Donor experience: Are we doing it all wrong?

It’s just one month until the IOF Convention, and I’m looking forward to some exciting sessions this year on an increasingly important topic.

If we look at the most commonly used phrases in our sector at the moment, I’d hazard a guess that ‘donor experience’ must come a very close second to ‘GDPR’. We’ve had the Commission on the Donor Experience, we’ve got a new IoF Donor Experience Special Interest Group setting up the Donor Experience Project, we have donor experience teams and ‘donor experience’ is appearing in more and more job descriptions.

And, excitingly, we have included a number of sessions focusing on individual giving and the donor experience at Fundraising Convention this year. As a member of the Convention Board, and part of the team that has put together the Individual Giving track, I am excited by these sessions, and that we are curating a ‘Donor Experience journey‘ through the convention sessions that will allow you to identify the most relevant ones to go to – from advice on creating multi-year, multi-channel fundraising campaigns to a global view of mid-value giving or how to harness the power of community when talking to audiences connected to your cause there are many different angles of donor experience to explore. Academics will take you through social psychology principles in Relationship Fundraising 3.0 and how to write a better thank you.

But first, it’s worth taking a look at what we mean by ‘donor experience’ – how important is it; and, crucially, are we doing it right?

It’s this last question that I’ll be focusing on in my session, How to Get Your Whole Organisation Behind Delivering Great Experiences. While it is great that we’re taking this subject seriously, I see common mistakes. I’ll cover several of these, but there are two things I’d like to point out now that I think we’re getting badly wrong:


We spend too much time eliminating negative experiences

Does that sound odd? Surely we don’t want to give our donors a bad experience? Surely that’s what caused the problems in the first place?

Of course, that’s right. And we should certainly try to get things right – it’s right that we spell the donor’s name right; use tactics that don’t unduly pressurise the donor; and spot when a donor is vulnerable and support them rather than exploit them.

But we need to recognise that these are simply satisfiers – noticed when you get it wrong, but expected (and therefore unnoticed) when you get it right.

It is moments that surprise and delight donors that they remember, that they talk about and that build the most valuable commodity of all, donor commitment.

It’s the hand-written note from the CEO that simply says thank you and that we’ve noticed your long-term support; it’s the private message to the donor that says what a difference they’ve made; it’s the book of stories from the children the donor’s donations have helped. At Cascaid, we used to call it ‘magic’.

We spend far too long worrying about the things that donors will never notice, ensuring the experience of giving to us is no worse than (and therefore the same as) giving to everyone else. And too little trying to create magic.


We measure the wrong things

The second common mistake I see is that we measure the wrong things. Or, more to the point, we don’t measure the most important things.

Peter Drucker famously said, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it”. If we want to improve the donor’s experience then we need to measure it. And that means measuring how they feel about giving to us.

Yes, there’s a cost involved. Yes, it will take up time. Yes, it’s scary. But if you’re serious about wanting to improve the donor’s experience, you’ll want to know how they feel.

Many of you will know that I set up About Loyalty, which offers charities a quick and simple way to measure the commitment, satisfaction, trust and emotional loyalty of their donors and, importantly, benchmark them against other participating charities to evaluate their own performance. Our research shows that higher scores in these areas lead to greater retention of donors, and a quantifiable increase in repeat giving. (A copy of the report can be requested here.)

This is just one option – you can create your own donor satisfaction scores, use the simple Net Promoter Score or even do as the NSPCC did and create your own ‘donor happiness‘ index. I wrote about these in the Commission on the Donor Experience Project on Measuring Satisfaction and Commitment.

Whatever route you choose, the single most important step you can take in improving your donor’s experience is to measure something. The moment you start to measure something you change it, and it changes you. So choosing any one of these measures will change the way you behave, the way you understand your donors and the way you plan your fundraising.

Measure it. Something. Anything! And report it just as widely as you do your financial results.


These are just two of the things that I see us getting wrong. In my session, I’ll go through others, the research behind them and some tips for getting it right.

And yes, we’ll be asking you how you feel about the session when you finish. So I’ll definitely spend a bit of time thinking about how to include a little bit of magic too that you still want to talk about it in years to come.


This post is also being published on the Institute of Fundraising’s site today.