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THERE’S STILL TIME: If you haven’t onboarded your donors yet, it’s not too late

You’ve not missed the onboarding boat!

There’s a lot of talk about onboarding donors – and I wonder if it’s the right description for what is essentially the most important part of the donor experience. Apart from my brain always going to the fact that ‘all aboard’ was about things leaving (bus, train, boat…etc) I do feel that the word “onboarding” often makes us think that the onboarding journey needs to start from the moment a new donor gives, or not at all. In the perfect world, yes, this inspiring journey of gratitude, discovery, and proving that you’re the right charity and cause for a longer-term relationship would be right at the moment a donor gives their first donation. But, as we all know, this isn’t a perfect world, and these last 12 months have been particularly challenging for fundraisers.

A lot of charities have had a sudden and unexpected influx of new donors at the same time as we’ve been learning to work from home, cutting back and trying to save budget, and quite frankly (and understandably), all while being completely unprepared for a global emergency of a kind we’ve never ever experienced before.

Well, the good news is, when it comes to donor onboarding it’s always better late than neverand I think never a truer word has been said about donor experience. As we start to see a light at the end of the tunnel, there’s never a better time than now to dive in and give your new donors a great experience!

Here are a few things to consider:

Late Onboarding

We know that people have a heightened tolerance at the moment due to our shared experience with the global pandemic, they understand and appreciate how hard it has been. So be vulnerable. There is nothing wrong with apologizing and saying that you know it’s late but you just want to say welcome. This sort of communication is authentic and can really help to generate trust and tells people you haven’t forgotten about them and you noticed their donation.

How do I know? I received a great letter in the post from UK charity Solar Aid about 6 months after an online donation with a little handwritten ‘PS’ apologizing for the lateness. It was a great experience! The other important piece is that, like Solar Aid, you need to make your communication stand out – they used an orange envelope and a handwritten address. If you can’t do the handwriting, then send a note on letterhead, cutting out the design elements can make it look more authentic.

Re-onboard your donors

Consider the experience that donors who have been with you for a long time might (or might not!) have had. We always recommend considering re-onboarding donors when new journeys are created. You can use messages like ‘this is what we’re sending to new donors now – we didn’t want you to miss out!’. Digital communications make re-onboarding really easy and cost-effective. It might just be one touchpoint rather than the entire journey, but if you’ve developed welcome videos or online content, it’s easy to send along. As long as it’s positioned correctly, with the right context for your longer-term donors, it will only enhance the experience!

Reactivated donors

Ok, so a lot of us have donors who have reactivated this year – which is great. If they’ve been gone a while then make sure you onboard them with new donors – but please, please try and recognize that they have had a relationship with you before! I recently reactivated after supporting a charity monthly for 20 years…and they treated me like a brand-new donor! We can appreciate that many onboarding journeys can be automated, and the first few touchpoints may be logistically difficult to change as data is migrated into systems but a quick query would have flagged that someone at the same address with the same name had just re-started their donation, and a note to recognize that would have made me feel noticed. Again, better late than never.

First impressions really do count so, finally, while we go through this pandemic, and things are changing – my final tip would be to make sure that your communications are not ignoring the world that we are living in. You don’t need to rewrite everything, but where you can, add a sentence to ask how people are doing and show you care, be human! People give to people, so add that personal relevance and you’ll really elevate your onboarding experience.

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out using the form below or get in touch by emailing

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