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.

Supporter Experience – where to start

On Monday I met with 14 charity professionals who have the phrase ‘Supporter Experience’ somewhere in their job titles. It was fascinating to hear the different roles they have in different charities, and also to hear the shared frustrations and concerns.

There was a shared sense that the task is big, with so many areas to look it. And with any big task, it is sometimes difficult to know where to start. It reminded me of this article that I recently wrote, a shortened version of which was published on the new Donor Experience Project website.


Where do I start?

OK, I know I’m supposed to create a better donor experience, but the Commission on the Donor Experience (CDE) has 28 projects, over 600 pages to read and over 500 recommendations. Where on earth am I supposed to start?

Is that you? Has the sheer volume of good stuff (and there is some very good stuff in there!) made you think you don’t know where to start? If so, I can’t say I blame you.

If I could do just one thing, I’d do the single most import thing. I’d change what I measure and put in place a KPI around how my donors feel about supporting us. Then I’d ask them. And then I’d report what I find.

What you measure is what you do.

When I wrote the CDE project on Measuring Satisfaction and Commitment, I started by saying that, “an obsession with short-term financial KPIs is the single biggest reason that donors are dissatisfied with the way charities fundraise.”

I continued, “It forces us to follow ever more aggressive strategies in order to achieve the target amount of income or new donors. It also means that we never understand the impact of our communications in terms of how we make donors feel about us, or how emotionally engaged they are with us.

Of course we’re here to raise money and we should have our financial KPIs. Adding longer-term financial KPIs is an improvement. But the biggest step forward will be when we add a KPI around how we’re making donors feel. Then change will happen.

The moment that you begin to measure something, you change it – and it changes you!

So, what should we measure?

Donor Satisfaction

This still leaves the question of what you should measure. To be honest, I don’t think it really matters, as long as you measure something!

In the CDE I outlined some choices including Net Promoter Score or Customer Effort, through to measuring Loyalty, Commitment or Donor Satisfaction. And I give examples where charities and companies have used standard tools like these or where they have created their own.Loyalty

And many of you know that I set-up About Loyalty to make it simple for charities to measure and benchmark Loyalty (Commitment, Satisfaction and Trust).


In all the examples I gave, it’s the act of measuring something (and reporting it widely) that has created the change – a change for their donors and customers and, in the longer term, a change for their incomes.

If you’re serious about changing your donors’ experience and you don’t measure it then it simply won’t happen. Do it today!

(By the way. If you need more persuasion, there’s a growing body of evidence that shows that improving donor loyalty, commitment and satisfaction generates more income in the long term. I’m working with the IOF’s Donor Experience Project to pull this body of evidence together – watch this space!)


A P.S. about GDPR (because I couldn’t not mention it today!

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