touch points along the entire cycle that your nonprofit should be engaging in.

These content-driven touch points are what will keep donors moving along in their journey. Mapping out what their journey looks like with your organization (how they may have heard about you, your different donation opportunities, etc.) can inform what content someone might need to encounter at one stage to move them to the next.

Donor Journey Map Template

the donor journey worksheet
Ready to map out your organization’s donor journey? Use this free donor journey map template to get started.

Get Your Free Donor Journey Map Template