When it comes to fundraising and donor retention, nothing can cause abandonment quite like a lousy experience.

Perhaps you’ve been there?

You’re trying to donate to a cause you believe in and realize that they don’t take donations online. Or you’ve contributed to an organization but then you never hear from them again, not even with a note of thanks. Maybe you have questions about how to give, but no one picks up the phone.

Great donor experience is, in many ways, just like good, old-fashioned customer service or solid user design. It relies on time-tested principles and a healthy dose of empathy.

Put yourself in your donor’s shoes.

How do you want your donor to feel throughout the entire process of supporting your cause? Begin by activating empathy to get a sense of what would be most helpful to ensure a positive experience. Then walk yourself through each stage of the donation process, from the first time a potential donor would hear about your cause, through the actual act of making a donation, to the follow-up after your new donor has given.

Be in discovery mode.

An effective donor experience is not your theoretical opinion of how it should be. It is based on facts and feedback. Reach out to your donors and ask them a few specific questions. You want to discover what goes wrong in the donation process. What are their concerns in donating? What makes it difficult to do so? What annoys them? What would make it really easy for them to donate?

Infuse joy into all stages of the donor experience.

Once you’ve explored the donor experience in it’s entirety and gathered valuable insights from your base, find small ways to delight your donors at each stage. Keep in mind that joy and delight can take many forms. It can a streamlined and seamless online donation page where the donor can give in less than one minute. It can be a warm and personal thank you letter, sent promptly to the right address. From little details to necessary interactions, you want it to be an easeful and joyful experience to give.

When things go wrong.

Wires cross. Meanings are misconstrued. Thank you letters get lost in the mail. Someone important was accidentally left off the VIP guest list.

These things happen. What’s important is how mishaps are handled and that often all boils down to how you communicate. Sometimes an apology is in order. Other times, merely an explanation will soothe tensions. Occasionally you’ll have to hold your ground when a donor makes an unreasonable request.

In all cases, a calm and gracious response will take you far. Depending on the circumstance you may also want to simply ask, “what can I do to make this right?”

Addressing problems in a compassionate manner may not only solve the problem, but also improve your donor retention.

And as the old adage says:
People may not remember what you did, but they’ll always remember how you made them feel.

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