A Donor Experience Wake-Up Call… From a Mattress Company?

I went shopping for a mattress and ended up with the best customer experience of my life.

Not only did the company, Tuft & Needle, knock my slippers off with the shopping experience, but they also gave me a bunch of ideas that we can easily build into our online fundraising efforts at Phillips Exeter Academy.

This isn’t a blog post to skip over or nap through. This could change everything.

Lesson #1: Make It Google-able

I started shopping where the Internet begins: Google. Oddly enough, I was looking for another mattress company but couldn’t remember its name. A quick search led me to Tuft & Needle’s site instead.

Key Takeaway: Donors won’t give if they can’t find your giving page.

What’s the first search result for “Give to [insert your organization here]?” How easy is it to find the “Give Now” button on your site? We need to lower barriers for online giving, and that means making our giving pages easy to find.

[bctt tweet=”‘Donors won’t give if they can’t find your giving page.'” username=”evertrue”]


Lesson #2: Be Unforgettable and Unavoidable

Thanks to targeted marketing, it was impossible to forget about Tuft & Needle after visiting its site. In the following days, my Facebook feed was filled with videos about the mattress, how it was made, and user reviews (more on that in a minute).

This wasn’t annoying. In fact, the content helped convince me to buy the mattress. The stories the company told answered my questions, spoke about the quality of its product, and made me feel like it was something I couldn’t live without.

Key Takeaway: Follow-up with your site visitors.

We send out thousands of emails to our donor lists. Every click on a news story or event invitation is a valuable engagement data point showing that your alumni and supporters are thinking about you.

How can we leverage technology to follow up with our site visitors to stay front-of-mind? We could re-send emails to people who opened or clicked to drive event attendance. If someone clicked on an appeal, but didn’t give, we can target them directly with a social ad. Or we can just share great stories about how our organizations are changing lives with site visitors, thanks to Facebook tracking pixels.

Lesson #3: Make Convincing Arguments

Tuft & Needle makes two compelling arguments to sell its mattresses: quality and price. Price is easy—it’s either lower than a competitor or it’s not.

It’s more difficult to sell customers on quality, especially when we can’t lay on the product in a showroom. (Or, in my case, jump on it when the salesperson isn’t looking.) So Tuft & Needle has its customers make the argument for them. With more than 5,000 reviews on Amazon (and most of them four or five stars), there’s a ton of people out there singing the company’s praises.


Key Takeaway: Your customers (donors) are your best advocates.

Many advancement shops are doing this well. Through years of careful management, we’ve built extensive networks of volunteers who help spread the organization’s message as frontline fundraisers. What are we doing to help make their job easier? Are we equipping them with the right plans, material, and messages to make them successful?

Lesson #4: You Can’t Say “Thank You” Enough

I bought the mattress. Immediately, I received an email that thanked me for “joining the Tuft & Needle family.” It was a simple confirmation email, but the tone made it feel like I’d joined some sort of special club.

The next day, I got an email from the company founder thanking me again. Sure, it came from a bulk mailbox, but it was a nice touch that had an informal, personal feel to it. The day after that, the mattress arrived along with another thank-you email that included an unboxing video that showed me how to set it up.


A couple weeks later, I received another “thank you” email that also asked me to review the product on Amazon. I was sleeping so well on the new mattress that I wrote and submitted a quick review. I then received a personal email from a customer support person at Tuft & Needle thanking me for my review, specifically responding to a couple things I’d written, and offering to send me a T-shirt as a token of appreciation.

If you’re keeping track at home, that’s FIVE thank-you messages for one purchase.

Key Takeaway: We cannot possibly thank our donors enough.

We should thank them immediately after making a gift. We should thank them when we send their receipt in the mail (if your shop still mails gift receipts). We should thank them again, just for the fun of it, and it should be as personal as possible. And we should definitely thank them another time before asking for another gift.

Lesson #5: A Great Experience Leads to Repeat Customers

Every step of the way, the outreach was personal, relevant, and focused on my needs. Thanks to this experience (not to mention a super-comfy, affordable mattress), Tuft & Needle created a huge fan. I’ve reviewed their product on Amazon, told friends about it, and wrote a blog post about mattress shopping.

When my brother heard about my experience, he bought a mattress of his own. That’s right, for the price of a T-shirt, Tuft & Needle sold another $600 mattress.

Key Takeaway: Give back to your alumni and you shall receive.  

John Hill talked about this at EverTrue’s Raise 2016 conference. Graduating from a university is an emotional experience, not a transactional one. After family ties and religious beliefs, connection to an alma mater or a cause is the most powerful emotional affiliation a person can have.

[bctt tweet=”‘Give back to your alumni and you shall receive.'” username=”evertrue”]

Your donors already love you. That happened while they were students or when they first connected with your organization. And we can continue building on that affinity by offering best-in-class experiences every time they come to our website, make a gift, or tell their friends and classmates about the importance of giving.

The technology exists, and is cheap enough, to deliver these types of experiences to every donor. In fact, most of our donors have the expectation that every interaction will be personal, helpful, and affirming because that’s what they experience as online customers in the for-profit world.

The nonprofits that start to meet and exceed these expectations are the organizations that will last. The ones that ignore donor experience will do so at their own peril.

The choice is yours.




Mike Nagel is the Associate Director for Advancement Communications at Phillips Exeter Academy. He spends his time managing and creating stories for PEA’s social media, alumni website, email marketing campaigns, and other mostly-digital play spaces. Say hi on Twitter or LinkedIn.

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