How do you inspire donor loyalty?


How do you inspire donor loyalty?

Recently a retailer, that will go unnamed, asked me to participate in an online survey. This retailer is among one of the top brands in the clothing retail space. You would certainly recognize them. I want to use this example to help you inspire donor loyalty within your organization.

I have been purchasing their goods for over 30 years, long before the internet, and have transitioned from being a brick and mortar customer to an online shopper. Admittedly, the latter experience has been encouraged by their relentless email marketing tactics, which have driven me to buy online and avoid the store experience when possible. The regular 20% off coupons that arrive in my inbox continuously mean nothing anymore because I know there will be a much better sale not too far behind.

But this post isn’t about online retailing — its how to inspire donor loyalty. So stick with me and this will tie back to nonprofit fundraising!

I very rarely do surveys but this one caught my eye because I do like their clothes and respect the brand. But I must say their recent marketing and sales tactics have left me befuddled. They’re a great brand that seems to have become desperate — struggling with the transition to the online world. Their tactics, to me, have diminished their brand, their perceived value in my mind, and their general high-end persona. They seem to not know what to do.

The survey was pretty boiler-plate until it became obvious that the entire point of the survey was to determine if they should implement a “customer loyalty” (rewards style) program. The questions made it clear they believe people might be interested in joining a loyalty rewards program for a “free beverage’ while shopping in the store or to take comfort in knowing the retailer will support “social causes.” This is when I started to get annoyed. Then there was actually a question about my likelihood of paying for the privilege to become a “loyalty member” — at this point I just about lost it. Paying to join a retailers loyalty program? Airlines for sure. But a clothing retailer. Wow… Not up my alley thats for sure.

But it finally got more interesting for me.

The survey finally got to a point where I could offer an open-ended answer to an open-ended question. “Should [retailer name] consider offering a loyalty program” and “how likely would I be to join the program.”

Here was my response:

I don’t recommend that you do this. I think people, especially men, already have loyalty to your brand based on your experience and quality. Reward programs aren’t really about loyalty and don’t build true loyalty — its a false loyalty that is developed, in my opinion. Why don’t you just up your game even further and offer even better quality, with great service and provide higher value — people want quality, service and value pricing — not a free beverage in the store. Why is a loyalty program even being considered? Frankly, the more I think about it — it’s a turn off for [retailer name] to offer this — it cheapens the brand — and then if I don’t join does that mean I’m not a “loyal” customer that will get treated well? I’ve been shopping at [retailer name] for 35 years — that’s not enough to show my loyalty??

So how does this relate to nonprofit fundraising?

For me it was a reminder that the way we honor or recognize and inspire donor loyalty is often misguided. Is the donor that gave $15.00 once a year for the past ten years more or less loyal than a donor that gave $500 for the past two years? What about the regular volunteer that gives small monetary gifts from time to time but brings friends to help out when she volunteers? How does she compare to the donor that purchased an auction item at the last two banquets but doesn’t give a donation to any emails or direct mail appeals? Or the donor that has significant financial capacity and gives a large gift every Christmas but declined to give to the capital campaign.  What will truly inspire donor loyalty? And what truly signifies donor loyalty?

The point here is that ALL of these donors likely consider themselves “loyal”.

It’s our definition that gets in the way, not the donor’s. As a nonprofit we often put people into buckets just like a retailer might. But we are all consumers and we make decisions on our own terms — we likely shop at multiple retailers and likely donate to multiple charities. This doesn’t mean we are less loyal. Loyalty cannot be summed up in a neatly wrapped package.

At the end of the day, people are going to be loyal to an organization that they connect with, trust, believe in, and one that offers a different experience than others. Your nonprofit is no different.

For further reading on this topic consider the following:

  1. Dr. Adrian Sargeant’s 7 Principles of Donor Loyalty — READ MORE
  2. 10 Things Every Organization Should Do to Enhance Donor Loyalty — READ MORE
  3. Nonprofit Donor Loyalty — READ MORE