Understanding Your Donor’s Journey

In order to design a system that converts potential donors to donors, a nonprofit organization must first understand the Donor’s Journey. Studying and understanding the stages of the donor’s journey will help you provide the information needed to guide someone into becoming a donor.

The Donor’s Journey is the process someone goes through from being aware of your cause all the way through to becoming a donor.

Why You Should Care About The Donor’s Journey

In order to become a donor, every potential donor goes through some kind of a journey. Just like any journey, people have different entry points and different destinations. Since your job is to turn potential donors into donors, understanding this process helps you provide the information and they need in order to grow into becoming a donor.


Knowing the growth stages a baby goes through will help you provide the right things it needs in order to grow. You cannot give a 3-month-old baby solid food because it’s not ready for that yet. You also can’t give a 2-year-old infant milk only. This is the reason that a lot of research has been done in determining what the baby needs at every stage.

Donors are like babies. Your job is to guide a potential donor deeper into their journey by providing the education and incentives they need in order to become donors.

Am sure You’ve heard about the Buyer’s Journey. Marketers have used this metaphor to understand their buyers. let’s look at the differences between the buyer’s journey and the donor’s journey.

The Buyer’s Journey usually begins when the consumer realizes that they have a need ( Awareness Stage). The pace is usually dictated by the consumer’s agency to find the solution to the need or problem. So the consumer goes through the consideration stage and finally the decision stage.

The Donor’s Journey usually begins with the nonprofit organization. You have a need and you need the donor to help you find the solution. Even though the need is urgent, you do not control the pace. But you still have to provide the information the donor needs in order to make the decision.

In other words, the buyer is driven by a steady need that usually won’t go away until it’s sorted out. On the other hand, most donors are driven by emotions and we all know that emotions come and go. One may feel emotional about something now and 5 minutes later they may feel different about it.

This means that a nonprofit organization has a very short window in which to make someone take action. The information you provide and how you provide it is very important.

My goal for this article is to show you why you need to study the donor’s journey. I hope that you’ll learn how to identify the stages where your donors are and what kind of information they need in order to make a decision. Finally, you will also learn how to structure your website information to support your donor’s journey.

Before I talk about the donor’s journey, let’s first define the buyer’s journey.

The buyer’s journey is a marketing metaphor that describes the process the buyer goes through in order to buy something. The process has three stages which are: awareness, consideration and decision stages.

Awareness Stage is when someone realizes they have a need or problem
The Consideration Stage is when the process of doing something about the problem. This may include research and weighing options.
The Decision Stage is when the person chooses a solution to the problem and becomes a buyer.

The buyers’ journey is very important because it identifies the stage at which the buyer is and gives the marketers the opportunity to present the buyer with the information they need at a particular stage in their journey.

Let’s look at two examples to help us identify the stages

Example one

You’re having lunch with your best friend and she tells you about this great book she’s reading. Because your friend knows you well and knows what you’re going through, she recommends that you read the book. When you get back home, are you going to do research or you’re going to buy the book?

The answer is, you probably going to buy the book without doing further research.
Your buyer’s journey looks like this.

Your buyer’s journey is short because you didn’t have to go through the consideration stage.  because your trusted friend went through those stages for you.

This is the shortest journey one can take because it involves trust. Many marketers understand the importance of trust in marketing. It is for that reason that you’ll see so more and more MLM companies and affiliate programs coming up. They know that there’s nothing as powerful as peer to peer marketing.

Example Two

The second example starts with a need. You want to learn how to write a blog. The first thing you do is go online and do your research which includes reading reviews, watching videos etc. Once the research is done, you’ll have a few options. You’ll then have to consider which product you want to buy depending on price or reviews. The final stage is making a decision and making the purchase.

Why is the Donor’s Journey Important to Nonprofit Organization?

You must remember that both for-profit and nonprofit organizations are fishing from the same pond. The only difference is that one is looking for people to trade their money for good and or services while the other is asking for people for support.

Unless your organization thrives on word of mouth to people who already trust you, you have to assume that your donors will go through some kind of a journey.

Word of Mouth – most nonprofit organizations that  I’ve had the pleasure of being apart of are usually supported by the founder’s relatives and close friends. This is easier because the donors already know and trust the founder. In this case, you can actually take a donor from the awareness stage straight to the decision stage.

If your goal is to grow a strong donor community that ensures that your organization stays afloat and that your missions and goals are funded and realized, then you need to seriously invest some time into understanding your potential donor’s journey.

Here we go..

  • Awareness Stage – The person becomes aware of your organization
  • Evaluation Stage – The finds out more information about your organization
  • Consideration Stage – The person is considering whether to support or not.
  • Decision Stage – The person makes a decision
  • Donate Stage – The person becomes a donor
  • Believer Stage – The donor becomes a long-term donor

As you can see, I added a few stages to the buyer’s journey and I’ll explain why.

You see becoming a donor is very different from a buyer because buying comes out of a need. ( unless you’re an impulse buyer) the need drives one to do the research and eventually make a move.

The donation process is a little different from the buyer’s process. In most cases, the donation process begins at an emotional level. You see a sad commercial about poor kids in Africa, you’re touched and decide to help. In other cases, people donate because they’re asked to donate. There so many other reasons why people donate but whatever the reason, there’s some kind of emotion attached to it.

My donor’s journey is longer because we all know that feelings and emotions come and go. Therefore, one’s emotion can change in as little as five minutes. So knowing this fact about life, how do you make sure that the process you have in place is able to support people at every stage in this process?

To illustrate this concept further, I will use the marketing funnel.

The funnel above shows you how the donor travels from the awareness stage to becoming a believer and long-term donor.

Let’s look at a few scenarios here.

Scenario One

Lucy is on Facebook and comes across an image on her friend’s feed. She clicks on it and reads the comments. She likes what she sees and so she decides to find out more information about your organization.

At this point, Lucy is aware of your organization. She’s coming to your website to validate the little information she has about your organization. How do you make sure that Lucy has the information she needs at this stage in the donor’s journey?

The best way to guide Lucy to the right place is utilizing the power of landing pages on your website. This means that your posts should be deliberate and designed in such a way that gives the reader some fuel to get to the next stage.

Scenario two

Jake has just read a story about poor kids in Africa and is moved to do something about it. He doesn’t know anyone who runs a charitable organization and so he goes online to do a research. Best believe that Jake will be presented with thousands of options but he really wants to do his research so that his money can go to the right organization.

He narrows it down to a few that look legit and finally lands on your home page.

Your job here is to guide Jake from the awareness stage down to the decision and finally making him a believer and a long-term donor.

The question is what kind of information is on your home page? Does it support Jake’s journey?
The truth is that every potential donor is on a journey to either becoming your donor or away from you. Therefore, you must make sure that you do everything possible to make sure that the potential donor has all the information he/she needs in order to make that decision.

How do we make this donor’s journey work?
First, if you haven’t yet, please consider checking out the article “ Optimize Your Homepage to Boost Donor Acquisition and Online Giving”

The donor’s journey calls for a website that is designed to convert. You can no longer have a simple picture based website. Your website’s job is to convert a visitor into a donor and must be designed to do just that.

The goal of your campaign or system is to educate the potential donor at whatever stage to grow deeper into becoming a donor. Is your system built to do that?

Please download this sample homepage design document to help you design yours.

Please also leave a comment below and a link to your website. I will personally visit your website and give you feedback.

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Nelson Musonda

Nelson Musonda

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    • Thank you Sabina, you have a great site and I love the black and white. Here are a few things you could do. It’s important to establish your website’s goal immediately in the hero section by including a value proposition and call to action. Secondly, do you have any social proof or positive changes you’re making? It’ll be great to show those too. Lastly, a short video to explain what you’re all about will be great. You currently have a lot of copy on the front page and most people won’t read through it. You basically have 10 seconds to grab someone’s attention. Great site and thanks for doing what you do.
      Please visit this article https://nonprofithut.com/donor-acquisition/ for more information.

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