There’s probably no one out there who is not a "member" of some sort of loyalty program sponsored by a commercial merchant. From airline miles to stickers recording return visits to your local coffee shop, everyone seems to have some sort of program to encourage repeat business.

Here are some examples from Whitney Hutchinson at email marketing firm Razorfish that are based on using personal data captured online to attempt to encourage a relationship. In this case, the examples — from Amazon, Cold Stone Creamery (if you like ice cream, this is the one to try!), and Fisher-Price — are all grounded on the use of anniversary data … e.g., birthdays, previous purchase dates. OK, but pretty routine.

I doubt anyone will dispute that the more your nonprofit engages your members/donors, the more loyal they are likely to be. But without "points" or "miles" to reward and incentivize, what can a nonprofit do to encourage engagement?

Do you think your members want a birthday message from you? Or would they find it odd that you asked for their birthday in the first place?! Maybe not a birthday, but perhaps there’s some other anniversary date that might have relevance to your particular cause or charity and your donor’s engagement with it.

Certainly there’s transactional information on each donor that might be used to personalize a subsequent contact stream. Maybe some communication referencing the anniversary of their first contribution (and I’m talking about something to supplement your basic renewal solicitation here!).

Or, you could be basing your relationship-building communications (especially given the affordable economics of online contact) on demonstrated issue or programmatic interests. I.e., more information on topics the donor has already responded to or shown an interest in. Intermingle more general communications, suitable for all your members/donors, with very specific ones targeted on the basis of each individual’s past responsiveness.

And of course, you can always just do the obvious … ask the donor what aspects of your program they want to hear more about.

My examples tend to assume that programmatic "information" is the main currency of donor relationship-building. I believe that to be the case.

But you should think about other ways and other forms of content for engaging members/donors … and then maintaining a series of contacts on that basis.

For example, contests … from naming your next issue campaign to photo and video competitions designed to surface the best visual approaches to delivering your message.

Surveys … on organizational priorities, or issue preferences, to voting on the cover photo for your annual report.

Or interaction with (hopefully!) appealing personalities in your organization … your executive director or your weirdest program expert.

The idea is to think broadly about the types of personally relevant interactions you can offer each of your supporters. But — ideally — it should be interaction that can lead to some sustained flow of communications that you can maintain with the individual supporter.

Send The Agitator some of your ideas. We’d like to give out some raises!


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