What do we want most to sustain our nonprofits? Loyal donors, natch! How do we get them? Oh, that’s simple. We badger them for gifts. When they give, we warehouse them in our database. We then send a form letter (pretending it’s personal because we use their given name and indicate their gift was earmarked for a particular purpose; in reality, most of the time we don’t know them from Adam nor do we try to get to know them beyond what they wrote on the flap of the remit envelope). Next, they get on our newsletter list and receive mass mailings. Before you know it they’re getting another appeal letter…
There’s a better way.
We must show them the love
. I want to thank marketing expert Mark Schaefer of Grow
for inspiring me to explore the two most important aspects of donor loyalty. In a nutshell: Trust and love
. Penelope Burk, the queen of donor-centered fundraising,
famously found through her research that donors’ number one desire is … please, please “show me that you know me
.” If we want donors to trust us and be loyal to us we have to trust them and be loyal to them. Simple, yes? Actually, no.To earn trust and loyalty takes strategy. And it takes work
. Mark Schaefer makes a brilliant analogy using his relationship with Home Depot, his favorite store. Or at least it used
to be. He tells of trying to redeem his money-back guarantee on some dead plants and having a terrible time of it. He brought in the receipt and a photo of the detritus. The clerk he dealt with didn’t trust that they were in his
yard. He might be lying. After years of loyal patronage, Mark thought they should be able to look up his buying history and see what a stand-up guy he’d been. He expected more. Because to him, “Home depot is not just a brand, it’s a buddy. It’s somebody I thought I could trust
.” He felt betrayed.
Sadly, we inadvertently betray our donors all the time. WARNING:
1. We misspell their names.
2. We send them a prospect letter when they’re already a donor.
3. We forget to cumulate their gifts and list them in the wrong gift society.
4. We send a letter promising to call in two weeks; then we forget or delay.
5. We only contact them when we want something from them.
6. We don’t ask them how they’re feeling, what their kids are up to or how they’re planning to spend the holiday.
7. We invite them to a black tie dinner when they’ve told us they hate formal events.
8. We ask them to support our children’s services when all of their gifts have been earmarked for senior services.
9. We personally invite them to attend an event; then barely say hello to them when they arrive because we’re busy with ‘more important’ supporters.
10. We tell them we want to solicit their advice; then we spend most of the time we’re together talking at them about the cost of the project we hope they’ll support.
11. We ask them to review a donor list; then never get back to them about using their contacts.
12. We ask them to solicit a gift; then never get back to them to let them know if their assigned prospect contributed.
We all too often think of our interaction with donors as a transaction, rather than a relationship. And this is the biggest sin of all. You can read more on this subject at Katya Andreson’s blog where she exhorts us to consider the ways that social currency differs from financial currency.Donors should be able to trust us to want to build a relationship with them
. Why wouldn’t we want to do this? Donors are kind to us. They’re there for us when we need them. Don’t we pay lip service all the time to the fact that we’re in this together
? That together
we’re creating a more caring community and a sustainable environment? That together
we’re greater than we are standing alone?We’ve got to do more than pay lip service to friendship
. Friendship takes time and work. We have to be thoughtful about the interactions that will help us to form emotional bonds. We need a strategy that enables us to engage with our friends/donors in numerous ways over time. And we can’t always be asking; sometimes we must be giving.
What we give to donors must be more than pro forma “canned” appreciation. An annual listing and recognition of years/level of giving is lovely. Yet it’s not the same as having a real person pick up the phone and wish you a happy birthday. An analogy would be religiously receiving a birthday check from an aunt, with simply a signed Hallmark card. Nothing personal. And that’s it for the year. Our engagement with our donors needs to be similar to the way we’d engage with a friend with whom we wanted to build a real relationship.
Social media offers a wonderful new avenue for engendering donor loyalty. But we’ve got to be paying attention. It’s not enough to ask folks to sign up for our emails; join our Facebook group; tweet, pin… whatever. We must first determine which channels our particular constituents frequent. Once we’ve picked our channels, then we must engage in meaningful ways. Otherwise, it’s just noise.
Some ideas to show your donors some love and build a true friendship:
Tweet birthday greetings (but probably leave off the age)!
Create a pinboard on Pinterest to which you pin congratulatory notes whenever a supporter celebrates a milestone or receives an award.
Encourage volunteers to send photos of their volunteering which you then post to your Facebook wall.
Ask key supporters to guest post on your blog.
Offer to write recommendations for star board members and volunteers on their LinkedIn profiles.
Create a LinkedIn discussion group and give your supporters the opportunity to engage in a dialogue with you and fellow supporters around issues of interest (you could even start several groups so that donors can select their area of greatest passion).
Send direct tweets (or email) reminding folks of upcoming programs that may be of interest to them and/or friends and family. Link to articles on your blog that may provide more details.
Be sure to include a comments section on your blog to foster two-way conversation.
These ideas are just a starting point. There are no doubt many more.
What ideas do you have for showing your supporters the love and trust they deserve?
Great article Claire. Being involved both as a donor and as a volunteer, I found your article right on the mark. I hope that the non-profits that read this incorporate changes to address this.
Thanks so much. Onward and upward!
Thanks Terri. Let us know if you implement any of these, and how it goes.