Building donor loyalty: lessons from Murdo

Donor loyalty is central to any successful fundraising programme – and so it should be when you consider that it costs 6 to 7 times as much to recruit a new donor as it does to keep and encourage future giving from an existing donor – but how do you keep donors loyal to your cause?


Well, when it comes to lessons in donor loyalty, I look to no other than man’s (or woman’s) best friend (stick with me on this one, all will become clear…)

Murdo teaching donor loyalty

First up, introductions:

Meet Murdo, my 1 year old Cockapoo who is a bundle of fun and energy that the entire family has fallen head over heels in love with since about 24 hours after he trotted through the door last July.

OK, so he’s cute (very) but what can he teach us about fundraising?



1. How clear are your messages?

Last summer, as a brand new dog owner, I took myself and my little pup off to dog training classes and it was only when I met the trainer that I realised how important it is to send out clear and consistent messages.

Here I was, trying to figure out why he wouldn’t come when called and thinking that perhaps it was because he didn’t know me that well yet or didn’t consider me to be his owner when the dog trainer pointed out that ‘Come On’ and ‘Come’ are two totally different commands.  I might know that they mean the same thing but Murdo doesn’t speak English (to be clear, he doesn’t actually speak) so he had no clue. They both sounded different to him. 

How clear and consistent are your messages? Do you say the same things around your fundraising – or do you confuse lots of different messages? Do you know which messages your donor’s respond to – and which they ignore? It’s worth spending time to cast a critical eye over the various messages that you send out to donor’s and to ask yourself:

  • are they clear?
  • are we consistent in what we say?
  • do they work – and how do we know (ie do donors respond to them)?

Of course, you may have many complex messages that you want to convey and if that’s the case, you should consider which messages donor’s respond to before bombarding them with lots of different ones.  If you need to get focus around this, Marc Pitman recently wrote a great post about the rule of 3s, which essentially, suggests that you choose 3 messages about your charity.  Worth a read!



Murdo & donor loyalty

A blur of wagging tail

2. Get to know your donor

This follows on from knowing which messages work for your donors – but how well do you actually know them?

Murdo knows how to get each of us to pay special attention to him – mainly because he took the time to figure us out.  He knows that if he grabs a toy, barks and jumps around, my son will run out the back and play fetch with him or get down and wrestle – similarly, he knows that won’t work with my daughter but that she prefers to cuddle in on the sofa.  Murdo also knows that if he jumps up on me, I’ll ignore him so he gently paws my leg when he wants attention. He also knows that under no circumstances do I let him on the sofa but when Mr Activate is around, he jumps straight up next to him!  And he knew all of that within a few weeks of us getting him because he pays attention to what works for each of us and puts it into practice. Pretty impressive, right?

Do you know what works for your donors? Do you know what switches them on, encourages them to give to you by return mail or, conversely, what they really don’t want to know about?

This is where keeping an eye on response rates to mailings or online appeals is important. And similarly, with major donors, you should know who likes to get the annual review, who prefers not to get any mail but likes a call and who will always come to your events.

If you haven’t been measuring response rates or click throughs or taking note of people’s preferred communications, don’t panic – but start recording the information now.


3. Pay attention

First thing in the morning, Murdo makes sure that he has said his special hello to each of us when we get up: tail wagging so furiously it could power a generator, big licks, little high pitch ‘hello’ bark. We each get this in turn when we come downstairs – and it’s not just to encourage us to feed him – even the members of the household who get up after he’s eaten breakfast will get the same attention.

How much attention do you pay to your donors? I’m not just talking stewardship here, I’m talking ‘paying attention’. Do you ever, for example, ask for their opinions? As fundraisers, we’re often so focused on the bottom line that donor communications can circulate around: asking for money, strengthening the message about our work, saying thank you, asking for money…

Now, of course, you want and need to do all of these things but have you ever stopped to ask your donors what they think about your work – or about the information you send them? You could make personal phone calls to donors or even send out an annual donor survey. What matters is that you ask them for their opinion AND (here’s the important part) demonstrate that you’ve taken on board what they have said.  You can encourage greater donor loyalty by paying attention, particularly when you use the feedback you receive to help you to improve your communications too.

Murdo & donor loyalty again

Those are my top three lessons in donor loyalty that have been learned from Murdo. Who knew that a ginger Cockapoo could be so wise when it comes to fundraising?

[Tweet “I’m reading about donor loyalty – thanks @HeatherActivate!”]


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