Supporter loyalty is vital for fundraising organisations that rely on individual giving. Roger Lawson, founding director of About Loyalty, explains why nonprofits need to monitor changes in public sentiment and the wider environment to tune into donor motivations and drive up loyalty.
Well before the pandemic struck, we were becoming more and more aware of the importance of donor loyalty. In the UK, media scrutiny and nonprofit scandals had damaged public trust, while ever decreasing donor acquisition returns had made it impossible to recruit donors in the volumes we used to, and GDPR had forced the fundraising sector to see the importance of donor data and consent and appreciate that this doesn’t come easily.
And then the COVID-19 pandemic shut off many of the donor acquisition channels that were left.
It’s never been so important to look after our supporters. As Tracey Pritchard said to us when she was executive director of engagement at Prostate Cancer UK last year, “It’s our warm supporters that will pull us out of this. If we get the experience wrong for them now, then we’re dead in the water.”
We know what creates donor loyalty. Commitment to the cause (or a passion for the goal that you are seeking to achieve); satisfaction (or being happy with your communications and feeling valued by the charity) and trust. And we know that loyalty leads to more giving in the future – our own analysis shows that for every one-point increase in donor loyalty, 5.2% more donors go on to give again the next year.
But in difficult and changing times it’s vital to read the room – what’s right today won’t necessarily be right tomorrow. If we go back 12 months, everyone was scared by Covid-19, confused and feeling isolated. And yet there was also a tremendous amount of good feeling created as communities came together to support and care for each other. There was a genuine feeling that we should support one another, and while many things changed very fast, one thing didn’t – the desire to help. There was a tremendous outpouring of goodwill towards others, and for donors this meant that they continued to want to help the causes that were still important to them. Many charities saw record responses to their appeals.
This is why it’s so important to read the room. People wanted to give. We saw this in several big campaigns – most noticeably Captain Tom’s raising of £30m for the UK healthcare organisation NHS Charities Together.
The important take-out is that asking people to give is NOT contrary to providing an excellent supporter experience. People care… passionately! And when they do they want to do something about it. And that’s where we come in. Done well, charities offer donors the chance to live out their values, to make a difference in the world and to feel good about themselves. If we want donors to feel good then we need to offer them a chance to help the things they care about.
Of course, it’s all about how it’s done.
Asking is important, but so is thanking – Research in the UK by John Grain shows that donors remember the thank you more than the appeal. A genuine, heart-felt thank you to a donor will make them feel valued. And in turn they’ll want to support more in the future.
Telling the donor what they have achieved is vital – It gives the donor a feeling of competence (one of the drivers of well-being). And it shows that you value how important they are.
Something else that charities did really well last year was to provide hope. It was vital that charities provided their donors some hope in dark times. In fact, research has shown that it is vital for a donor to believe that progress has or can be made towards a goal before they will give.
Circumstances can change quickly, and the most successful charities will be those able to move fast. In the UK, we are seeing the end of lockdown with lower coronavirus cases, the vaccines making people feel safer and some growing confidence in the financial future. Of course, many parts of Europe are in a different situation, but this will be seen elsewhere too, over time.
It’s vital to keep these changes in mind – to keep reading the room. Perhaps one of the big questions to ask and monitor is whether people want to return to what they knew before (the old normal), or whether they want to see the pandemic used as an opportunity to create change and a new normal – to Build Back Better as the UK government puts it. As things start to pick up, it’s time to review and ask if can you inspire people behind a new vision? Can you give them a new hope?
Perhaps the key thing is that everyone will be in a different situation. Our UK research shows that, despite the general and significant uplift in mood and optimism, around one in five people are showing signs that it will be years before they feel safe again. And we’re seeing that half the population believe that they won’t be affected by a recession while the other half believe that they will be massively affected. This leads me to suggest three specific recommendations:
Be flexible with your messaging – Reflect what’s happening and try to appeal to people across these divides. Try not to exclude people, such as supporters who still care passionately about your cause but happen to be in a difficult financial situation just now. Talk to people who can give, but not in a way that excludes people who can’t. Tell people about your shops opening up or events, but don’t make people who are scared to go out feel under pressure.
Resource your fundraisers accordingly – Make sure that everyone is ready to speak with a donor who is experiencing hard times. Remember they may not want to stop supporting, but they might have to. Enable your fundraisers to offer them alternatives (payment holidays, non-financial ways to support etc). But most of all, make supporters feel great for the change they have helped you make rather than making them feel bad for having to stop. Then they’re more likely to come back to you.
Always offer hope – Hope is so important to us all, and we can offer it like no other sector. When you’re asking for money, show the difference the donor can make. When you’re thanking them, show them what has happened because of their gift. When you’re sharing stories, show them the progress you’re making. Fill that void and your donors will love you for it.
About Roger Lawson
Roger Lawson is founding director of About Loyalty, a researched based fundraising consultancy in the UK, which specialises in the science of charity supporter loyalty.
Related feature: Special focus: Donor love – Charity campaigns that give back
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