How to Cultivate Donor Loyalty: 5 Marketing Tips

A friend of mine, a retired hospice-facility fundraiser, recently made a sizable gift to a local women’s shelter. But she never received an acknowledgment or thank you. She was even told, “No thanks, we’ve got it covered,” when she volunteered to write their thank you notes. Needless to say, she’s hesitant to go any further with them.

Wouldn’t you agree this was a missed opportunity by the nonprofit to cultivate a budding relationship into a lifetime of giving? Here’s how NOT to let that happen.


1. Show them it’s possible.

Conventional thinking is that legacy donors must have large disposable incomes or be “well-off.” They may assume that this type of gift is out of their league, especially if they’re facing young families to support, kids in college, impending retirement or larger health care costs.

Our job is to show them that planned gifts are within reach. Since 9 out of 10 planned gifts (according to Blackbaud) will be charitable bequests, or gifts given in a will, this is the best and often least complicated place to start your planned giving marketing.

Tips to Make a Bequest Seem Possible:

  • Convey the overall ease and simplicity of the gift.

“Because most planned gifts are given after your lifetime, your current lifestyle isn’t affected. Plus, many are easy to make. The most popular gift—including us in your will—can be made by signing a form or adding a sentence to your will.”

  • Reassure donors that their gift of any size will make a difference.

“No matter the size of your gift, your impact will be great, because it will help further our mission. We receive gifts of all sizes—and they all matter.

  • Remind them you are available to help.

“Not sure how to start the process of creating a bequest or other planned gift? Feel free to contact us.”

2. Tell them (often) that they mean something to your organization.

Donors came to you, perhaps as volunteer or annual donor, because they felt pulled in some way.

Unfortunately, the average U.S. donor retention rate after that first gift is about 45 percent, according to the Association of Fundraising Professionals and the Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy at the Urban Institute.

How can we fix that—or at least increase donor retention and move loyal donors into legacy donors? An emotional connection influences everything out of the gate. The “win” is a legacy of giving.

Tips to Build a Meaningful Connection:

  • Show personality—write and speak in a way that’s engaging, authentic and uniquely your nonprofit.
  • Personalize—it works. Read why your marketing needs to be more personal.
  • Be consistent—set up a schedule for marketing outreach and stick to it. If you’re starting small, do exactly that: Stick with one or two tactics and stay faithful to a preset publishing schedule.
  • Use “family” words when you write, speak or reach out to donors. Imagine your donors sitting in front of you and practice your script. Words like “you,” “we,” “your gift” (instead of “making a bequest”) foster a sense of togetherness.
  • Send notes or forward an article about a new program or activity, or a news article that touts your nonprofit’s work. These tasks aren’t time-wasters; the simplest marketing tactics can be the game-changer.

3. Make sure they know you need them. Share progress and good news.

Your legacy donors know you. They trust your work. They want to see you succeed well into the future.

But it’s not time to rest on your planned giving laurels.

The story is only beginning in terms of continuing to reinforce the need (and mission) through your marketing efforts.

Tips to Prove You Need Them:

  • Run impact stats and facts in your newsletter or on social media as a “Did you know?” feature.
  • Show progress. If you’re running a campaign, share number updates in digital and print mediums, so donors can see how close they are—collectively—to reaching the goal. A “100 for 100” or “50 for 50” planned giving campaign is also a great tool to acquire a certain number of planned gifts during an anniversary year. It gives prospects and donors a concrete goal to work toward.
  • Share donor video interviews across media—short “2-Minute Takeaways” or “A Life & Legacy” spots showcasing why a donor created a planned gift and how it impacts your group’s work.

4. Nurture your legacy society.

A legacy society (heritage society, donor club or whatever your organization deems it) creates a sense of belonging and family.

Make it exclusive, yes, but also open and highly visible in donor marketing pieces to encourage others to join with a planned gift.

Tips for Nurturing a Legacy Society:

  • Get donors in on the action. Ask them for a testimonial to promote across digital and print marketing or to speak for community groups.
  • Make a legacy society blurb a standing feature in your newsletter. Run a list of members and new members quarterly or annually.
  • While not every society event has to be big, regularly host events that bring donors together with recipients. Cut out the middle man (you!) and let the relationships naturally grow from these meetings.

5. Listen to them. Get their feedback and do something with it.

As you know, surveys can be a goldmine. They can yield what’s truth, not your perception of truth, about your nonprofit. I’ve written about surveys often in the blog (try “3 Dos and Don’ts of Surveying“), but here are two quick takeaways:

  • Don’t undertake a survey if you are not ready and willing to address those results that clearly call for action or change.
  • Communicate survey results to your donors, staff and influencers, even if the data might be uncomfortable or doesn’t reveal much. In other words: disclose the good, the bad and the boring.

Getting feedback also can happen in the more spontaneous social media space by responding to questions and sharing information with followers.

CAUTION: It can be risky, depending on the subject and issues, so it’s wise—necessary, really—to have a social media marketing plan in place. Think through how you’ll respond to controversial or negative posts and who will craft responses, for example.

Tips for Listening and Using Feedback:

Let’s Talk About It

How does your nonprofit’s marketing build donor loyalty? Anything you’ve tried that didn’t work—or worked beyond your wildest imagination? We’d love to hear the good, the bad and the boring.

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