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How to expand donor loyalty

Updated: Dec 10, 2021

In this blog for Civil Society, first published in the November edition of Fundraising magazine, Roger Lawson explains how fundraisers can use public insight to adapt communications, build engagement and grow loyalty.

The last couple of years have put charities and fundraising under a great deal of pressure. Thankfully, our supporters have stayed with us. But why do they keep giving, even when times are tough? What makes supporters loyal and how can insight help us strengthen their connection and commitment to a charity?

Very simply, loyalty is how your supporters feel about you. It is the passion and commitment they feel for your charity and its cause, which makes them want to support you long into the future.

Supporter loyalty relies on three core building blocks – commitment, satisfaction and trust. All three are closely linked, but it’s the cumulative impact of strengthening each of these factors through understanding the unique motivations of supporters that helps to establish loyalty.

To achieve this, we need to know what’s going on in people’s lives, what they worry about, and what’s important to them. Every supporter will have different experiences, fears, hopes and dreams, and we can learn about these through our supporter touchpoints:

Listen – Take every opportunity to hear what your supporters are saying. Not just when they donate or contact supporter care, but when they query something online, post a tweet, meet you at an event, or use your services.

Ask – This might include reacting to opportunities that arise, such as when they contact you. But it needs to be proactive too – thank them, update them or simply check in and show you care.

Respond – Every contact is an opportunity to hear more about what your supporters are focusing on, to strengthen the relationship, and offer help if they need it.

Tapping into public sentiment

However, there’s only so much we can know about supporters individually, so it’s important to overlay this with an understanding of trends in public sentiment. With this in mind, we created a Public Sentiment Tracker – a weekly survey of 2,000 members of the public. This enables us to anticipate how supporters might be feeling at any one time, and to respond accordingly in our communications.

For instance, during the pandemic, people have been less optimistic and hopeful than they have been at any time in the last 10 years, creating a “hope gap”. Currently, people feel they have less control over their own lives and less ability to influence the things that matter to them. They are fearful about the environment and worried about the economy, their jobs, the cost of living, and the health of family and friends.

As net optimism drops so the hope gap widens, and this correlates closely with wellbeing levels. It is something that, once understood, charities can help to address by:

  • Telling stories of success and impact. When people are feeling powerless, we can show them the difference they have made, and continue to make.

  • Showing donors they are in control of the relationship. Reinforce that they can always choose how much, how often or whether or not to give. And listen to them if they want you to communicate with them in a different way.

  • Connecting them to other people. Tell stories that help them feel close to the people who matter. Create events or other opportunities where they can meet other supporters. Or create campaigns where they know they are joining in with others who care as much as they do.

When combined with current insight, we can reach people with messages that inspire them and speak directly to them.

Keeping up with changing lives

For a supporter to be really committed, the cause needs to be important to them, even as their priorities change. So, it’s essential to know what they care about and acknowledge this when communicating to achieve cut-through.

Public insight enables us to build a picture of how people are feeling – their concerns and their hopes – and to respond in tune. This type of insight reveals so much of value – from how people feel about the current news headlines and the big issues changing the world around them, to how comfortable they are in engaging through different channels, how much they trust charities, and which types of causes people lean towards at any one time.

For example, as Covid-strained hospitals made headlines daily, NHS charities were favoured. When lockdown, job losses and furlough kicked in there was a notable rise for welfare and homelessness causes. More recently, the Afghanistan crisis and La Palma volcano eruption saw a lean towards international aid.

Tracking changes

A consistent theme throughout the pandemic has been people rediscovering the importance of family and friends, and how important a strong and supportive community can be.

Many charities reflected this in their campaigns, especially around Christmas. RNLI understood that the need to be together as a family was so important even though it was impossible for many. Its Christmas appeal focused on the real voices of the families behind its volunteers, and the families that are only together today because of the bravery of those RNLI volunteers.

Tracking how financially confident people are feeling is crucial. Last month, 38% of the people surveyed said they thought their personal financial situation will be massively affected in the coming year, and that they are worried they won’t have enough money for the basics – home, heating, food etc.

This is one of the most important areas to understand when communicating with supporters. An inappropriately timed or targeted ask can add to their worries, but a well-timed offer or caring voice can provide solace and support.

It is easy to assume that in difficult times people don’t want to be asked. But insight has shown us that when fears are high and optimism low, people like to be needed and involved.

So you can:

  • Make your ask in a way that is empowering, giving supporters an opportunity to make a difference.

  • If a donor can’t afford to give, empathise and look for joint solutions. Can you offer a payment holiday? Or a reduction in the amount? Is there another way they can be involved?

  • If they stop giving, say thank you. Tell them what they have achieved and remind them how good they should feel about this.

Build for the future

With so much going on in the world, it has never been more critical to keep on top of how people are feeling. In understanding the shifting sands of public sentiment, you can adjust the message and tone of your communications to be timely, relevant and appropriate, while building on the key drivers of supporter loyalty:

  • By understanding supporters’ needs and priorities, you will be able to find the inspiring stories to grow their commitment.

  • By responding relevantly, and providing hope, joy and the opportunity to make a difference, you will grow their satisfaction.

  • By showing the impact that you and they are making together, you will grow their trust.

Do all this, and you will have an increasingly loyal, and therefore valuable, base of supporters.


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