Using data to create lasting loyalty to your cause can be a challenge. Here Martin Soley shares his three top tips.

Using data to create lasting loyalty to your cause can be a challenge. Here Martin Soley shares his three top tips.


In a highly competitive environment where there are approximately 54,000 registered charities in Australia with many worthwhile causes, how do charities stay relevant and build supporter loyalty?

There is a significant amount of resources online and advice that is generally available that focuses on donor retention strategies and the dos and don’ts of communicating and interacting with your supporters, which will hopefully engender loyalty. Many do not discuss the topic of data usage for building loyalty and the advantages of doing so.

What is loyalty in the nonprofit sector? Many donors like to spread their support across a few different charities so we can rule out that loyalty means your organisation is the sole recipient of a donor’s attention and giving.

Many donors pledge their support to a nonprofit because they are either touched in some way by that cause or they are impressed with the work undertaken by that particular nonprofit. Ideally, this invokes an emotional connection and relationship between the donor and the organisation that means the donors regularly pledge their support both financially and emotionally.

The private sector for many years has been using data and analytics to understand customer behaviour. Many nonprofits are several years behind private sector organisations in this, yet they are attempting to retain and grow supporters over the long term.

With loyal ‘customers’ you need to learn more about what interests them and what drives them to action. What motivates them to pledge? What are their interactions with your organisation? Who are their social contacts? What type of lifestyles do your donors have? These are just a few of the questions that the private sector has been solving and continues to solve using data and analytics.

When a donor makes a pledge, that person trusts you with so much personal data. It’s important that we respect the use of this data and use it for providing positive interactions with the supporter. In addition, with the advent of social media, this puts an emphasis on immediate interactions with your supporters, including responding to questions as quickly as possible, creating debate amongst supporters and communicating campaigns.

These supporters are digitally engaged as well, which adds more complexity, but also more value as they share more data with you.

So the challenge is to create lasting loyalty to your cause using data. Here are three top tips for doing this:

Exceed your supporter expectations

There is so much data and insight available to make the supporter experience highly personalised. As with private sector organisations, supporters expect you to know whether they have attended a recent event, asked a question on social media and what they donate each month.

There are many ways to engage people in the community, including using socio-demographic profile data for targeting like-minded individuals or sending targeted emails, for example announcing how their donations are making a difference, or communicating a project or campaign in the community.

Event-triggered communication also provides a great opportunity to exceed the supporter’s experience, for example, a near real-time thank you for participating in a cause or attending a charity event.

A dangerous strategy is not communicating with your most loyal donors in the hope that they keep donating. People’s personal and economic circumstances change – you need to maintain engagement even through the changes.

Offer incentives to develop loyalty

Work with the private sector to develop a partnership whereby you can offer incentives to provide a competitive edge. There are many examples of this occurring with positive results. As an example, Oxfam teamed up with Nectar card. Nectar runs a loyalty card for shoppers in the UK. Oxfam customers collected 100 Nectar points for signing up to the ‘Tag your Bag’ campaign and two points accumulated per pound when their goods sold in Oxfam shops.

This type of campaign and loyalty helps people feel good about supporting a cause, but also allows them to reward themselves at the same time. This type of combined partnership between the private sector and nonprofits facilitates the ability to access new audiences with a set of new data – a data cooperative style arrangement that provides a platform for more frequent donations and an enhanced program of activity to promote loyalty. Loyalty also breeds evangelists regarding your cause and word of mouth is still a powerful marketing tool in many communities.

Develop your data strategy around your donor retention strategy

A more recent phenomenon is the role of a chief data officer in many private sector organisations to develop and implement a data strategy. However, employing a person responsible for developing the data strategy is often a luxury within many nonprofit organisations, indeed often the responsibility is shared across fundraising and IT functions.

If this is the case, it’s important to define the donor retention strategy and tactics you wish to deploy, including what data you will need across the organisation to support those initiatives.

High-level themes to consider are:

  • Data quality of key supporter contact details (for example, name, address, email and telephone). Make sure your supporters’ contact details are up to date. This is particularly so with Millenials who, as they are highly transient, need regular verification and updating of their address details.
  • Develop a loyalty program that is focused on building a relationship through multiple interactions or experiences that you have delivered. In doing so make sure you collect data and act upon the insight this data provides. Develop and adapt a relevant communication and incentive program to increase the value and emotional engagement you have with your supporters.


Martin Soley

Martin is Commercial Director Data Services for Database Consultants Australia. He has held various commercial, product and data management positions in Europe and Asia – helping organisations maximise their usage of first and third party data to help achieve fundraising and marketing objectives.


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