Skip to main content

The Low Down On Donor Loyalty

Author: Lori Halley
May 15, 2014
🕑 3 min read

Who would have thought that a week’s holiday would offer lessons about donor loyalty.

Recently, I went away for a week’s holiday, leaving my son caring for our dog, Teddy. The week flew by and before I knew it, I was arriving back home and opening the front door to a frantic, leaping doggie welcome of alternating leaps and licks.

I found out later that while our week in tropical paradise had seemed all too brief, it must have been tortuously slow for poor Teddy. Apparently he’d been waiting and watching out the window for us faithfully all day and night, every day for the entire week! According to my son, even though he tried desperately to divert the dog’s attention, Teddy continually returned back to his post waiting by the front door or in the front window – day or night.

So it seems serendipitous that I arrived back to find that this month’s Nonprofit Blog Carnival is all about “the non-profit sector going to the dogs”. As this month’s host, Erik Anderson (Donor Dreams) suggested in his call for submissions about building loyalty among non-profit stakeholders , “is there anyone or anything in this world that embodies LOYALTY more than dogs?”

What about your donors or supporters – are they loyal to your cause?

We think of dogs as being unconditionally loyal – always there for us like Old Yeller. In fact, the Merriam Webster definition of loyalty uses the following example: “<there was no denying that dog’s loyalty to his master>”.

I’m not a fundraiser, but I’ve seen a lot of blog posts using the term “donor loyalty” and wondered what that term really means and how non-profits can develop this in their supporters. When non-profits talk about “donor loyalty”, I don’t think you’re expecting the unconditional love and loyalty that you have with a pet. Yet it seems to be about more than just donor retention or ensuring annual giving support. So are we really talking about commitment? Is it about having donors believe in what you’re doing; make a personal commitment to supporting and promoting the work you do? Like the dictionary suggests: “having or showing complete and constant support for something”.

What do loyalty programs and non-profits have in common?

Another funny coincidence about my holiday and this month’s Nonprofit Blog Carnival topic is that we booked our trip through the rewards points of a loyalty program. So it got me wondering – is building “donor loyalty” that different from the customer loyalty that companies and retailers are striving for with their loyalty programs offering points, miles, cash and freebies to retain consumers?

Looking at some of the advice offered up to companies about their loyalty programs aimed at “forging stronger connections with their customers”, it all sounded very familiar. For example here are some points from an Entrepreneur article by Pete Maulik:

  1. Respect your customers from Day 1.
  2. Recognize customers’ individual needs and preferences. A one-size-fits-all rewards program is much more prone to being commoditized than a personalized approach.
  3. Create a relationship that’s reciprocal.
  4. Deliver frequent rewarding experiences.

I think if you substituted the word “donor” for “customer”, this advice rings true for non-profits who also need to make each donor feel special and build relationships through effective two-way communications. And of course, respect, loyalty, commitment and trust are the cornerstones of most relationships – marriage, membership, employee-employer, and most certainly your relationship with your donors.

When you think about it, the one thing that loyalty programs and non-profits have in common is that they offer rewards. But for your donors it’s not about receiving prizes or perks as recognition. They want to hear about and see the outcomes of their support, and experience that rewarding feeling. So perhaps we need to add to number 4 – something like: “communicate frequently about your success; demonstrate your achievements, so your loyal donors can have “rewarding experiences.”

Of course, your donors aren’t just sitting waiting at their front door like my loyal Teddy. So you need to build a solid foundation of trust through frequent, honest, open, two-way communication – that speaks to them as individuals and that is authentic, emotional, and real. Making them feel part of the work you do to foster a long-term commitment and loyalty.

Read More: How to Write The Best Thank-You Letter for Donations + Three Templates and Samples

Image source:  Loyalty points rewards card – courtesy of

The Membership Growth Report:

Benchmarks & Insights for Growing Revenue and Constituents

Get the report now!