How to Build Brand Loyalty for Donors to Your Non-Profit

Businesses talk all the time about building “brand loyalty,” that fantastic appreciation of your company that makes customers choose your products and services despite knowing that other options exist. Brand loyalty keeps people buying Milky Ways instead of Snickers Bars (or vice versa) and Saturday afternoon tinkerers choosing Craftsman tools over their DeWalt counterparts.

With the proliferation of non-profits around the world, many charitable organizations are starting to think about brand loyalty too. With a dozen organizations focusing on homelessness in your city, how can your non-profit ensure that donors who are interested in the plight of the homeless continue to give to your charity, and not switch to another organization?

The same question is being asked in all types of non-profits, focused on all types of different missions. How can you build a brand for your organization that keeps donors giving year after year, even though they are getting solicitations from dozens (or hundreds) of charitable organizations?

Wait… Isn’t it Wrong for Non-Profits to Care about Brand Loyalty?

This is a question that many organizations ask when we start to talk about brand loyalty. Isn’t it wrong (by which they mean “icky” and “corporate”) to care about brand loyalty? If someone is giving money to support the homeless, should you really care if they stop giving to your shelter and start giving to another one?

The answer to that question lies in whether or not you think your organization is doing the best possible work in your given mission field. Is your cancer hospital the best option for cancer-sufferers in your area? If so, then yes, you should want people to give to you, because you want them to have the best possible care.

If you’re not the best cancer hospital in your area, are you asking for donations to help you carry out a plan to make you the best such hospital? Yes? Then you should definitely want to compete for donations. If you aren’t the best, and have no plans to be the best, then maybe you shouldn’t care whether people donate to your organization or not. In fact, maybe you should encourage them to donate elsewhere.

I’m not advocating all-out war with other non-profits in your chosen field. I’m not suggesting that you run nasty negative ads against other organizations trying to do the same thing you are. What I am suggesting is that if your non-profit’s mission matters, and if you are doing great work – the best possible work in your field, then yes – you should be building brand loyalty, because it matters where donors give. You want them to give to you, so that they can have the greatest possible impact.

Can Non-Profits Really Build Brand Loyalty for Donors?

The next question we have to address is whether or not non-profits can really build brand loyalty for donors. We know it’s possible for for-profit businesses to build brand loyalty, but is it possible for non-profits? In a word… yes.

The best way to prove this is through real-life examples. For instance, there are thousands of charities in the US that sell desserts to raise money each year, but can anyone really compete with the loyal following of Girl Scout Cookies? Similarly, many (if not most) organizations try to raise money around the Christmas holidays, but when you think of Christmas fundraising, doesn’t your mind naturally turn towards the Salvation Army and their ubiquitous bell-ringers collecting change in giant red kettles?

Non-profits can and do build brand loyalty each and every day. They do it on the international scale (e.g. Heifer International and Habitat for Humanity), the national scale (e.g. American Cancer Society, Nature Conservancy of Canada and Australian Diabetes Council), and the state and local scale (e.g. Sydney Opera House, Trinity College Dublin, The Philadelphia Children’s Alliance).

The question for your organization is: how can you build strong brand loyalty with your donors?

Brand Loyalty Fundamentals

There are several lessons that businesses have learned when it comes to building brands that can are equally effective for non-profit organizations:

Use Consistent Imagery

Smart businesses know that consistent imagery makes consumers feel more comfortable with purchasing from the company by promoting the ideas of stability and uniqueness. The same applies for donors looking at non-profit organizations to support.

Use a professionally-designed logo for your organization. Choose standard colors and a standard typeface that will be used across all of your communications. Have one or two leaders of your organization that become recognized personalities for donors – people that they see featured in pictures on your website and in your newsletter and meet in person at your events. Keep a consistent look and feel for your non-profit.

Build Emotional Connections

Donors want to get involved with a cause bigger than themselves. They are seeking to make real connections with an organization making a big difference in the world. If a non-profit makes an emotional connection with them, they will stay loyal to that organization.

How can a non-profit make an emotional connection with a donor? Tell lots of stories about the good work that you are doing (and that your donors are funding). Give donors an opportunity to meet and hear from clients who are being helped by your non-profit. Make sure your supporters have chances to volunteer on the front lines and participate in your work.

Deliver a Quality Product

People don’t stay loyal to companies that produce terrible products or deliver awful services. The same is true for non-profits that provide sub-par services or get embroiled in scandals.

Is your non-profit producing real positive change in the world? If not, your donors will find out and eventually they will stop giving. If you say you are trying to end hunger in Madagascar, but you’re feeding less people this year than you did last year, even though you raise more money… your donors will find out, and they will start to question the quality of your organization.

Likewise, a private school that raises money to stay in business but has a chronically high dropout rate coupled with chronically low test scores will find that their supporters start to move on to other schools turning out a higher quality product. Outcomes matter to donors. They should matter to you.

Transparency Matters

People want to know what is going on at your organization. Donors want to be sure that they are making a wise investment. Transparent non-profits generate brand loyalty by providing donors with enough information to prove that the donors’ limited resources were well spent and that your supporters are making a positive difference in the world by supporting your organization.

Ideas for Increasing Brand Loyalty

Now that we’ve talked about the general principles underlying strong brand loyalty for your non-profit organization, let’s look at four specific strategies you can use for increasing brand loyalty among your donors, volunteers, supporters and friends:

Offer Facility Tours

This is one of my favorite methods for increasing brand loyalty at a non-profit organization, and is a strategy I have used very successfully in the past. Offering tours of your central office and/or your service facilities is a fantastic way to build donor loyalty.

Companies realized this a long time ago – In the mid-19th century, some of the world’s biggest brands (such as Heinz Ketchup) started offering a novel weekend entertainment to the masses: factory tours. During these tours, the businesses focused on the superior ingredients and craftsmanship that went into their products. This, in turn, led people who went on the tours to not only remain loyal to the product, but also to recommend the product to their friends and family back home.

Your non-profit can do the same. Offer a facility tour. Give people the chance to meet your staff and see where your work is done. Answer their questions. Show them where the “sausage is made.” Emphasize the quality of your work and your positive outcomes.

Doing so will allow donors to remember the experience when writing checks to your organization… They will remember the look and feel of your office and the great interactions they had with your staff. Donors will give more and do so more regularly.

Have Unique Traditions

What, if any, unique traditions does your non-profit have? Do you run a certain fun event every year or send out candies to your donors during the holidays? Do you have an open house on your founder’s birthday every year or hold a fun family scavenger hunt that your donors’ children look forward to?

Unique and memorable traditions build brand loyalty for your non-profit by setting you apart from other organizations and making your donors feel like they are part of an exclusive club. Donors who know about your traditions will feel like they are “on your team,” and will be loath to leave your team to join another.

For example, if one of your donors’ sons looks forward to your annual summer carnival, and you give donors special tickets and benefits at the event, it will be very hard for that donor to stop giving to your charity. In fact, you’ll have a very vocal advocate right in the donor’s own home – her son!

Be Accessible

Nothing builds brand loyalty for a non-profit like a personal relationship between a donor and a member of your organization’s staff. This is particularly true for your non-profit’s leadership.

Can your major donors call your Executive Director or CEO and have a 20 minute chat on the phone? How accessible is your board chairman or treasurer? Are your major gift officers in constant contact with their portfolio of donors? Accessibility shows your donors that you care about their needs, appreciate their support, and are worthy of their trust.

Give Leadership Opportunities

I always suggest that non-profit organizations offer leadership opportunities to their most active and valued donors and volunteers. These leadership opportunities can be as substantial as board seats and development committee roles and as minimal as positions on a quarterly advisory council or small event host committee.

Offering named leadership opportunities to your donors makes them feel like part of your team. It shows them that you value them, and that you care about their opinions. A leadership role can take a simple donor and turn him or her into a true evangelist for your organization.

Photo Credit: UCFFool