How to Optimize Retention by Mapping the Donor Journey

Last updated: October 2, 2022

Share Article:

How much more effective could your marketing be if you understood more about your individual donors?

One tool to help you do just that is to map out the donor journey. What do we mean by donor journey? It is a model that helps you to track where the donor is on their path to engaging with your organization so that you can better tailor your outreach to be relevant to them.

You may have seen a similar concept in sales known as the “buyer’s journey.” This helps marketers to get insights into the potential goals, motivations, and objections of buyers at each stage. For example, someone at a very early stage is just getting to defining the problem they need to solve – they’re not immediately looking to buy.

When you consider this from a nonprofit angle, you can see how certain types of content or communications would be more or less appropriate at each stage. When someone doesn’t yet know you and the mission of your organization, a direct “ask” for donations will rarely be effective.

Understanding the donor journey and mapping out what that looks like for your organization is important for nonprofits. Doing so will help you to communicate more effectively and build lasting donor relationships. This article provides a foundation for getting started with mapping your own donor journey:

What are the key stages of a donor journey?

A key goal of mapping your donor journey is to understand their experience at each stage and optimize for it, so that you encourage them to stick with you. It can also be a useful tool for aligning different departments in your organization. When everyone is on the same page about the donor journey map, your communications should be consistent and make sense to your donors.

Here are the key stages:


At the awareness stage, a potential new donor may have never heard of your organization before. They’re looking for opportunities to donate and possibly have some ideas about causes that they have an affinity for.

The awareness stage is absolutely critical because the person will form first impressions, and then an overall opinion of your organization. They are often looking for information on what problem/s your organization solves and how you go about it. They may even need information on why exactly the cause you support is a problem.

Some typical situations might include:

  • It’s Giving Tuesday and I want to donate.
  • It’s the end of the financial year and I’m looking for charities to support.
  • I’ve just received an inheritance and I’d like to support a good cause.
  • A milestone has occurred in my life and I’d like to find nonprofits I can donate to.
  • I want to start regularly supporting a great cause as my income allows me to do that.

To get past the awareness stage and move on in the donor journey, potential donors need not only an affinity with your cause, but to feel inspired to learn about your organization further. Your goals should be to get their attention, inspire them with your story, and usher them onto the consideration stage.


Consideration is the stage where potential donors perform a more advanced level of research into your organization. They’re probably doing the same with others – they’re narrowing down their choices to a specific set of nonprofits they may support.

An important aspect of this stage is that the person knows they have an affinity for your cause, but they’re determining why they should trust your organization and why yours should be considered for donations. Your goal should be to answer those questions for them.

Some suggestions include:

  • Being active on social media channels. Use them to share impactful stories and show the impact that your organization makes. It’s important to show that there are “real people” behind your organization as this is one thing people look for online. For example, you could share behind-the-scenes photos or videos of your team in action, including volunteers at work.A key part of social media success is to engage. If people comment, respond to them. This helps to build trust with others.
  • Share success stories. These might be via your website, social media, email, the local newspaper, or however else you communicate with the outside world. Show people how donations are used to make a difference. Success stories can be particularly impactful if you’re able to share stories about individuals, groups, or communities whose lives have been changed for good with
    help from your nonprofit.
  • Have video testimonials from other donors. People always like to look for “social proof” that others are doing and see value in what they’re considering doing. Video testimonials could be shared on your website, social media, or by email.
  • Share impactful data. How have you made a difference? Often numbers are there to tell the story. For your data-oriented people, share this information in easily digestible formats, such as infographics, graphs, and key statistics.
  • Share accessible, transparent annual reports. Many donors have questions such as “but how much of my donation goes to the cause?” This information can be shared in your reports. It’s important to have annual reports available for anyone who is inclined to dig deep. Large donors especially want to know that their contribution will be meaningful for the cause.


This is the stage where the donor has assessed their options and decided to go ahead with a donation to your organization. Key questions for them now include things like “how do I donate?” and “will this be a monthly commitment?”

Their goal is to donate, and yours should be to make that process as simple as possible. If there are too many hoops to jump through, that’s when you risk losing people. Some suggestions to make this stage smooth and successful include:

  • Always have digital payments available. Most people utilize these now and expect to be able to use a credit card, Paypal, or similar online.
  • Have a simple, clear flow for taking payments. Only ask for the information you really need and make sure the system for checking out is easy for users.
  • Make it clear what they’re donating and how often. Are they signing up for monthly donations? Make sure they understand.
  • Have email sequences in place to follow up and maximize donations.


This is a stage where a prospect has become a donor, and may be ripe for further engagement with your organization. People often feel a sense of community with the organizations they support, so fostering that can be a good strategy. At this stage, they’re often looking for anything more they can do, so let them know!

Donor engagement is also critical as a retention strategy. Your goal should be to retain those donors so that they become repeat donors. Take a look at some engagement strategies to be successful at this stage.

How to optimize donor retention at each stage of the donor journey

Here are some key tips for optimizing donor retention at each stage:

Stay visible

If you don’t want people disappearing at the awareness stage, you need to be not only visible but active across different platforms. Be involved and present so that potential donors know real people are there.

Your posts, messages, stories, and content should be carefully considered to make an impact. You want potential donors to have an emotional reaction to your content, and feel a connection with your cause.

Display the right messaging for each stage

The right messaging is formed as a combination of the potential donor’s needs at the stage and your goals for moving them forward. For example, during the consideration stage, it’s messaging such as

  • Here is how our donations are distributed/used.
  • Here is data to show the impact our work has made.
  • Here is how much of our donations go to the cause (especially if this differentiates you from others).
  • Here is how you personally can make an impact.
  • Here’s what our donors say about us.

Be consistent with messaging

People don’t usually want to dig around for information, so you should consistently give them what they need to make a decision. Break information down into easily-followed steps and use the channels you have available. This includes sending regular emails – just be careful that you’ve segmented your list and you’re only sending emails of relevance to people on it. You don’t want to send “please donate” emails to people who just did.

Follow up with engagement strategies

First things first, ALL donors should be thanked immediately following their donation. It’s an odd experience for donors if they hear constantly from nonprofits, then nothing once they donate. Plus, thanking people is just good manners!

Besides that, give people insights into how their donation is helping to keep them engaged. Keep them updated with progress and with opportunities to volunteer.

Wrapping up

The donor journey map is an important tool for nonprofits, allowing you to engage better with your donors and prospective donors by addressing their needs.

How can Kindsight help? Our products are great for establishing propensity, affinity, and capacity to donate. You can use Kindsight to help create donor personas and to build a better understanding of the motivations of each persona at every stage of the donor journey.

Find out more about using Kindsight to optimize how you reach donors here.

Written by Admin

Explore related resources.

Want a free demonstration of Kindsight’s Fundraising Intelligence Platform?

Request a Demo