Charities often give their donors multiple names, like benefactors, supporters and donors. But in the for-profit arena, the same individuals who buy or contribute to an organisation's success are known as customers.
There are vast differences in each sector, but it could be said that both commercial businesses and charities offer a service and a transactional purchase.
With that in mind – should charities start to treat their donors like customers? And if charities did, how would they do it successfully without pushing too hard?
Here are a few ways charities could start to adopt a more customer focussed mindset.
For-profit businesses have a range of tactics at hand to encourage people to buy from them. Whether it’s a discount code, a freebie, exclusive information, a competition or incentivising the first purchase; a value exchange is key to getting the customers to buy into the organisation.
The same principle can work for the charity sector to entice potential new donors. By taking inspiration from businesses, charities can make their pool of donors larger and more diverse.
Many charities are heading in this direction and seeing great results from it too. Friends of the Earth gave away seeds in exchange for a £3 donation to increase the awareness of bee protection. Their campaign educated people that bees are needed to pollinate fruit and veg and asked for a donation to receive bee-friendly flowers. Since then they’ve offered a bee saver kit in exchange for a donation.
The most common value exchange for donors is the feel-good factor. By donating, a supporter knows they are helping a cause they care about and receive a wave of feel-good emotions.
Offering something to your donors is the same tactic used by for-profit organisations with their customers. By asking yourself – what can I provide supporters that will encourage them to donate? You can create a relationship that aligns with value exchange.
The hard sell
Charities always want to see an increase in fundraising success, grow their database of new donors and keep existing donors too. But most non-profits would agree that achieving these goals must be done in a soft and tailored approach. It's often thought that donors don't want the hard sell to encourage them to donate. However, there is room for a more demanding approach that drives supporters to act.
Suppose we look at the British Heart Foundation’s graphic 2004 campaign showing the link between smoking and heart disease. You can see how it illustrates what smoking does to your arteries.
It isn't filtered; it wants to drive action from people to donate and stop smoking. It's a hard ad to look at, but it had the desired effect. The charity received 12,000 calls to its smoking helpline, and 14,000 people gave up smoking as a direct result of the campaign.
Although it wasn't asking for a donation, the campaign was a hard sell that encourages action from existing supporters and other people who were shocked by it.
Businesses focus on retaining their customers by using loyalty techniques that encourage them to return and shop with them. By introducing loyalty cards that customers scan to gather points, alongside exclusive offers and rewards, it promotes brand loyalty and makes customers want to spend more on their next visit.
Businesses like Boots and supermarkets like Sainsbury's & Tesco offer the chance to build up points and get money off your next shop. They've already secured the subsequent sale by offering a reward.
While a charity can try and get as many recurring donations as they can, there are other ways to instil that sense of loyalty. Charities like WWF and dogs trust offer a sense of buy-in with the option to sponsor an animal. Supporters get a thank you pack with regular updates on the animal’s progress.
By adopting this tactic, supporters feel more involved and can actively see their reward by receiving updates on the animal. It also gives them a tangible way to help that feels more personal because their loyalty ties to the animal they've sponsored. Charities need to find a way they can introduce a sense of loyalty with their donors.
The Customer Experience
Emphasising customer experience is vital for charities. It may be known as the supporter experience, but a transaction is still taking place, and the importance is the same.
We've all heard the saying "the customer is always right", and charities need to take this on board with donors too. By entirely investing in what is best for donors, charities will receive more donations, retain existing donors and improve their attrition rate.
Charities that have been on a digital transformation, like the Alzheimer's society, saw a 72% increase in donations by moving over their existing site to a digital experience platform website—resulting in the conversion rate rising from 22% to 65%.
By focusing on making the donor experience better, they were able to guide them through the donation process more smoothly. That's why charities need to focus on giving the donor what it needs to support the cause they care about quickly.