Put yourself in your donors’ shoes

It used to be you sent an appeal letter out and got a check with a response device sent back to you. The process was clear. And you could (mostly) track the experience donors were having with your organization.

But the landscape of response channels has broadened dramatically. A Convio report quantifying generations’ preference for donation channels shows that after the Matures (77% of whom prefer direct mail) there is no preference.


Blue numbering represents statistically significant differences.

Awesome Donor Experience

The key to building loyalty with a donor — especially a new one — in any channel is an awesome experience. With so many channels for a donor to respond in, how can you be sure that new donors are having an awesome experience with your organization?

In college I was a barista at a coffee shop that prides itself on user experience. Occasionally, someone would come in, order a latte, then take their drink over to the corner and pull out a little thermometer while furtively checking their watch. A secret shopper! Sent in to ensure we were happy, efficient, and effective baristas creating an awesome customer experience.

Every year I become a secret donor for a handful of nonprofit organizations.

It’s amazing the things you discover. Impersonal auto-responders. Broken links. Telemarketers who are off script. Receipts that take too long. Even email addresses that never make it into the database.

Become Your Own Secret Donor

The key to ensuring an awesome donor experience is for you to fully experience what it’s like to be a donor. Getting your seeds isn’t enough. Starting your own Secret Donor project takes a bit of planning, but it’s pretty easy — and fun!

  1. Create an alter ego. Use your dog’s name or a random name generator.
  2. Set up a brand-new Gmail account for your alias. It’s free and easy.
  3. Pick a physical address that wouldn’t possibly be in your database. Could be your neighbor’s or your aunt’s. Or you could set up a PO Box.
  4. Open your browser to Google and search for your organization and give a $25 gift.
  5. Document everything about your experience:
    • How easy was it to find your organization in Search?
    • Was it easy to find the Donate option?
    • How was the act of filling out the form? Did you feel friction? Were there too many steps? Did it ask for unnecessary information? Did it feel secure?
    • Really look at the confirmation page. Does it make you feel awesome for giving a gift? Does it provide next actions like volunteering or joining social media?
    • Check your email. Is the auto-responder transformational?
    • Use a spreadsheet to track all contacts going forward. How long before you get your receipt? How long before the next contact? Is it relevant? Does it ask for another gift or deepen your relationship with the organization?
    • Map out the discoveries in a visual format. This will allow you to see opportunities that you didn’t notice when you were looking at a spreadsheet.

You might discover some issues right away — like it might take a month before you get your receipt — but try to hold on for 90 days before you bring issues up to your team so your secret donor doesn’t get uncovered prematurely.

When your project is done, bring your team together and celebrate everything that’s going well. Then unpack the poor user experiences and make necessary changes to ensure every donor’s experience is awesome.

If you have questions about how Masterworks can help you give every donor an awesome experience, contact me at mneigh@masterworks.agency.