Modern Nonprofits Inspire Commitment, Not Donor Loyalty

In the past, nonprofits have focused much of their efforts on growing donor loyalty. The objective was to find people who would automatically give to the organization multiple times, year over year. In a best case scenario, nonprofits could largely leave these donors alone until it was time to ask for additional giving. 

Unfortunately, those tactics aren’t working as well anymore. Individual donors are still the largest segment of givers, and generally represent the largest opportunity for raising funds. But these individuals have actually been giving less year after year. It turns out that donor loyalty on its own isn’t as reliable or impactful anymore. What modern nonprofits should be working towards, instead, is donor commitment. 

How Is Donor Commitment Different? 

Donor loyalty used to be driven by forces mostly outside your nonprofit’s control. Donors had a personal connection to your mission and used that to give year after year. Of course, some donors were able to create meaningful relationships with representatives at your nonprofit, but for the majority, the reason to give was internal. 

Donor commitment is much more about maintaining an active relationship. To inspire commitment from your constituents, you must bring them into your organization and create reasons for them to stay active. Put them at the center of the meaningful work you do so that they feel part of your success. With intentional engagements and personalized communications, you’ll create an active commitment from your donor base rather than a more passive and fragile loyalty.  

How to Build Commitment Instead of Donor Loyalty

You’re probably thinking that this all sounds great, but you still aren’t sure exactly how to make the change in your nonprofit. We’re here to help. Here are 4 strategies that your organization can start implementing today that will move your donors to commit to your success. 

1. Respond to Donor Needs 

Think about the most committed relationships you’ve experienced in your life. Whether you were part of them or observed them from the outside, you probably noticed a few similarities. The most important one being open communication. Both sides actively listen to the other and respond in a meaningful way. When donors tell you what is important to them, when they give of themselves so that you can do more good in the world, they need you to respond. 

Remember, their world is highly curated and deeply personalized. If you don’t fit into that personalized experience and proof that you value them as a member of your community, they will quickly remove you to make room for an organization that will. Loyalty is no longer a one-way street. A two-way commitment is necessary for organizations to grow. 

Resources like marketing automation and reporting tools will help you become more responsive. Set up workflows that trigger the next best steps for each donor segment. Think about all the different actions that are valuable to your nonprofit, beyond donate. Test a few different workflows to see what is the quickest way to get a donor to share your video or make calls for your team or host their own event on your behalf. Use what you know about each person’s motivation to develop campaigns that are centered around that theme. 

Don’t just talk at your donors, though. Watch their behaviors and adapt accordingly. If something is working well, do more of it. If something falls flat, don’t be afraid to change it. Staying flexible and engaged with your donors will turn them into a committed part of your organization.

2. Develop Comprehensive Strategies

A common challenge that nonprofits run into is learning how to balance new engagement strategies with existing ones. Eventually, one gets the majority of the focus and the other falters. But responsive nonprofits use comprehensive strategies to earn commitment from their donors. 

A personalized experience for individual donors means knowing when to send them an email, when to mail a handwritten note, when to engage with them on social media and when to let them talk. Constantly pushing your information to their inbox won’t improve the relationship you have if that donor prefers to keep their email professional. Similarly, if your donor doesn’t enjoy talking on the phone, they will likely feel annoyed by direct calls from your representatives. Be sure to use a variety of touchpoints for each donor segment so you can learn as quickly as possible what each donor wants most from you. 

This doesn’t mean you should never send direct mail to a donor who prefers online engagement. It simply means that touchpoints that fall outside of their preferred communication channel should be personalized and valuable to that individual. The care you take to be strategic about every touchpoint will drive commitment from your donors and it will help your bottom line. You’ll save on the number of direct mail pieces you send, advertising dollars and the hours spent on marketing campaigns that don’t resonate. 

3. Make Meaningful Suggestions

Closing the loop is a big part of earning individual donors’ commitment instead of just their loyalty. Modern nonprofits not only listen and respond, but also suggest personalized next steps. Although your donors should be in charge of how the relationship grows, you are the expert on the mission.  They will look to you to tell them what to do when they are most passionate. 

Most often, you’ll point them to a place where they can give to your organization. But, there will always be energized, engaged donors who can’t give when you need them to. Your nonprofit needs suggestions for this group, as well. If they are ignored for too long, or subtlety told that they don’t matter unless they’re giving, they will move on. 

Remember, commitment is about working together and finding new ways to support each other. If you tell committed donors exactly what you need from them and why they are the exact right person to help, they will respond. Keep a running list of needs for so that you’re never without a way to activate donors in new ways. Categorize each need on your lists by your different donor segments so every ask can be personalized to them. 

Most importantly, after they’ve done the action you needed, follow up with them. Thank them for acting so quickly. Explain how they made an impact and the details of what you were able to do with their contribution. Mention how you will use their generosity for months in the future. People respond to positive feedback, and the more you can put them at the center of your work, the more committed they will be to your continued success.

4. Prioritize All Donor Relationships

Above all, to be a growing, modern nonprofit you must prioritize personalized donor relationships. The tools you use, the marketing campaigns you try, the development strategies you use — they all need to begin at the same place. Everything should start with the assumption that relationships with individual donors is the most important outcome. 

Recurring donations, advocacy and revenue will all grow if you keep your efforts focused on establishing strong relationships with all your donors. From the major gift donors to the individual donors, there is a way to connect to each on a personal level. The nonprofits who figure out how to do it will continue to evolve and grow in the competitive space of donor commitment. 

Learn More About Connecting with Modern Donors

For a step-by-step guide to engaging donors, download our ebook, The Donor Journey Explained. We explain each stage of the donor journey, plus provide best practices for moving each individual to the next phase. The 32-page guide is available on-demand on our resources page. 

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