Make a Donor Journey Map

Making a donor journey map can help you visualize the path you want supporters to take toward their next act of generosity. It can help you unify your team as you plan connections and suggestions for your supporters. Best of all, creating your map doesn’t require advanced cartography skills. You really only need three key elements: donor segments, donor personas, and a plan of action.

What is a Donor Journey?

The donor journey is the path each person takes to evolve from a stranger to a recurring donor to your organization. It’s a complex web of personalized engagements and responses that are repeatable and scalable.

Every donor is on a journey.  From the moment they first learn you exist, your supporters are on having an experience. Whether it’s a short one that ends in a single gift, or a long and storied journey of generosity that lasts years, they’re following a path.

Your donors will be on a journey whether you make plans or not. But leaving them to figure it out on their own misses a lot of opportunities for an intentional, meaningful relationship with your nonprofit. When you approach the donor journey as a helpful guide, you can bring your supporters the most relevant information and engaging experiences possible.

There are several models for thinking about donor journeys, but I like to think of it as a mountain. Many supporters will be at the wide base of the mountain, but as they climb higher, fewer and fewer continue. Our job is to motivate and entice as many people as possible to keep climbing. That journey will take them from awareness to the fact you exist, all the way through engagement, to the top of the mountain where they give, and maybe even become advocates.

You’ll Need a Map

Before you head on your hike up the mountain, you have to decide on the trail. What steps will you guide the donor toward? How will you engage and excite them to keep climbing? Creating a donor journey ad-hoc quickly gets confusing and inconsistent, but if you take the time to map our your plan, you won’t risk anyone getting lost, falling off the mountain, or forging their own trail through a bramble.

Before You Make Your Map, Find Your Donor Segments

In order to make a responsive, targeted donor journey, you’ll first need to know who’s going on the trip. Just as a state park offers different trails for different kinds of hikers, you’ll want to create different journeys for different kinds of supporters.

A first-time donor is on a different journey than a stalwart monthly giver. Your regular volunteers are on a different journey than your lapsed givers. By identifying specific segments within your donor base, you can deliver more personalized journeys to more of your supporters.

This is different than legacy approaches to fundraising, where gift amount is the primary factor in segmentation. But when you consider more than dollar amounts and start digging into behaviors, interests, intent, and involvement, you can create a much more meaningful journey that reflects who they are as an individual.

Take a look at your data, and patterns may emerge. Maybe you have a distinct audience of volunteers who also donate, a whole crew of new first-time donors, and your reliable monthly givers. There are your first segments, for which you’ll create unique journeys:

  • Volunteer Donors: Their journey must acknowledge the holistic picture of their giving–time and money.
  • First-Time Givers: Their journey introduces them more fully to the organization, and guides them to their next gift.
  • Monthly Givers: Their journey celebrates their loyalty and brings them even deeper into the cause.

Who Are You? Donor Personas

To help personalize your donor journeys, it’s helpful to think about them as people rather than generic “donors.” Crafting donor personas helps keep things human.

A donor persona is a semi-fictitious character you create to guide your communications and represent your donor segments. Look at the real demographics, interests, intent, and involvement of each segment to develop the persona.

For example, you might create “Veronica Volunteer” as the persona for your Volunteer Donor segment.

Veronica Volunteer is in her late twenties, college-educated, and has been involved with our cause since high school. She is highly knowledgeable and passionate about the issues we face, and always ready to lend a hand. She is early in her career, and gives small gifts regularly.

To target your communications more directly towards Veronica, think about what resonates with her. What does she:

  • Hear? Which messages are most interesting to her?
  • Say? How does she talk about your organization, your cause, and her involvement?
  • Think? What are her opinions? What led her here?
  • Feel? How does she feel about her involvement, the cause, and your organization? How does she feel in general (overwhelmed, content, inspired?)
  • Do? What does she do? How is she involved? Which actions appeal to her?


Hears: “You’re part of the cause.” “Can you help with this?”

Says: “I care about this!” “Volunteering is important to me.” “I can’t give a lot of money, but I give as much time as I can.”

Thinks: Her time is as valuable as money, is interested in making real change.

Feels: Connected to the organization as a do-er, not an observer.

Does: Volunteers, attends events, gives small regular donations, talks about the cause and organization with her friends.

Once you’ve created a donor persona, write and design your communications to appeal directly to that persona. Ask yourself, “Would Veronica like this? Would this prompt Veronica to take action?” It may feel a little silly, but it’s a great way to focus your communications personally.


Okay, so now the actual map. To make a donor map, you’ll need to determine the points of engagement and messages you want to include, as well as the timing of the messages. You don’t have to write the copy and design the graphics for the messages just yet, just decide on the kind of message you want, the next step for the supporter at each point, and the channels you want to use to deliver it.

For example, I might decide to map a new donor journey like this:

First-Time Donor

Initiate When: Donor makes a gift for the first time

Engagement 1: Automatic thank you

Channel: Email

Message: Thank you!

CTA: None

Timing: Immediate

Engagement 2: Personal thank you

Channel: Postcard

Message: Thank you!

CTA: Learn more at our website

Timing: Mail immediately

Engagement 3: New Donor Welcome

Channel: Email

Message: Welcome!

CTA: Follow us on social

Timing: One hour after automatic thank you.

Engagement 4: Connect with Impact

Channel: Email

Message: More about the impact of the donation

CTA: Watch this video/read this blog post/look at this infographic

Timing: 3 days later

Engagement 5: Offer More Involvement

Channel: Email

Message: There are more ways to be involved

CTA: Volunteer/Attend an Event

Message: Educational

Timing: Two weeks later

Automation Makes It Run

So you’ve created these donor journeys and are ready to start leading your supporters up the mountain to generosity. Great! But how do you make sure each message gets to each supporter at the right time? How do you keep up with all this personalized and meaningful communication?


With marketing automation tools, you can build your donor journeys and set them up to run without having to hit “send” every time. A responsive nonprofit CRM link with robust automation tools can help you stay on track with every donor, no matter where they are in their journey.

Want to see how Virtuous can help you take every donor on a personal journey? Book a demo today.

What you should do now

Below are three ways we can help you begin your journey to building more personalized fundraising with responsive technology.

See the Virtuous platform in action.  Schedule a call with our team for personalized answers and expert advice on transforming your nonprofit with donor management software.

Download our free Responsive Maturity Model and learn the 5 steps to more personalized donor experiences.

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