Advice From the Field: Make Sure Your Supporters “Feel the Love”

Today’s donors are savvy. They want to feel connected to the organization. And above all, they want to feel engaged.
A recent Campbell & Company webinar discussed some “new rules” of engagement, with additional tips from successful nonprofit leaders. Donors for Life: Learn How to Keep Your Donors Engaged Through Good Times and Bad was presented to the Campbell & Company community in November.
Sharing insight during the webinar: Campbell & Company Chair and Chief Executive Officer Edith Falk; Greg Cameron, Chief Operating Officer for Chicago’s public television station WTTW and sister classical radio station WFMT; and E. Brooke Walters, Director of Institutional Advancement for the Chicago Shakespeare Theater.
Because the webinar prompted much interest, we asked two other industry experts for additional insight: Amy Parrott, Associate Development Director of the San Diego Zoo, and Jeffery McLain, Vice President of Development for the LSU Foundation at Louisiana State University.
Economics of loyalty
It costs five times as much to create a new donor relationship than to renew business with an existing donor. While it is important to continually expand your fundraising community, it really pays to make sure your current contributors stay in your flock. But today’s long-term patronage must be earned. The harsh reality is that even your most loyal donors can “unfriend” you with a click of a mouse.
Field-tested idea: The San Diego Zoo offers reduced membership rates to those who are renewing. To retain loyalty, the Zoo calls entry-level members whose first-year memberships have lapsed, encouraging them to renew at the discounted rate.
Field-tested idea: Membership in the LSU Foundation is a lump-sum annual commitment but can be a gateway to other types of giving. The Foundation treats their member relationships with care, through “very thoughtful” communications like a hand-signed quarterly letter from the LSU Foundation president and a quarterly e-newsletter that highlights financial performance, campus achievements, a member profile and recent events.
Solidify a donor relationship with a personal touch
Donors want to feel special. They want to know that their contributions are valued. Recognize a new membership as a burgeoning relationship with someone who shares your same passions. 
Field-tested idea: Chicago Shakespeare Theater solidifies a new donor relationship with a personalized thank you note rather than a form letter. Beginning this season the theater is individually greeting all new donors when they arrive at a performance after initiating support.
Field-tested idea: WTTW makes personal phone calls thanking donors for their support.  

Out with tchotchkes, in with experiences

Mugs and T-shirts only go so far. Donors want to feel a part of the organization. And they want to know that their money is making an impact on an organization.
Experiential events bring donors into your world and provide a lasting impression that can be recalled when it is time to renew or increase a contribution. Event goers are treated to an “experience” like going behind
Campbell  the scenes of a theater, or feeding animals at the zoo. The key is to target these events to those individuals most likely to move up the donor pyramid and to let them know this is a special event not open to all.

Field-tested idea: The LSU Foundation understands that its members are dedicated LSU enthusiasts. The Foundation offers members private tailgating events and access to meetings with the university chancellor.
Field-tested idea: Chicago Shakespeare Theater invites key supporters to sit alongside directors and artists during technical rehearsals.  

Field-tested idea: WTTW recently sponsored a meet-and-greet with film producer Ken Burns for an invitational pre-screening of the PBS documentary Prohibition. The station even secured a $50,000 contribution from a donor who was invited to a private luncheon with Ken Burns.
Utilize partnerships to expand donor base
Find out what your donors are interested in and connect with them through their other activities. Use social media and community partnerships to target supporters with like-minded interests and values.  

Field-tested idea: The San Diego Zoo partnered with the San Diego Symphony for a performance at the zoo. Crossover donors were encouraged to increase their support through a donation challenge that was split between the two organizations.  

Field-tested idea: The LSU Foundation takes advantage of its close-knit community. New members are often recruited at other events through personal invitations from existing members and directors. It is a way of capitalizing on a network that already has a deep connection with the organization.  

Field-tested idea: WTTW partnered with the Chicago Architecture Foundation and the Art Institute to promote a documentary on a tour of the Chicago Loop district. They were able to connect with people interested in architecture and urban planning who had never given to the station. The result: a $10,000 gift from a new donor.  
Verse your mission throughout your organization
Make sure everyone in your organization, at every level, understands your mission. Any personal contact is an opportunity to show why your organization deserves community support. Donors should feel the love every time they interact with your organization.  

Field-tested idea: Chicago Shakespeare Theater develops three key talking points which it circulates to staff throughout the institution. When there is dialogue with current or potential supporters, the message is clear and consistent.  

Field-tested idea: The LSU Foundation’s success lies in finessing personal relationships and listening for nuances to determine when a member might be ready to increase giving amounts. Role playing sessions at staff meetings help develop good communication skills. While some in the nonprofit industry might focus on “sales” skills when training fundraising staff, the LSU Foundation has found success by active listening focusing on donor needs.  

Field-tested idea: The San Diego Zoo distributes cards with their six talking points to all employees and interns. Familiarity with the zoo’s “fast facts” list is required for those who deal with the public. 
For more information on how we can help your donors "Feel the Love", contact Edith Falk at  

Learn more about Campbell & Company’s webinar series