With donor retention rates stubbornly low, improving long-term loyalty has to be a priority for charities this year. Here are five key challenges your content strategy needs to address
1. Build trust
Numerous studies have shown that trust in an organisation is a fundamental factor in loyalty. If we donors believe our money is being well-spent in pursuit of the right aims, we are far more likely to continue giving. But trust in the third sector is at a low ebb – the lowest ever according to the Charity Commission.
Their 2016 Public Trust and Confidence in Charities survey found 33% of UK adults had less faith in charities than a year previously, following high-profile fundraising and data protection scandals. Furthermore, trust in small, local charities is higher than large, globally active ones, creating an additional challenge for many household name organisations. Rebuilding trust – through words and deeds – is a key challenge for 2017.
2. Beat the first year slump
Charity retention rates are typically a bowl-shaped curve – good engagement from donors in their first year or so, a rapid dwindling over years 2-3, and then a corresponding increase in loyalty as tenure grows.
From a fundraising perspective, that’s “lousy”, according to Adrian Sargeant, Professor of Fundraising at Plymouth University:
“Over 70% of people that we recruit into organizations never come back and make another gift, so we’re caught on this treadmill where we have to spend lots of money on acquisition which most nonprofits lose money on anyway, just to stand still.”
A key challenge, then, is the development of better nursery programmes for new supporters in that crucial first 18 months. Give new donors the right mix of content and experience, and you could have them for life.
3. Articulate your cause
All charities have a cause – it goes without saying, doesn’t it? Well, no, it doesn’t. That cause, that higher purpose, needs communicating more clearly and distinctively than ever. In 2017’s fast-moving, “post-truth” media landscape, high-impact, short-term campaigns will always be required to get cut-through to donors. But if a charity’s long-term mission gets lost in all the local initiatives, expect donor loyalty to suffer too.
That goes double for charities which offer a lifestyle benefit as well as a cause – heritage, culture and wildlife organisations, for example. If your donors’ lifestyle changes and they don’t value your wider mission, you’ll lose their support.
And of course, that mission has to resonate personally. As marketing guru Seth Godin puts it: “We support a charity or a soccer team or a perfume because it gives us a chance to love something about ourselves.”
4. Reconnect with ‘Brexit Britain’
How well do you really know your supporters? 2016 threw up new and dramatic divides in British society, crystallised in the Brexit vote, which confounded pollsters by cutting across traditional demographic categories. So better data and – even more importantly – better insight from that data are going to be vital for charities who want to stay relevant to their supporters’ lives.
Data crunching has a big role to play, but so too does old-fashioned listening. When did you last do a supporter survey? A set of focus groups? Or get properly involved in a social media conversation with donors? Old assumptions about what people value got swept away in 2016. 2017 is a year to learn afresh.
5. Make it personal
Personalisation is the media buzzword of the year, and it raises a host of connected questions for charities. Even assuming you have the data (see point 4), can your CRM system effectively join the dots between, say, a site visit and a legacy enquiry? Do you have enough – and the right kind of – loyalty content to engage different audiences? And are you giving your supporters the opportunities, platforms and incentives to talk back to you? As software becomes more sophisticated, 2017 will be the year when a personalised relationship with charities starts to become more than a nice-to-have. Loyalty will depend on it.
Immediate works with many of the UK’s largest charities and not-for-profit membership organisations, including the RSPB, WWF, English Heritage and the Scout Association.