fist pump shutterstock_212674981In mid-January I decided to try and better understand the donor experience by giving a donation to eight medium to large national nonprofit organizations. Regular readers of our blog know this is a frequent Innovairre exercise. As always, the results this round revealed some fascinating information about the donor experience.

Feeling Charitable
My first step in the process was to mail a check to each organization. Within 1 week, the first charity cashed my check. Within the second week, six of the other nonprofits deposited my donations. However, there was one organization that took over 3 weeks to cash my check!

As a donor, my first thought was that my check had gotten lost in the mail. It was mailed from Las Vegas to Maryland, but three of my other donations went to that same area. At one point I debated calling the bank and cancelling the check. Thankfully, I waited and the donation was processed, but as a fundraising professional it prompted me to wonder what could be happening in their process that could cause such a delay.

We all know that getting a thank you to a donor promptly is a key element to any successful fundraising program, but shouldn’t processing the donations be just as important? Do we really want donors to forget that they had even written the check before it is cashed?

The Waiting Game
After I watched each check clear my bank account, the waiting game began. As a fundraiser, I was excited to see how quickly the organizations would acknowledge my gift. I received acknowledgments from three of the charities within 2 weeks of my check being cashed (including the one that was the last to cash my check). An additional three acknowledgments arrived within 3 weeks.

Now for the surprising part…  One organization took 5 weeks to provide my acknowledgment! And even more shocking? One nonprofit has never sent me anything acknowledging my gift or thanking me for my donation! Coincidentally, this happens to be the one who cashed my check first.

Keep in mind that I am a first-time donor to each of these organizations. My initial thought as a donor would be that this non-responding organization does not care enough about my donation to thank me for giving it. My likelihood of giving to this organization again will probably be lower than the others, who thanked me promptly.

You Called Me What?
Probably one of the most surprising things from my donor experience was the variety of data hygiene issues that I saw on my acknowledgment letters. It was pretty amazing that I received some of these letters at all! Only three out of the seven letters that I received had my correct name and address. One letter misspelled my first name as Sarah instead of Sara (one of my biggest pet peeves); another listed only my last name AND misspelled it; another sent the letter to my husband despite the fact that I had signed the check; and don’t even get me started on the variations of my address.

I understand that my entire name and address likely had to be keyed by hand since I was not responding to an appeal and didn’t have a donor ID, but what about all of the other donors who don’t understand how gifts are processed? Data quality issues can be a big turn-off for a donor whom you’re looking to cultivate and grow.

Welcome to the Team
As mentioned, this was my first gift to each organization. Surprisingly, only three organizations welcomed me or acknowledged that this was my first gift in the letters that they sent. I’m hopeful that I will receive a separate welcome package from these organizations, as it is vital that nonprofits welcome new donors in order to cultivate a relationship with them and keep them on board for many years to come.

All in all, my experience as a donor so far has been enlightening. I look forward to seeing how these eight organizations continue to foster a relationship with me!

Sara Rowland is a Business Analyst at Innovairre Communications, which supports more than 500 nonprofit organizations around the world. To learn more about optimizing the donor experience via comprehensive data and relationship management and even donation processing, contact us at Answers@ Subscribe to our newsletter here. Follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter.