Unraveling the myth of the donor journey

I read a blog today that caught my attention. The author, Liz Waldy (a seasoned UK fundraiser) suggested that donor journey plans need to be put to death.

Considering all the writing, seminars, webinars and talk about the ideal donor journey, the opinion piece caught my eye.

Overall, she says: supporters are human, do unexpected things and a pat plan does not work, so toss it. OK, I am being slightly reductive here.

But her main point is: let the donors tell you what their ideal journey is.

But, you argue, that’s much harder than fulfilling a one size fits all plan.

Ahhh… yes it is.

I think the key to her article is this one line: “fundraising is a mix of art and science.” It’s poetry and data; melody and strategy.

When you are focused on the granular, you miss the benefit of engagement. You see, each donor has their own story. That shouldn’t surprise us. Yes, there is no doubt that much of marketing depends of data—but don’t forget to look at the bigger trends.

Years ago, when I was creative director at World Vision Canada, we challenged our agency to deliver on a new acquisition insert. Now this was well before the days of social media and a little tri-fold brochure inserted into magazines, newspapers and mailboxes performed well for us. But the creative of the piece had moral dissonance with our values. The title (which the agency insisted was the single moving factor of the brochure) was “Pick a Winner.” It gave the pre-donor the chance to pick one of four children to “win” a sponsor. Yikes! The whole idea of World Vision’s work was that all children in the community would gain access to clean water, wholesome nutrition, education. For several years the agency tried—but failed.

So the in-house creative team took a stab.

The first thing we did was look at the trends in the data. Then we took a step back to look at the brochure itself. We looked at it as humans not marketers. In our analysis the title had little to do with the emotional impact of the piece. What made is work was:

1.       There were 4 lovely children than needed a friend. It was not overwhelming, just four kids.

2.       Each of the kids looked right into your eyes. And, yeah, they were compelling.

3.       There was possibility. You could actually change the life of one child. That’s compelling. We know that nearly 30,000 children will die today—but the number is too big. I can’t help 30,000 children, but I can help.

Our team came up with two brochures. One was a format of “Pick a Winner” without the title. Frankly, I thought the design of the brochure was underwhelming and, for me, unappealing—but we were testing. It didn’t appeal to me, but it appealed to thousands of Canadians. It quickly beat the test brochure. L

We also (and here’s the art) came up with a new brochure, one that had a compelling emotional tug. Lesson learned? As the creative director, I couldn’t rely on my gut feeling or offers that appealed to me. I had to look at the data, test the piece with our audience and review the data again. The data said it all.

Our audience loved the piece.

The second test was a simple brochure; written in a child’s voice. The child simply prayed they could go to school, have enough food and a safe place to sleep. It outperformed the test brochure by many times. In fact, when I left World Vision, the agency claimed it as one of their successes!

Traditional direct marketing tests often nudge the creative forward by small, but predictable increments. That’s the science. And the knowledge we have is extremely powerful.

But sometimes we have to take a leap into the art of marketing. This is where many of the genius campaigns come from.

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