In previous posts, I outlined the Donor Decision-Making Process (DDMP) and the five channels of influence that influence potential donors. If you missed those posts, I highly recommend you click on the links to learn what they are all about.

In essence, every donor goes through five stages as she decides whether to give to an organization. As she does this, there are various channels that influence her decisions along the way. This part is critical when it comes to fundraising, because we can leverage those channels to persuade donors and increase the number of gifts.

Mass Media Best for Awareness

The first stage in DDMP is Awareness. The most effective channel of influence in this stage is, by far, Mass Media. Television, radio, printed publications and periodicals, and online communication tools are the quickest, easiest, and most affordable means by which awareness can be created.

Using mass media does’t have to be expensive. News media outlets such as local network affiliates for TV and radio, as well as local talk radio and newspapers, are eager to have newsworthy events, information, and stories to cover. Nonprofit organizations naturally have an advantage over for-profit organizations when it comes to seeking exposure in the news media: their cause is viewed by assignment editors and reporters as charitable and worthy, as opposed to the profit-based motives of for-profit corporations.

In addition, websites and blogs are extremely easy to set up and don’t require an IT professional to update. Additionally, third-party and social media websites like Facebook and Twitter offer additional—and free—opportunities to build awareness of nonprofit organizations, their work, their successes, and their need for additional funding.

The second most effective channel of influence in building awareness is Influentials. Word of mouth is a powerful medium and builds awareness of nonprofits or community causes faster than any other channel, with the exception of the mass media.

Two other channels of influence—Biased Individuals and Unbiased Third Parties—are equally ineffective in building awareness. These channels are limited in their breadth reach, and are approximately half as effective as mass media. The final channel of influence—personal experience—is not in play as a method of building awareness.

Curiosity is Built through Mass Media

When it comes to creating curiosity, Mass Media is likewise the most effective channel of influence, followed by Influentials, Biased Individuals, and Unbiased Third Parties. Again, Personal Experience has virtually no bearing, value, or effectiveness in creating curiosity among potential donors.

The same mediums, news channels, newspapers, blogs, and social media, can pique curiosity in potential donors. Especially compelling content is key here, so that donors begin to feel like they want to learn more about your organization or cause.

Influentials are the Key in Assessment

In the Assessment stage, we see that Influentials take on the larger role as the most effective channel of influence. This is because those who are held in high regard by the potential donor have the greatest access and are most able to persuade. They have a level of credibility with the potential donor that is unequaled, and their opinion matters.

The second most effective channel of influence in the Assessment stage is Unbiased Third Parties. Again, these are groups or individuals who are perceived by the potential donor as having no personal stake in the decision to donate. The Better Business Bureau is a good example of an Unbiased Third Party. When potential donors are assessing whether to give to an organization, the Better Business Bureau could have a profound effect—nearly as great as that of Influentials—in the final decision.

Biased Individuals have some sway with potential donors in the Assessment stage, but their power to influence is relatively week. Mass media and Personal Experience have virtually no power to influence during the Assessment stage.

Influentials are Most Important in Trial Stage

Trial is the first stage wherein actual action occurs—the potential donor actually makes a gift. Usually a small amount of money, or a gift given as a one-time-only contribution, this donation is meant to test the waters and to see how the experience feels. Here, Influentials are the most significant and most powerful means of persuasion.

Unbiased Third Parties are next in effectiveness, followed by Biased Individuals. Mass media have no effect during the Trial stage. Personal experience is actually the target donor’s desired outcome, but it does not play a role in determining whether the donor moves into this stage.

Personal Experience is Critical in Donation Stage

The final stage is the Donation stage. This is when the potential donor actually makes the gift or commits to a pledge. In order for a potential donor of a major gift to get through this stage and for the organization to receive a significant contribution, the personal experience of the potential donor must be tapped. It takes a personal commitment to the cause—and this commitment comes only after the personal experience during the Testing stage has been completed and the “test” has been passed.

It is almost unheard of for a major donor, including someone who is the head of a family foundation or similar organization, to bestow a five-, six-, or seven-figure gift without participating at some level with the organization—even if it is simply a site visit to the nonprofit’s headquarters or a personal presentation by representatives of the organization.

After Personal Experience, Influentials are the next most effective channel of influence, followed by Biased Individuals and then Unbiased Third Parties.

Know How to Influence your Donors

As you work with potential donors, it’s essential that you identify which stage they are at in the Donor Decision-Making Process and then use the appropriate channels of influence to make their experience one that inspires them to donate.

This is the most effective way to garner donations and build long-term relationships with your donors, leading to more gifts and benefits for your organization.

You can learn more about strategic fundraising, the Donor Decision-Making Process, and the channels of influence in our Strategic Fundraising ebook series.

If you would like help learning which channels you should leverage (and how to do it) to win over potential donors, contact us at 815-985-6794 or