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Wednesday, January 17, 2018

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7 principles of donor loyalty
Tom Ahern

February, 2014

Dr. Adrian Sargeant is a marketing professor specializing in charities. In his groundbreaking research, he uncovered 7 chief reasons why donors will sometimes stay with a charity for years.

Most new donors don't stay, you know.

Somewhere between 70% to 80% of first-time donors NEVER make a second gift, multiple studies confirm.

Is that abysmal retention rate a tragedy ... or a farce? It's safe to say it's lousy, compared to customer satisfaction rates in the commercial world. In the commercial world, a 70-80% loss rate would say one thing loud and clear: new customers aren't falling in love with us. Something's wrong with our product. Something's wrong with our service.

And orders would come down the pipe: "We're hemorrhaging new customers! Quick: do a survey. Find out what's wrong."


I'm going to give you my personal interpretationsof all 7 principles. This is merely how I view them.

I asked Adrian's permission to share his findings with the world, and he said, "Of course." Some people might set out to trademark the 7 principles and put an electric fence around them, with a pay to play policy. Not Adrian.

If you have a minute, thank him. Here's why:

Dr. Adrian Sargeant's well-researched advice, taken to heart, can double or triple your annual take within a year or two. Promise. I've seen it happen a number of times.

Loyalty reason #1. Your "customer service" is good

Wiki-definition: "Customer service is a series of activities designed to enhance the level of customersatisfaction...." [emphasis added]

Donors are fundraising's customers. And onlysatisfied customers remain customers. Put that in needlepoint and hang it in the staff bathroom.

A lot of good customer service is easy stuff.

Call it irrational, but donors routinely wonder, for instance: "Did you actually get my gift?"

That's one reason you send a "thank you" so quickly ... a "thank you" that is obscenely enchanting; something a prime minister would send to a duchess. (Need help with that? Engage someone like LisaSargent. Watch Downton Abbey maybe.)

And don't stop there!

Then you send a second thank you, just to be sure they know you have indeed logged their gift, it's already at work ... and that you deeply, profoundly, authentically, charmingly, personably rather than robotically appreciate it.

Trust me on this: a second thank you, research shows, will be richly worth it. (Bless you, Angel Aloma.)

Another obvious donor question? "Does giving really matter to this mission?" Or how about one of the most often overlooked questions I encounter, "Do you really need charity?" (See how Princeton U., America's most successful higher ed fundraiser,answers this question.)

When you anticipate common questions and answer them eagerly up front, you're doing far more than most charities. So, who does do just such things extremely well?

AARP - America's most sophisticated marketer to people over 55. Fifty-five, as it happens, is exactly the average age of people entering their prime donating years in the US, according to good research. Do you know what a person at that age wants to hear? AARP does. Study.

Loyalty reason #2. They share your beliefs

In 2008, the Barack Obama presidential campaign showed just how remunerative shared beliefs can be if you're a charismatic leader with a simple message.

Alas: that describes so few charities. Most are neither charismatic nor simple.

What can "mere" shared beliefs do? They can win the White House for the first African-American president. Why did so many US households donate unusually large amounts to Barack Obama's 2008 campaign?

People who donate hope to win a meaningful fight, Yale economist Dean Karlan learned. Prof. Karlan
studied giving to Barack Obama's 2008 campaign. Karlan's key finding: middle America elected Barack Obama.

Shared beliefs win.


Well, campers, those are all the principles I can comfortably squeeze into one issue of the newsletter. The rest of Dr. Sargeant's 7 principles of donor loyalty will appear in subsequent issues.  
Visit Tom Ahern at


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