Creating the perfect donor experience

publication date: Feb 29, 2012
author/source: Sumac Research
Did you know that a typical nonprofit will lose 50% of its donors between the first and second donation, and up to 30% per year thereafter? (Adrian Sargeant and Elaine Jay , Reasons For Lapse: The Case of Face-To-Face Donors, International Journal of Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Marketing, 2004. 9(2), pp171-182.) This staggering rate of attrition has forced many nonprofits into a never-ending cycle of trying to acquire new donors - a technique that costs a lot and has little return.

It's time to switch gears. Stop that endless acquisition cycle and start focusing on the donors you already have. Show them a little love, thank them, let them know that their donations have been used as intended, and show them a return on their investment. That's how to create the "perfect donor experience."

If you can master it, your donors will not only stick around, but they'll give more!  It's not rocket science, but it does take a little strategic planning. Here's what the perfect donor experience looks like:

The ask

You present donors with a clearly defined need, ask them to contribute and tell them specifically how their donation will be used. Let's say you're a food bank and you need a larger storage facility so that you can accept more donations for food. Define this need clearly. Give the donor the opportunity to imagine the outcome. It's all part of the experience.
Cycle of donation

The donation

Because you have presented such a good case for support, you convince the donor that your cause is worth supporting, and he decides to donate. He writes out a cheque and feels great as he thinks about how many people this new, larger facility will help.

The thank-you

You send the donor a thank-you letter in the mail that expresses sincere appreciation for his generous contribution and reaffirms that his donation will go directly to build this new facility. The donor again feels great about his decision to give and is excited to hear news about the progress. You should send a thank-you letter after each and every donation, the sooner the better.

The update

A month later, you send your donor your newsletter with a headline story about how the project is coming along. "Thank you to all the generous supporters.... we have now raised the necessary funds to build the new facility!"

Months down the road there is another update in the newsletter that shows the building being built with another "thanks" to all those who contributed!

A year later, the donor reads another update in your newsletter about how this new storage facility is helping your organization provide food to so many more needy people.

Such updates help donors see their donations at work. This is why they gave in the first place, so showing them what their donations built makes them feel good about their decision to give. It also builds trust with your organization.


So that's it - one cycle of the perfect donor experience. This is what you should be aiming to deliver with each and every one of your donors each and every time they donate. It's pretty straightforward, but not always easy to achieve whether you're dealing with hundreds, even thousands of donors or you're a small charity with minimal staff.

With the right database, however, it's entirely possible to plan and schedule everything just right: to run strategic campaigns, to thank donors on time, to deliver planned updates. You can show them a return on investment that keeps them giving and giving more!

This article was contributed by Sumac Fundraising Software. Sumac is giving back to nonprofits by offering its software free to organizations with fewer than 500 contacts.

For more information, visit

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