What Creates Donor Loyalty?

Nonprofits and charitable organizations that want to improve donor retention can pick up valuable tips from a longtime, loyal benefactor I consulted.

Because donor attrition presents an ongoing challenge, organizations are constantly spending time and resources trying to replace contributors who have dropped off. The loss percentage of first-time givers is staggering, and research shows that many nonprofits consistently lose more donors than they add. Worse than the proverbial hamster on a wheel, they are running hard, moving fast, yet falling behind. Does this approach to raising the funds necessary to accomplish their important mission make sense? Quite the contrary: It’s unsustainable.

To gain an understanding of what motivates a faithful contributor, I reached out to someone who has demonstrated a consistent pattern of giving. I wanted to get the reasoning that prompts an initial gift and then what inspires the decision to continue that support.

Disclaimer: The donor is my mother.

My mother is the patron nonprofits dream of. She is steadfast in her support to a select group of charities, in some cases for decades.

When asked to share what motivates her giving behavior, she noted that she has always believed in helping others, but the decision to give is influenced by what is of fundamental importance to her.

Moreover, she must believe in the specific mission and see that a positive difference is being made. She is willing to give at different levels for different results.

While my mother has her own interests that can prompt an initial gift, a first-time donation is sometimes the result of a recommendation from a trusted friend who has shared the good works of an organization they believe in.

The question is, What spurs her to continue financial support? The answer is simple: respectful communication.

I asked what she values in her donor experience.

She doesn’t like being pressured. Constant appeals, which she labels “pestering,” annoy her, even when they come from her favorites. She feels organizations should recognize from her giving history that it’s a once-a-year thing. They should know that aggressive fundraising efforts that push too hard risk being dropped from her list.

Another influence is how correspondence is addressed. Is she just another nameless recipient on a mass mailing list, or is the salutation personalized?

In addition, my mother likes being thanked without another solicitation being worked into the thank you message. She welcomes updates that communicate specific outcomes because she especially appreciates being made to feel her gift makes a difference regardless of its size. 

We evaluated several examples of her most recent correspondence. Do you think it is a coincidence that the most inviting letter was from her favorite charity? 

Creating donor loyalty can increase retention. What difference could that make for your cause? What would even a small improvement in your retention percentage mean?

How do you create donor loyalty like my mother’s? You earn it. The fact is that earning donor loyalty is all about the experience and that starts with how compellingly you present your cause and how thoughtfully you continue to communicate with your supporters. Showing appreciation without solicitation—not constantly “pestering”—is a relationship builder. Make each donor feel good about giving by letting them know that, regardless of amount, their contribution has made a difference.

Is your organization committed to the effort it takes to keep donors or is it resigned to continue the practice of recruit and replace? Your cause may be a good one, but if donor retention is an issue, there are contributing factors that you must identify and fix.

Attracting donors is not easy, but earning their recurring contributions is even more important. Adopt practices that let your repeat contributors know that you value and respect them. You will reap the rewards from loyal donors like my mother and ensure your continued success.

What steps does your organization take to develop donor loyalty?

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