What cre­ates high­ly loy­al supporters?

In the sec­ond piece in his series on donor loy­al­ty, Roger Law­son iden­ti­fies the key fac­tors that will make your sup­port­ers loy­al to your organisation.

Written by
Roger Lawson
June 24, 2021

In the first blog in this series, I explained how supporter loyalty is not the same as retention. Loyalty is the passion that a supporter feels for you and your cause and it is what makes them want to support your charity over and above others, long into the future. Retention is simply the resulting behaviour when we get it right. 

It’s vital then that we focus on growing the loyalty of our supporters. And to grow loyalty, it’s the mix of emotions, unique to every individual supporter that we need to understand.

Through our surveying of hundreds of thousands of charity supporters we’ve had the opportunity to test many different potential drivers of loyalty to understand which are the most important, and every time we’ve identified the key drivers as commitment, satisfaction, and trust.

As the most significant of the three drivers, commitment is the passion a supporter feels for your goal and your work. It’s when they feel that your cause is really important and, critically, that it’s important to them as a supporter. Commitment is deeply personal – every supporter will have their own unique reason why they care about your cause, created by many different factors, including the cause itself, the supporter’s experiences and their personal values.

Often, but certainly not always, it’s driven by personal experience of the issues that the charity is seeking to solve or the work it does. This is especially true for health charities where people who have suffered themselves or seen loved ones suffer will often have high levels of commitment. But it isn’t always the case, and we should never assume that a personal connection will automatically lead to higher commitment – it’s important to know how their experience can become a passion.

Others, those with an outward, global, or even international focus, will feel passionate about the big systemic issues that our world faces, including international and environmental causes. While those more focused on family, home, and tradition are more likely to feel this way about local and patriotic causes such as ex-service men and women’s charities.

Donors with high levels of commitment will choose to support your charity ahead of all others. They will tell their friends and they’ll leave you a gift in their will. And they are the ones that will support you if you don’t treat them very well.

But for the vast majority of supporters, it’s the ways in which you communicate with them – how you make them feel valued and important, show that you understand why they choose to give to you and that you care about the experience they have as a supporter – that are vital. This is where satisfaction comes in.

Satisfaction is the happiness you give a supporter through your communications. Creating a supporter experience that makes them feel valued and effective, communications that let them feel in control of their relationship with you and messaging that makes them feel connected to your work and beneficiaries will give the supporter tremendous satisfaction. And, in turn, high loyalty.

The third factor is trust. We talk a lot about trust in our sector, but we usually get it wrong. We talk about how important it is to explain why our CEOs get paid high salaries (or even paid at all) or we find ways to minimise the administration costs within our annual reports, but the best way to grow trust is simply to demonstrate the impact you can have with a donation – or better still, the impact that the donor has had by making their donation.

If the supporter believes that you are effective at doing what you say you will and that you deliver the impact for your beneficiaries that you promise, then trust will grow.

Of course, these aren’t the only important factors. We know that familiarity is important – people who believe they know more about your work and cause are more likely to give again, but more so because this drives commitment and trust. We know too that giving donors knowledge or a sense of well-being is important – but this is more a way to grow satisfaction. And we know that having a high sense of perceived performance is important – although this is more important as a driver of trust.

When we first ran our research, to be honest I’d expected personal connection to be one of the key drivers… and familiarity… and perceived performance… but in the words of Professor Adrian Sargeant, who worked with us on much of our early research:  ‘When a donor cares passionately about your cause, they are happy with the way you communicate with them and they trust you to deliver what you say you will with their donations, then they will be a loyal donor.

So, in turn, I’ll set out three simple tips to bear in mind when you’re planning your supporter journeys and each individual communication:

  1. Commitment: Share your goal – your aspirational, inspiring, and emotional vision. And give everyone a reason to think about why this is important to them.
  2. Satisfaction: Make your supporters feel really good when they support you – show you value them and understand why they choose to give.
  3. Trust: Demonstrate the impact that you have or, better, that your donors have, every time they give.

Grow commitment, satisfaction, and trust and you will grow loyalty and therefore grow giving. Simple! 

This is the second part of my series about supporter loyalty. I loved hearing from you after the first part with ideas – thank you. And if reading this has prompted any suggestions about what you’d like me to cover in the next parts, or anything that you would like to ask about, please do get in contact with me at Roger@About-Loyalty.com.

*You can find the first article in this series, here.

About the author: Roger Lawson

Roger Lawson (he/him) helps charities create and implement supporter experience strategies that excite and inspire donors to give… and keep giving!

Roger’s approach is based on his passion for understanding the personal motivations why donors give to the charities they do. He’s as happy as a pig in muck when he’s speaking to donors to understand and measure the emotional connection they have with the charities they support; building segmentation models to help charities understand their different audience needs; developing propositions that inspire giving and legacies; or designing supporter experiences that grow long-term loyalty and value.

Roger has held senior fundraising positions at Feed the Children and WWF, been strategy director of Cascaid and GOOD Agency (two of the UK's most innovative and successful fundraising agencies) and now enjoys working directly with charities and universities.

He’s on the steering groups for the IOF’s Supporter Experience and Insight in Fundraising groups, is an IOF Convention board member and is a judge of the Donor Experience Award at the National Fundraising Awards.

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