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Better digital fundraising starts with crafting a better online experience

Digital fundraising is complicated.

There, I said it. We all know it. We all agree.

But what can we do about it?

There are so many channels for communication, so many technology platforms and so many measurement tools that it’s easy to get overwhelmed.

So, let’s start with a simple question: What kind of experience do your donors want? The answer should be the driving force behind all your fundraising and marketing—inclusive of all channels, both traditional and digital.

In this blog post, we’ll dive into what donors want from their relationships with nonprofits, and we’ll look at how organizations can use this information to design optimized donor experiences, utilizing the flexibility of digital channels.

Understanding what donors want from nonprofits

RKD Group recently published research to better understand what drives deeper donor relationships. The study, “Listen Up: The Nonprofit Marketer's Guide to What Donors Want,” surveyed donors to uncover what matters most to them in developing long-lasting commitments.

What we found was that the strongest relationships are built upon making donors feel valued and included. That means stewardship is a huge part of this, and my colleague Karla Baldelli has some great ideas on how use to these insights to improve your mid-major strategies.

But we can also use them to craft a better digital fundraising and engagement program.

The research shows us how much impact digital channels have on donor relationships. Just look at the chart below. The biggest “gaps” between strong and weak relationships come in digital channels.


It makes sense if you think about it.

Digital communications can feel cold, impersonal and robotic at times. Whether it’s email, social media, a website or an ad, we too often blast out a one-size-fits-all, one-way message to a mass audience. That seems like the opposite of making people feel “valued” and “included,” doesn’t it?

However, when done well, digital communication is incredibly effective at building and deepening relationships. A social media post can spark incredible conversations, or a video can move people’s emotions and drive them to action.

Many nonprofits want to connect with younger and more diverse audiences yet still treat everyone alike in their digital communications. Yes, your brand’s story should be consistent and clear, but not every donor should experience it in the same way.

Nonprofits must design better digital experiences

The traditional approach to direct-response fundraising is to determine the best offer and build a channel-by-channel communications plan around it. This creates siloed strategies and an inconsistent donor experience.

And it’s completely backward for today’s donors.

Some organizations have tried to improve the online experience, but the rise of journey mapping, CX (customer experience) and even theoretical biometric studies has left the nonprofit space somewhere between doing the same old thing and grasping for new thinking.

The future is interactive. More connected. More data-oriented.

And for nonprofits to succeed—donor experiences must be equally interactive. Smartly designed. Adaptive. Results-oriented.

Consider these two donors for a relief and development NGO:

  • Donor A is a prospective donor who has clicked on an ad about clean water initiatives.
  • Donor B is a core donor who often reads emails about education opportunities for children.

Should these two donors be receiving the same communication? The answer, of course, is no.

We need to get closer to personalized, 1-to-1 relationships, one step at a time—digital content that is tailored to a donor’s interests and adapts to a donor’s behavior.

Tips to start improving the online experience

We’ve talked about why we need a better donor experience and how we can integrate digital channels to deepen relationships. Now, let’s talk about how to get started.

We’ll begin with what we want our communications to be:

  • Audience-specific. One size does not fit all (especially with today’s technology and constituent expectations).
  • Personal. Touchpoints must make sense to the individual, based on their unique attributes and/or behavior. We must draw them closer to the organization through multiple forms of communication.
  • Frictionless. Integrating up-to-date technology, allowing easy, convenient, mobile-friendly interactions.
  • Dynamic. Building trust and loyalty through consistent conversations with the brand. Seamlessly moving through life cycles of a donor (prospect through planned giving).

Sounds complicated, right?

Here’s the good news: Digital channels produce a wealth of data that we can use to build experiences that delight and motivate donors with content that is relevant to them.

Your data doesn’t have to be fully connected to begin. This is a process—a path to walk along that varies from organization to organization.

No matter where you are on your digital maturity path, you can take these fundamental steps to start:

  • Define your most important audiences. Prioritize the categories that matter most to your organization and your goals. You can begin with simple donor categories like core, lapsed, new, etc., and continue to get more granular as you go with additional categories.
  • Establish measurement and tracking KPIs. You’ll need to properly measure the behavior of your donors to understand what works and what doesn’t. Start small with UTM codes to understand where people are receiving your communications. Here’s a good primer on measurement.
  • Align your communication strategies. Once you’ve established your audience segments and measurement, take a full inventory of all the ways you communicate with people across all channels. Then, take what you know about your audiences and marry those data points with communication tailored to each audience.

Once you’ve set these up, you’ll be able to see who’s responding to your messages and where they’re receiving them. As more data points come in, you can refine more and more.

More importantly, donors will begin to receive the right message at the right time in the right place. The result is a donor who feels valued and included, thus creating a stronger relationship over time.

Amanda Wasson

Amanda Wasson is Executive Vice President, Strategy and Innovation, at RKD Group. Her multidecade career began in offline fundraising, but soon she began applying her vision and entrepreneurial drive to launch RKD’s digital services in 2004.

Amanda is exceptional at navigating the alignment of channels, from mail to phone to connected device, to ensure that nonprofits execute a balanced omnichannel strategy. She and the RKD Digital team have a remarkable record of success helping organizations increase media reach, multiply fundraising and marketing revenue and grow digital and multichannel donors.

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