Donor Loyalty: 5 Proven Strategies For Healthcare Organizations

Healthcare nonprofit organizations are some of the largest organizations in the world, yet most are faced with a donor retention challenge: How do we continue to build donor loyalty and keep previous donors interested in the mission?

This resurfacing conversation within healthcare nonprofits has to do with the mission. For example, West Cancer Foundation has a mission of advancing cancer care and research. With a mission that spans multiple types of illnesses and diseases and requires a long-term commitment to its end goal, it’s difficult to keep supporters engaged and maintain hope for the mission.

Because these nonprofits are tasked with this unique challenge, they must remain vigilant in their donor retention strategies and create hyper-personalized giving experiences that speak to each donor.

To give more insight into the level of intricacy involved in how healthcare nonprofits can further steward donors, Jordan Huntze Walker, MPA, Manager of Development and Marketing at West Cancer Foundation, and Amin Tehrani, Managing Director of Revunami, joined Virtuous for a roundtable discussion on how healthcare nonprofits can improve the way they engage and retain donors.


Here are five tips on how healthcare nonprofits can work to build a strong base of loyal donors.

1. Build Donor Loyalty Through Listening

Donor loyalty isn’t something that comes overnight. Earning your donor’s trust is about understanding and empathizing with them as humans, not constantly asking them for a gift.

The first step of the responsive fundraising framework is listening. While it sounds simple, active listening requires patience, compassion, and most important, intentionality. Are you listening to what donors are telling you, or do you continue to send them generic fundraising appeals and donor communications regardless of what their preferences are?

The responsive cycle of Listen, Connect, Suggest, and Learn that can help nonprofits grow donor loyalty

If someone expresses that their interest is in lung cancer, how are you personalizing their experience? Listening and learning directly from donors is a guaranteed way to strengthen the relationship with them. Taking into account that this particular donor has a connection to lung cancer, when you send them your monthly update newsletter and fundraising initiatives around that cause area, you’re showing the donor their voice matters, and you are listening to what their interests are.

Personalizing the Donor Experience

A core part of Huntze Walker’s work at West Cancer Foundation was crafting personalizing the donor experience. To authentically connect with donors, her team had to be responsive in their efforts. For instance, she says, “If somebody is telling us they’re passionate about breast cancer, well, great. Let’s talk more about the free mammograms we give to women.”

While actively listening to donors was critical to the West Cancer Foundation’s retention success, another consideration was the responsive nonprofit CRM the organization used.

“Virtuous has been incredibly helpful in listening and being responsive. We know different things resonate with different groups of donors. It’s listening and building relationships with them. It’s digging into the data and looking at what is resonating with those donors and making sure that we are being responsive.”

Jordan Huntze Walker, MPA, Manager of Development and Marketing at West Cancer Foundation

Address Where They Are in Their Donor Journey

From cancer research to advanced drug therapy and everything in between, healthcare nonprofits offer several health-related areas to support. The reason why someone might decide to share their generosity could vary from wanting to donate to a good cause to having a personal connection to your mission. That personal connection is key to inspiring donor loyalty, so building a relationship based on that is simply necessary.

Food for thought: You want to be mindful of where the donor is in their journey and communicate with them with empathy, compassion, and kindness. A donor journey map is a planning tool that you can use to create better donor experiences and drive generosity.

Tehrani emphasizes the need to know where your donor is in their journey because even if you’re sending a donor information on a cause area that they have expressed interest in, it still might strike a cord if it doesn’t take into account where they are in their journey with your mission. Creating unique donor journeys that align with who your supporters are, why they are engaging with your mission, and how they are engaging will create better donor experiences.

“If you’re talking to someone who has no connection, then you want to talk about how urgent the need is and how horrible the disease is. But if you’re talking to someone who just had someone they love diagnosed with something, they want to know that there is hope and there are other people who’ve been through it.”

Amin Tehrani, Managing Director of Revunami

There’s an element of sensitivity that is required when you work at a healthcare nonprofit—one that requires a higher level of attention to detail.

2. Keep an Open Dialogue With Donors

If you have several cause areas, it can be challenging to figure out what your donors are passionate about if you’re not welcoming an open conversation with them about it. To mitigate this issue and boost your retention efforts, provide an abundance of opportunities for donors to communicate openly with your team.

It’s Not Always About the Ask

It can feel pretty one-sided and transactional if every communication donors receive from you is an ask. If this happens enough, it could cause donors to disengage completely and move on to another organization — the opposite of building donor loyalty. There are plenty of ways to stay in touch and keep donors up to date with what’s going on at your nonprofit without making an ask. It’s about diversifying the content you send and keeping an open dialogue, encouraging donors to chime into the conversation as well.

Here are some ideas to add some variety to your content mix:

  • Monthly newsletter: A good way to keep your community in the loop about your fundraising efforts is to send out a monthly newsletter. You can even go the extra mile and create content-specific newsletters (e.g., breast cancer, heart disease, mental health). That way, each donor segment is receiving information about the areas they’re interested in.
  • Impact stories: Get individual donors excited about their activism by sharing personal impact stories of the lives of those they are helping. Meaningful stories from real people are social proof that the donor’s generosity is creating positive change in the world. It might even incentivize them to make another gift in the process, even if you don’t ask.
  • Upcoming events: If you often host events, make an effort to inform donors about them. Whether it’s advocacy events, virtual town halls, facility tours, or meet-and-greets, providing donors with opportunities to meet and connect with your team face-to-face will organically strengthen your relationships. These interactions will encourage donors to stay in touch with your organization because they’ll feel like a part of a tight-knit community.
  • Personalized check-in: A simple email or handwritten letter that expresses your gratitude for your donor’s continued support and asks how they’re doing can go a long way. Donors will likely feel seen, appreciated, and valued. It can be effective in building donor loyalty because you’re telling them that you care about their well-being and what’s going on in their lives, especially if someone they love has been impacted by an illness or disease.
  • Donor survey: Once a quarter, send out a short survey to ask for feedback from donors. Ask them questions like what cause areas they’re interested in, what they want to see more from your organization, what improvements you can make to the giving experience, and why they chose to support your cause. Make sure to keep some questions open-ended! It’ll give them a chance to fully express their thoughts and share their story about how your organization has impacted their life. You can also do this through traditional phone calls with donors, too. It adds a more personal touch because the donor is talking to a real person, and you might be able to pull more emotion from the donor.

Huntze Walker highly recommends adding phone calls to your donor retention strategy, “I love to call donors and just simply ask them: ‘Why did you give? Can you tell me a little bit about your story? Why cancer?’ Everybody has their cause.”

“Then, we’ll have tons of different donor profiles that we’ll do in our newsletters, on social media, on the website, and in our peer-to-peer fundraising. It serves two purposes: 1) It gives us more info about that donor and where we can target our ask, and 2) it gives us beautiful marketing content and beautiful stories that are really personal.”

Jordan Huntze Walker, MPA, Manager of Development and Marketing at West Cancer Foundation

Pro Tip: All of this personal engagement is incredibly powerful, but can be logistically difficult. Invest in a good responsive fundraising tool that includes robust automation workflows. That will allow you to automate your donor journeys and include the relevant touchpoints above without adding more work to your team!

3. Dig Into Data to Find Connections to the Cause

Your donor database in your nonprofit CRM holds a breadth of information about your donor’s preferences, interests, and passions, allowing you to customize a communications strategy to reinforce support from loyal donors. However, one of the biggest challenges with having so much information is understanding how to distill that data down in a salient way.

Donor segmentation is a way to solve this data challenge. By segmenting your donor database into specific groups, you can target donors based on their connection to the cause, and then test different types of messaging to see what resonates.

As an example, according to Tehrani, segmentation at a cancer research nonprofit could look something like:

  • I’m currently battling cancer
  • I’m a cancer survivor
  • Someone I love is currently battling cancer
  • I’ve lost someone I love to cancer

“Segment out the folks you think will be high-value donors and send out something to collect their story. People who have gone through this want to share that story,” Tehrani encourages. “If you can boil that down to a list of people with a high propensity to give, that’s a pretty good major donor pipeline.

Track Donor Behavior

Once you’ve implemented a stream of communications to your valuable donors, you can then track how they’re responding. This is how you identify donor behavior trends and develop a personalized journey based on your learnings.

Your nonprofit CRM is a powerful tool. Especially if you have a responsive platform like Virtuous, you can track what the open and click-through rate is on your emails, what content donors are engaging with, and what pages on your website are most visited. This gives your team a 360-degree view of donor activity, helping your team continue to iterate and test to find the best communication strategy to supplement your donor retention strategy.

4. Add a Human Touch to the Thank-You

What does your gift acknowledgment process look like? The steps you take once you receive a donation are vital to the health of your retention program and how loyal donors are to your organization. In addition to the confirmation email that a donor receives right after they donate, you should be following up with a thank-you email no later than 48 hours later.

The good news is that you can create a marketing automation workflow for sending thank-you emails so that your team can focus on relationship-building tasks like handwriting thank-you cards or making acknowledgment phone calls. Inspiring donor loyalty should be personalized, but that doesn’t mean it has to be all manual.

The combined effort of showing your gratitude via email and on a one-on-one basis, like a handwritten letter, can be impactful in strengthening long-term relationships with donors by building donor loyalty. By adding a human touch to your appreciation, you show donors that they’re supporting a dedicated and passionate team, rather than just a faceless organization. This personal connection makes donors feel valued and understood on a deeper level.

Use Your Biggest Asset: Your Volunteers

Your volunteers are pretty generous individuals. They’re the ones who find time in their busy schedules—balancing work, family, friends, and themselves—to dedicate to helping your nonprofit advance its mission. They can be a nonprofit’s most valuable resource to free up staff time.

Huntze Walker recommends involving your volunteers in the gift acknowledgment process, “We have a great army of volunteers who write thank-you notes. Volunteers can be really impactful, so donors aren’t just hearing from paid staff; they’re hearing from other people who also support the organization out of the goodness of their heart.”

“Utilizing the brainpower of our volunteers, supporters, and donors takes a lot of the pressure off a staff member. Our organizations can be a creative outlet and a refueling place for them,” Huntze Walker continues.

With a volunteer mobilization tool like VOMO, your nonprofit can manage, recruit, and engage volunteers under one platform, creating a streamlined and responsive experience for all of your passionate supporters. Donor loyalty isn’t just about financial donors, but those who donate their time and social capital should also be valued and nurtured well.

5. Raise Brand Awareness and Donor Loyalty With Advocacy

There are plenty of ways that your donors can show their dedication to your cause that goes beyond financial support. It could be as simple as sharing a social media post with their friends and family, or it could be as grandiose as spending their entire day as a volunteer for your fundraising gala.

Perhaps one of the most valued ways for someone to support your organization is engaging in a peer-to-peer fundraising campaign—a way to show off their advocacy by fundraising on your organization’s behalf.

Peer-to-Peer Fundraising Drives Donor Loyalty

Your peer-to-peer fundraisers are your biggest supporters. You know that fundraising takes a lot of time, energy, and planning—your advocates are going above and beyond to help you raise additional funds for your cause with their peer-to-peer efforts.

Because these supporters are committed to your cause and want to spread more awareness about the good work your healthcare nonprofit is doing, you know that they are already loyal to your organization. Why not encourage them to become monthly supporters by joining your recurring giving program?

For West Cancer Foundation, the team has found peer-to-peer fundraising to be the most effective way to engage their donors, with a significant number leading to recurring donations.

“We have had great success in converting peer-to-peer donors into recurring donors. We put them into a new donor welcome series that is tailored around what they gave to the first place, talking about our fundraising event and talking about the impact that those gifts had on our mission. We use peer-to-peer fundraising as an introduction to our organization and through a series of postcards, personal touches, and email marketing, we have had a great conversion rate.”

Jordan Huntze Walker, MPA, Manager of Development and Marketing at West Cancer Foundation

Further reading: 5 Elements Your Nonprofit Email Welcome Series Needs

A Better Retention Rate Thrives Off of Increased Donor Loyalty

As you’re making plans and finding opportunities to boost your donor retention rate, we encourage you to lean into donor loyalty. For healthcare nonprofits, donors’ passion for the cause can run deep because it’s likely the case that they or someone whom they love is personally impacted by the work that your organization is doing.

Donor loyalty is based on having flourishing relationships with donors. We implore you to continue listening to what your donors are telling you, allowing donors to share their stories, thoughts, and activism around your mission-driven initiatives, and tracking donor behavior so you can give them more of what they want.

Download the “Responsive Tactics to Retain Today’s Donor” to get the most out of your fundraising efforts, learn what motivates your donors to give, and retain their generosity in the long term.

What you should do now

Below are three ways we can help you begin your journey to building more personalized fundraising with responsive technology.

See the Virtuous platform in action.  Schedule a call with our team for personalized answers and expert advice on transforming your nonprofit with donor management software.

Download our free Responsive Maturity Model and learn the 5 steps to more personalized donor experiences.

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