Are your donors as loyal as a dog?

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That little guy in the picture there is my dog, Punch. He's 13, blind, and as loyal as the day is long, especially if you scratch that special spot on his chest! He’s lying by my feet now as I write this, and it’s his favorite spot to sleep while I’m working. Punch is my first dog, so he's unfortunately had to bear the brunt of my learning a few things about being in a relationship with a dog. The really cool thing that I’ve learned about dogs, however, is that even if you screw up, they’ll still love you.

If only the same were true for donors.

Where'd they go?

The secret to donor loyalty is to make the being-a-donor experience as awesome as the becoming-a-donor experience.

Think about it. Regardless of the size of the gift, with the exception of the mindless “coin can” gift, what happens when someone first becomes a donor? They are attracted to your mission or the people doing the work. Perhaps you’ve met them at one of your events, through a mutual acquaintance, or as a result of a piece of marketing you distributed. Regardless of how you met, you’re excited about them, they’re excited about you, and you’re paying attention to one another. This goes on for a period of time until they decide to make a donation or not.

Then what happens? If they choose to donate and you’re in the minority, you’ll thank them in a relatively short period of time. Regardless of whether they give, you’ll add them to your mailing list, and unless they made a huge gift (and sadly, even then, in some cases), odds are they won’t hear from you again until you make another appeal.

The exception to this, of course, is if they made a recurring gift and their credit card expires … It’s amazing how easy it is to pick up the phone then! (Hint, hint, to a certain organization I support.)

Is it any wonder that donor attrition is so high?

How to Build Loyalty

At first it was touch and go with Punch. He was testing his boundaries with me and I was still figuring out how to speak “dog.” I’m embarrassed to admit that it was a very frustrating time for both of us. Fortunately, I did my homework and figured out that the main thing he needed was consistency. Consistent exercise, consistent care and attention, and consistent discipline.

With donors, it’s not much different. They need consistency, too. They need to consistently feel the same excitement they felt when they first decided to support your cause. Do this by:

  • Communicating with them regularly by various means (telephone, postal mail, email, social media, in person, etc.) where the focus of the exchange is not an appeal.
  • Soliciting their input and showing them how much you value it.
  • Never forgetting that it’s always about them and how they are making a difference.
  • Always doing what you say you’ll do.

This is obviously simple stuff, and I’m not the first to write about it, but most organizations still don’t do nearly enough of it. Perhaps they’re too busy, or maybe they just haven’t figured it out yet. Fortunately, it’s not too hard to figure out whether you’re doing well or not, because your donors will tell you with their checkbooks.

Next Steps

Calculate your current donor attrition rate, make being consistent with your donors a priority, and periodically recalculate your donor attrition rate. When you see the number drop, you’ll know you’re building donor loyalty.