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The Seven-Week Housecleaning Challenge

As summer comes to a close, we set our sights on prepping for the fall and winter activities: back to school, events, holiday planning, and of course, housecleaning. But instead of grabbing your dustpans and mops, I’m proposing a different kind of housecleaning: an audit of your digital fundraising practices.

In my last article, I talked about the alarming loss of 20-million donors since the early 2000s and gave some tips on how to stem the tide and win those donors back. But there are a lot of suggestions in that post and it might be difficult to prioritize them all. So, I’ve mapped out the most foundational ones into an easy, manageable strategy over the period of the next seven weeks. If you start now (mid-September), you could be done by the end of October before the year-end fundraising season!

Are you up for the challenge?
Here’s how it works:

You will pick a day each week and reserve one hour of uninterrupted time on your calendar. This hour will be dedicated to the assignments outlined below. The goal is not to implement everything on the list. Rather, this exercise is designed to focus on the things that really matter, to take inventory, and to help us map out a plan for the year to come.

Prefer a “quick guide” instead? Download the Housecleaning Challenge Checklist.

Week 1
Data Cleanup Inventory

Run queries for duplicate addresses, empty name fields, or other incorrect or missing codes. Inventory the errors. If you can fix them all in one hour, amazing! Do that. But realistically, the results may be quite significant (as in, a lot of errors) and it could be overwhelming. Make a list. You’ll review this in week seven.

Week 2
Donation Form Testing

Test the user flow of your donation form. Most vendors offer a test credit card number so you can verify the process is working properly. Coordinate with a colleague or two to check common errors on a desktop or laptop, a mobile device, and an iPad.

  • Can you see the full form on all screens?
  • Are your dropdowns and buttons working properly on these screens?
  • Can you easily enter information in all of the fields without error?
  • Make a purposeful mistake in each field. What happens? Do the error messages make sense?

Week 3
Audit the Autoresponders

Check and fix (if needed) your post-donation landing page messages and email confirmations, aka autoresponders. Make a list of these common issues:

  • Do your landing pages and autoresponders demonstrate gratitude and reinforce the impact of the gift?
  • Are they personalized with the name of the donor and, if applicable, the name of the campaign?
  • Are they signed with a name and signature from someone in a leadership role (CEO, Chair, Director)?
  • Are the email autoresponders branded appropriately (think of the stationery you might use for a letter or use campaign assets, such as Giving Tuesday).
  • Do these communications include a “next step” for your donor to take? Can they learn more about your events, your volunteer opportunities, or your work in the community? Can they sign up for additional newsletters or learn more about membership benefits? Perhaps view a special video thank you message from your CEO or view a behind-the-scenes video?

Week 4
Incorporate Your Mission

Grab your mission statement and audit your communications to ensure that your value proposition is front and center on your website, your donation forms, landing pages, donation confirmations, emails, even stated on your social media profiles in some way. If a new donor interacted with these properties, would they feel compelled to give or feel good about their gift? Sift through your most prominent platforms and make a list of improvements.

Week 5
Ponder Personalization

Take stock of your direct communications and consider what components could be personalized. Consider these suggestions:

  • Does your post-donation landing page and email confirmation include a personalized salutation? Example: “Dear Jane…”
  • Could a weekly email include a geographic location? Example: “Neighbors just like you in Cala County will be joining us/made their gifts/volunteered…”
  • Do your solicitations include last gift or date? Example: “We were grateful for your gift on December 15, 2021. Can we count on your support again this year?”
  • Can your newsletters incorporate interests based on the last email click-through? “If you’re interested in pandas, you might love this new story about our panda habitat.”

Week 6
Build on Segmentation

Your evaluation of personalization from last week might lead to some ideas for segmentation in this week’s assignment. Think of ways you can segment your lists to be even more targeted and personalized. Within your emails, can your separate or conditionalize the content to specifically speak to the groups below? When setting up your digital ads, can you create a custom audience from your database to display a very specific message? Consider these segments as your brainstorm:

  • Donor segmentation: prospects, lapsed, additional gift or upgrade
  • Participation: volunteers, event attendees, communication preferences
  • Demographics: geographic or interests

Week 7
List the Lists

Take the lists from your six-week audits, evaluate and prioritize. Rate them in two ways: high or low impact vs high or low effort. Plot them on an “action priority matrix”(or sort them on a spreadsheet). Prioritize the high impact – low effort items first and create your roadmap. Consider what might be used in an upcoming campaign and who would need to be involved to make those changes happen.

Then, go to your calendar and book a bi-monthly meeting with yourself to check in on your list of lists. The agenda? Review, re-evaluate, re-prioritize, and create a checklist for the next seven weeks. Rinse and repeat until all of your items are complete.

Overall, the goal in this seven-week exercise is to focus on foundational improvements. These small details can make a big difference in the online experience of your prospects and donors. The expectation of a smooth, straightforward but meaningful experience online is higher than ever. Investing small chunks of time into these improvements will help boost the success of our future campaigns.

If you choose to take the challenge, let me know how it goes!
What did you learn? Where were the opportunities and hurdles?
I’ll feature them in a future post so others can learn and be inspired.
Email me at