A Donation's Journey: The Story of Fundraising Contributions


If your nonprofit is like so many others, you’re probably experiencing difficulties fundraising this year.

The global pandemic and economic downturn have made fundraising increasingly difficult for many organizations. 

The best way to improve your fundraising is to better understand exactly what happens when a donation is given to your organization.

That’s why we’ve developed this article to help walk nonprofits like yours through the process of how donations come to be for your nonprofit. 


Specifically, here are the steps that we’ll review: 

  1. The need for donations
  2. Supporter inspiration
  3. Submission of donations
  4. The processing process
  5. Donation impact and cycle

Ready to dive deeper into the life of donations? Let’s get started. 

1. The need for donations is born.

Donations are monetary support for a specific cause. Supporters of nonprofits contribute their hard-earned money because they believe that the organization in which they are investing has the potential to make a difference that they want to see in the world. 

Therefore, the need for donations is born as organizations establish their mission. Without a philanthropic mission, you haven’t articulated a need to which supporters can donate. 

Of course, if you’re a part of an established organization, you have probably had your mission worked out since the inception of your nonprofit. However, you still need donations, and now you may require them for individual programs and projects. Therefore, the goals of these programs and projects become the current need for which your nonprofit will raise funds. 

When considering what drives donations, be mindful of how you’re communicating your mission and goals with your organization’s supporters. 

Here are some recommendations for communicating your need for donations: 

  • List your mission statement on your website. Keep your mission statement front and center on all communication resources, but especially on your website. When you discuss your projects and programs, be sure to tell supporters how it will help your organization grow and advance towards your mission. This centralizes the focus and keeps your supporters engaged with your purpose. 
  • Communicate upcoming campaigns in your newsletter. Newsletters are designed to provide updates to nonprofit supporters. Keeping supporters in the loop about your upcoming campaigns gets them excited about new opportunities to support your mission. Use other resources to talk about the campaigns too, such as social media and your organization’s blog. 
  • Provide context on donation pages. Your donation pages are the final place to communicate with your donors before they contribute to your organization. Use these pages as a resource to remind supporters of the campaign objective and how that objective fits into your larger mission.

What drives supporters to give to nonprofits? The answer: impact. Donors give to organizations in order to make a positive difference in their community. Therefore, proactively communicating your plans to make that impact will engage your supporters. 

2. Supporters are inspired to contribute.

Once your mission is communicated and your need for donations is established, it’s time for the next step in the donation’s journey: inspiration. During this step, the need for donations is not only communicated to supporters, but the nonprofit takes additional steps to inspire donors to give to the organization. 

This step is accomplished through effective marketing strategies. Not all supporters will get inspired by the same message on the same platform. Therefore, it’s important to customize and personalize the interactions you have with your supporters.

We recommend taking a multi-channel approach to nonprofit fundraising to help spread the word, personalize communications, and drive donations, as explained in this guide. We’ve highlighted some of the key aspects of this strategy below: 

  • Use data to segment supporters. Data marketing involves using audience information to better communicate with your supporters. By segmenting your supporters by specific similarities, you can make the most of these data marketing strategies. For example, you may communicate differently with a supporter who regularly attends your events each year and has a recurring gift set up than you would with a brand new supporter who has not yet contributed financially. 
  • Choose smart marketing platforms. Your choice of platforms to communicate with supporters depends on the information you collect as a part of your donor segmentation strategy. For instance, if you find that most of your supporters are young adults, you may decide that a text campaign and social media outreach strategy is most effective. 
  • Provide a concrete next step for supporters. No matter what you say or the platform on which you say it, you need to provide supporters with a “next step” for them to accomplish. After you’ve used your marketing strategy to inspire donors, make sure it’s as easy as possible for those supporters to take action. The most common strategy? Link them directly to your online giving page. 

Consider carefully the groups and segments of supporters you’re reaching out to as you create various marketing materials. Ask yourself, “Will this message inspire my audience?” 

For example, if you’re working to expand your donor base, you might consider peer-to-peer campaigns to inspire new supporters to get involved. Meanwhile, existing supporters may be more intrigued by fundraising event (or virtual event) invitations. 

3. Donations are submitted. 

After you’ve inspired your donors to give to your organization, the next step is for them to submit the donation itself. Depending on the type of campaign your organization is hosting, this may take a few different forms. 

Here are some examples of the types of campaigns your nonprofit might choose in order to collect donations:

  • Online donations. According to Double the Donation’s statistics, online giving is on the rise, increasing by 23% over the course of one year. This means your nonprofit’s donation page on your website will likely be a popular donation location. Make sure it’s well-formatted with intuitive and easy-to-complete forms for supporters.
  • Peer-to-peer fundraising. Peer-to-peer fundraising is an incredibly successful fundraising platform because it uses social influence to encourage more people to give. Here’s how it works: Your nonprofit creates a main fundraising campaign page and encourages supporters to also make personal fundraising pages. They share these pages with their friends and family over email, social media, and other platforms to collect donations on behalf of your organization. 
  • Fundraising event registrations. Nonprofit event registrations are a lucrative fundraising opportunity as well as an effective way to develop relationships with your supporters. Leave an option on your registration page for supporters to contribute an additional gift to your organization if they choose to do so. This can dramatically increase the donation revenue from your event tickets. 

When it comes to the digital options above, your nonprofit can make small adjustments to the forms themselves to get more from the campaign. Additional features such as suggested donation amounts, options for supporters to cover processing fees, and a fundraising thermometer can make a big difference in converting your inspired supporters. Look for fundraising software with these types of options, such as CharityEngine’s fundraising platform

4. Donations are processed. 

After supporters have contributed their gifts on your nonprofit’s donation page, there’s a behind-the-scenes aspect of the donation’s journey that takes place. This step is payment processing. 

Nonprofit payment processing describes each step the donation takes from the time the donor hits “submit” on their donation form to the time the money is received in your nonprofit’s bank account. 

Usually, at least for online donations, the process looks something like this: 

  • The donor gives online via an online donation tool. 
  • The payment is sent to a third-party processor. 
  • The payment is sent to a merchant account. 
  • The payment is transferred to your nonprofit’s bank account. 

The most important thing to take note of during this process is the security of the donation itself. The last thing you want is to have a data breach while collecting donations. This puts your donor’s bank information at risk and would cause them to lose faith in your organization.

Therefore, when it comes to the payment processing system, remember that the important phrases to look for are PCI-compliance and PCI-certification. You want to make sure that whatever processing system you’re using is at least PCI-compliant. However, the most secure systems are PCI-certified, so look for this term.

What’s the difference? The image below from CharityEngine’s payment processing guide provides an outline of the differences between these terms.

Kessler Charity Engine Donations Journey

Essentially, PCI-compliance standards are established through a relatively short self-assessment. They ensure the use of a vulnerability management program and the effective use of firewalls. 

The PCI-certified payment processing systems are checked by an outside qualified security assessor over the course of six months to ensure the safety of software development and proper training of staff members.

5. The donation makes an impact.

The last step on the donation journey is its use for philanthropic impact. This is when the money is used to achieve your organization’s goals and work toward your overall mission, which is why your supporters donated!

When you’ve used the funds toward your goals and projects, it’s important that your nonprofit reaches out to your supporters who contributed the funds. Specifically, you’ll want to: 

  • Thank them for their contribution. Show your appreciation for your supporters’ contributions. When you don’t say “thank you,” your supporters will notice. This is a great first step in developing a relationship with individual donors so they’ll feel compelled to contribute again later. Consider personal appreciation strategies such as hand-written letters, phone calls, or a hand-delivered gift from your team.
  • Tell them about the impact of the gift. When you communicate with supporters after their contributions, make sure to tell them what their gift accomplished. Keeping supporters in the loop about the success of the program funded by the campaign will make them feel good about their gift. 

As you may notice, this step takes us back to fulfilling the expectations set in the first step of the process. When you tell donors about the impact that their donations have had on your programs, they’ll be more likely to contribute again in the future, bringing our journey back full cycle! 

From the time your nonprofit establishes your mission and project goals to the time money is put to use to accomplish them, the average donation goes through a lot! Understanding what happens to the donation and the part that your organization plays in the process will help you identify the aspects of your fundraising strategy that can be improved for better results. Good luck! 

Action steps you can take today
  • Include your mission statement and campaign goals in your nonprofit’s marketing materials to effectively communicate a philanthropic need.
  • Look up the security level of your current payment processor to determine if it’s PCI compliant or certified.
  • Draft thank you letter templates to communicate to your generous supporters the impact of their donations.