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Top 7 Drivers of Donor Love and Loyalty

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In Part 1 of this three-part series we began a conversation about making donor retention a priority with a focus on 10 ways to say thank you. ‘Thank you’ establishes trust – the essential foundation of all lasting relationships. To sustain trust, and build upon it, you must report back to donors on the outcomes of their philanthropy.

How do we know this works?

Fundraising luminaries for years have been studying what drives donor retention. These include researcher Dr. Adrian Sargeant, Roger Craver, and the more recent Rogare Fundraising Think Tank Review comprised with input from seasoned fundraisers across the globe. They’ve all arrived at remarkably similar results. Taken together, we can discern a top seven drivers of donor commitment.

The Top 7 Drivers of Donor Love and Loyalty

All of the donor commitment drivers are within your control.

  1. Trust
  2. Personal link to you
  3. Performance in accomplishing your mission
  4. Tangible link to beneficiaries
  5. Multiple engagements
  6. Shared beliefs
  7. Choice and quality of communications

The first driver, trust, sets up a functional satisfaction-based connection. People are satisfied when they know they can trust you. And trust is established through a “thank you” that’s prompt, personal and powerfully evocative of the impact of the donor’s gift (what we covered in Part 1). In other words I gave my gift, you satisfy me you got my gift, and you tell me you’re going to put it to work the way I intended. All is good. I’m not sitting there wondering what happened or whether my gift went into a black hole.

The other drivers are all about building relationship-based connections. They’re part of the ongoing wooing strategy essential to all relationships. Mostly, they’re about demonstrating you show up and can be counted on to continue doing so. You create the impact you promised. You deliver.

You’re in the Driver’s Seat

Let’s take a look at how to apply the seven drivers consciously to your donor stewardship so you raise more money and keep more donors.

1. Trust

We covered trust (Part 1) and how you set it up through thoughtful, meaningful gratitude. Not perfunctory receipts. Stuff you take some time to think about and devote some resources to implement. A proactive strategy; not an afterthought. Now let’s review the remaining six.

2. Personal link to you

Donors generally are seeking connection. To their values. To a like-minded community. To their peers. To their humanity. What better way to show up than in person (real or virtually). Donors need to connect to a human being, because they need to feel an ongoing connection. Otherwise they’re unlikely to repeat their philanthropy. The more personal, the better. Not a mass email holiday greeting. But a report that says “Dear Claire, I think what you did was wonderful. Now Mary and her kids can sleep through the night.” Here are some ideas to get you started:

  1. Set up a personal visit. This won’t make sense with every donor, but for folks who you’re cultivating for a major gift or significant upgrade it’s the very best thing you can do. The visit can be one-to-one or in a group setting (e.g., open house; house party; tour, recognition event or direct service volunteer opportunity).
  2. Send a video thank you. You can record it yourself using your smart phone, with just you talking, waving and smiling.
  3. Send a video from someone your donor’s gift made possible. Again, this can be done informally using a smart phone. It doesn’t have to be expensive or take hours to storyboard and edit.
  4. Send a letter from a program director. Whenever a donor earmarked their gift ($500+) for a particular program, I’d ask that program director to send an additional acknowledgement and/or an impact report.

3. Your performance in accomplishing your mission

It’s imperative you connect the dots between your donor’s gift and actual impact. You see, donors are always a bit nervous about their investment in you. More than anything, they want to know what their hard-earned money is accomplishing! We know this, because donors tell us as much:

  • 53% of the reasons donors give for failing to renew their giving is because the organization failed to properly communicate in one way or another (Bloomerang, “Nonprofit Donor Loyalty Primer” Infographic via Dr. Adrian Sargent, “Managing Donor Defection”).
  • 46% of donors leave for reasons tied to lack of meaningful info or to a feeling their giving is not appreciated (Penelope Burk, Donor-Centered Fundraising).
  • 60% want impact and success stories – and say their decision to give again hinges greatly on the organization’s ability to show what it can accomplish. (Software Advice; see also The 2013 Millennial Impact Report. Achieve. The Case Foundation.)
  • 70% of donors would increase their philanthropy if they received what they needed from charities (Penelope Burk, Donor-Centered Fundraising).
  • 75% of donors use information about a nonprofit’s impact in their giving decisions (Informed Giving: Information Donors Want and How Nonprofit Can Provide It. Root Cause. 2013).
  • 75% of donors list “information on results achieved with their gifts” as their top requirement to motivation for future giving (The Burk Donor Survey. Cygnus Applied Research, Inc. 2013).

It’s not that difficult to show you deliver results. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  1. Develop a donor-centered content marketing plan including specific ways you’ll report back (e.g., year-end report; end-of-campaign report; post-event report) – and stick to it religiously.
  2. Create a story bank so you get in the habit of collecting and sharing powerful stories of impact. Stories will make people pay attention in a way graphics, pie charts and statistics will not.
  3. Include mission moments in all your board and committee meetings and volunteer activities. Volunteers are donors too. They need to hear stories about the folks they’re helping.

4. Tangible link to beneficiaries

Seeing is believing. And the more points of contact a donor has with folks helped by your nonprofit, the more likely they are to feel identification as a part of your family and stay connected. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  1. Send a letter from someone your donor’s gift made possible. It can come from a student, a family member, a ballerina, a guide dog, a painting, a tree – feel free to get creative!
  2. Add a video with testimony from someone helped to your website, e-newsletter, blog and/or email signature.
  3. Add testimonials from people helped to your donor honor roll and/or share via social media.

5. Multiple engagements

Ongoing communication is the foundation of REAL friendship. Absence does not make the heart grow heart fonder. You want to avoid giving your donor the impression you don’t really care that much about them. You know the feeling? The one you get when friends get busy, and forget to call or write? Eventually, you stop thinking about each other. The goal is to stay top of mind!

Don’t be afraid to reach out more than a few times. Connect emotionally on a frequent basis. Donors need to be reminded how their money is being applied toward results that are lasting and effective. Donors want to hear from you as long as you:

  • make them feel awesome;
  • report on outcomes they care about;
  • make them feel “in the know” and ‘part of a special community”;
  • ask for their feedback/opinions/advice.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

  1. Remember back in May when we told you we were 60,000 meals short? Thanks to you, we just served that 60,000th meal!”
  2. Remember when you received an appeal asking you to help Janet and her son?  I’m Janet, and thanks to you…
  3. Remember last year when we told you Jimmy was the first in his family to graduate from college?  We thought you’d like to hear Jimmy just got a job!

6. Shared beliefs

All of fundraising is based on a value-for-value exchange. You enact values your donor shares, which is why they offer their support. The more you can remind them of these values, the more they will stick with you because it fits with their world view. They see themselves as a champion of democracy, a fighter for the environment, a lover of animals; being associated with you validates who your donor is and drives continued commitment.

  1. Post your values publicly (e.g., on your website; in your lobby; in your email signatures).
  2. Send holiday cards that emphasize shared traditions and teachings (e.g., hoping for peace; honoring mothers; valuing family; supporting equality; welcoming strangers; feeding the poor).
  3. Ask donors to share their values with you (e.g., stories of how/why they got involved with you; quotes they find inspiring; favorite books or movies); then use some of their responses in your publications to showcase your values.

7. Choice and quality of communications

Penelope Burk’s research found 93% of donors would give again and 64% would give more if you communicated “more effectively.” Donors expect you to pay attention and take care of their needs, not yours.  Boasting about the award you just won or the big check you just received feeds your ego, not your donor’s. Just as you’d take care of the needs of a child, spouse, parent, friend or date, so must you take care of your donors. So… the trick is to think about helping donors, not selling to them (This will be the topic of Part 3).

TIP: Before you create or publish any donor content, ask and answer your donor’s question: What’s in this for me? (WIFM). If your donor won’t benefit, go back to the drawing board.

Incorporate all 7 Drivers into Your Donor Communications

All of the primary reasons donors leave are related to poor communication – both in terms of quality and amount – and the reasons are similar to why friendships frizzle and evaporate. You get busy; forget to call or write… even stop thinking about each other.

Evaluate your current fundraising and content marketing (aka communications) plan. Do your strategies incorporate these seven drivers and show donors you’re thinking about them with love and gratitude? Or does your messaging come across as if you mostly think of donors as ATMs? What can you do to use these tools to powerfully demonstrate your donor’s impact – repeatedly – to build stronger relationships with your supporters?

In Part 3 we’ll look at ways to even more robustly show your donor’s how much they mean to you.  

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