Developing a solid donor base is not something that happens overnight. It takes time to cultivate a database of constituents who support your mission time and time again, and recommend your organization to others. Many factors are at play in the development of true loyalty, engagement and trust. How your organization utilizes its resources, the impact of your programs and your ability to communicate effectively with donors all factor into the equation and can significantly impact your organization’s ability to earn lasting loyalty.
With the goal of providing you proven, effective methods of increasing donor loyalty, I asked a sample of development professionals for their ideas on this topic. I received dozens of great responses, so thank you to those who provided feedback.
Building an effective program takes time and effort. Here are a few ideas to help you foster the one thing we all desire most, retention.
1. Listen to your donors
Find out what will compel them to further help you achieve your mission. Ask for their advice, and put it to practice.
2. Share your good news
Communication is key to building any relationship, and nonprofit relationships are no different. Think about newsletters, e-mails and face-to-face visits to keep the flow of information open.
3. Measure your success
“In general, donors like to receive regular, measurable and concrete feedback about how their money makes a difference,” says Ursula Pfahl, vice president of business development at Bigham Jewelers, who worked with CMON — The Golisano Children’s Museum of Naples. By sharing the impact in real measures, you solidify the good work you are doing.
4. Survey your donors
When Courtney Polster, fund development manager at Agrace HospiceCare, started surveying her donors, she discovered that a high percentage were utilizing planned-giving vehicles to support a charity — but she was surprised to see how few said hers was their charity of choice for this option. This revelation led to further research. “Quality initiatives like these are helping build a stewardship and recognition program as well as a planned-giving program,” Polster says. “It has been most beneficial!”
5. Leverage donor loyalty
Use your board members to make calls and write thank-you notes. The power of appreciation from a strong board member can go a long way in building loyalty.
6. Involve donor in the cause
By regularly inviting donors to come and see their donations in action, Keith Greer, fundraising and membership coordinator at Popejoy Hall, has changed the way donors view his organization and increased retention rates by 14 percent and the average donation size by $500. According to Greer, many of Popejoy Hall’s donors always shared the great work of the organization, but with stronger collaboration he has seen a shift in the way donors began talking to their friends after participating in the mission. Now it’s, “Look at what I’m doing to help.” In addition, today he has excited donors asking how they can do more. Greer says that the firsthand experience has “been more powerful for loyalty, engagement and increasing giving than any communication piece we have ever done.”
7. Get social
Create connections in the social networks where your donors spend their time. Connecting socially is very powerful.
According to the 2012 Sage Nonprofit Insights study, 84 percent of nonprofits are in social networks, with Facebook topping the charts. Surprisingly, 69 percent of participants say their organizations are not blogging. Blogging is a great way to keep donors up to date on the status of the organization. Additionally, through social sharing in tools like Facebook and Twitter, nonprofits can further engage donors and volunteers with those same updates.
8. Customize your approach
“Bottom line: Loyalty comes when we show folks we know them. This means we have to really listen to them. There’s no cookie-cutter approach, as donor preferences vary. We have to be sensitive to our donors’ particular styles, then give them what they want,” says marketing and fundraising consultant Claire Axelrad.
9. Recognize repeat donors
“Whether your organization is new or has been around for years, you can recognize continuous yearly donors in your annual report. Give recognition to donors who have supported you (at a set level) for three years, five years, 10 years — break it down however it works for you — but with recognition, if they have to drop a nonprofit one year, hopefully it won’t be yours!” says CFRE Debbie Joyner.
10. Say thank you
“One easy element is thanking donors for every gift either with a phone call or personalized e-mail. When dealing with loyal donors, I am always sure to mention how long they have been giving and let them know how much their continued support is appreciated. Most donors haven’t thought about how long they have been giving, and I think these small gestures have deepened donor relations with a pretty small investment of my time and our long-distance bill,” says Daniel Blakemore, assistant director for individual giving at International House, New York.
Take-away: Loyalty, retention and engagement seem to be harder to come by these days — probably because we all seem to be running the race faster and faster. True loyalty takes time, effort and commitment to yield fundraising success, but the return is happier donors with a strong commitment to your organization.