By: Jennifer Bielat

The Most Critical Time in the Donor Journey (and Why Every Nonprofit Should Care)

Think about the relationships you’ve had with friends or significant others. There’s always that initial getting-to-know-you period where you’re learning about each other and discovering new things. Then comes the crucial next phase: determining if this is going to be a lasting relationship.

Some relationships make it through this critical period and survive and thrive for years or decades to come. Others don’t, and they fizzle or fall away. The same holds true for your donors. If you can make it through that key stretch of time, you typically have established a sturdy base to build a long-term relationship.

Last year, Pursuant had the opportunity to sponsor groundbreaking relationship fundraising research. Here’s a fascinating statistic discovered through the research:

If you can retain a donor for three years, the likelihood that they’ll give annually increases from 35% (after their first year) to 75% (after their third year).

The first three years are a critical time in the donor-nonprofit relationship. Every organization should not only be aware of the importance of this time period but be activating on it. So how can you better bridge that three-year gap to keep more donors on board and establish those all-important long-term relationships?

Four Tips to More Effectively Steward Your Donors in the First Three Years

To drive your stewardship efforts for donors in that key red zone of the first three years, employ these techniques:

  1. Dig into your data on these donors

Looking at your data, what can you learn about your donors in their first three years with your organization? How are they coming on board? What are their key areas of interest? What communications do they respond to best? Use data to find out everything you can about these donors so you can provide them the best stewardship experience possible.

  1. Determine how you will measure success

Have measurements in place for gauging how you are doing at stewarding these donors. You can look at overall retention numbers, individual retention numbers for years one, two, and three, your coverage ratio, or other metrics. Establish your current baselines for each metric, then project where you would like to be (and can realistically be) as a result of your stewardship efforts.

  1. Journey map those first few years

Plot the course in detail of how you will steward your donors from that uncertain first year to cross that all-important year-three bridge. What kinds of interactions do you want them to have the first year, second year, and third year? Really work to understand your donors’ feelings and motivations in this time period, so you can map out a meaningful and connected journey.

  1. Create digital experiences that will resonate

How can you use the digital space to get these donors active, engaged, and involved in your mission? How can you immerse them in your organization’s story and help them envision their own stories? How can you create memorable and meaningful experiences for them where they feel connected and committed? And how will that experience evolve over those first three years?

Knowing just how important that three-year window is for your donors is incredibly valuable. It gives you the opportunity to hone in on a key segment of donors and maximize your efforts in a way that drives commitment and long-term success.

Learn more about how you can provide a better stewardship experience for your donors by downloading “Demystifying the Donor Journey” now.

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