4 simple steps toward retention, loyalty and better donor experience

Published by Rachel Hunnybun on

Anyone who knows me, or has seen me speak at conferences, will probably be aware of my ongoing love/hate relationship with Audi. I feel the same way about a visit to the garage as I do about going to the dentist – it’s not something I look forward to, tends to be a painful experience, and it almost always costs more than it should.

Until recently. I’ve noticed a change.

My last few interactions with Audi have been bordering on pleasant. The cynic in me suspects that the company’s database thinks I’m in the market for a new car, but the fundraiser in me recognises some of the steps it’s taking to improve my customer experience. And it’s working…

Understanding preference

Every time I collect my car after a service, I find a tin of boiled sweets on the passenger seat. I’m not a fan and my glove box is now full of them, so I asked them to stop. I can only assume that most Audi drivers must really like boiled sweets, as the look I got made me feel like I was telling someone who has bought me vodka at Christmas for the last ten years that I prefer gin. Awkward.

Last week on collecting the car, in place of the sweets I found a box containing a car seat coat hanger and an unidentifiable foam “thing”. (I’m still not sure… send guesses –  I have tins of sweets for prizes!)

It caught me a bit off guard. In fairness, a coat hanger might not sound as exciting as sweets to most people, but I do a lot of business miles (something Audi knows), and pretty much always have a rogue jacket on the back seat (something the people at the garage may have noticed), so it’s far more useful to me that a tin of sweets I don’t like.

Great planning or happy coincidence? Who knows, but it made for a better experience and in terms of fundraising it illustrates a real opportunity. Investing the time and effort to understand donor likes and preferences, and delivering a journey that fits, will almost certainly improve donor experience. We may think we’re giving donors what they want, but do we really know that what we’re delivering to them is hitting the mark?

Seeking feedback…

In the following days, I had a text, two phone calls and three email survey requests, presumably to see if I liked my coat hanger. It was only on the third email that I responded, because it seemed they really REALLY wanted to know.  I’m not surprised – getting my feedback means they can start to measure my customer experience. It’s the only way for them to know if they got it right or should have just switched my boiled sweets for jelly babies.

In fact, if they had measured my experience properly at the start of my customer journey things may have been very different. Those first few interactions are by far the most important, especially when we think about it in terms of new donors. It’s far easier to cancel a direct debit donation than buy a new car!

But better late than never. Every interaction has the potential to either increase or decrease satisfaction, so by starting to collect feedback we can have an immediate impact on improving donor experience.  In fundraising terms this could be anything from measuring the experience of donating online through to a supporter care call, a conversation on the street, or by email. Without feedback we could be getting it all wrong and never know about it.

…and acting on it!

My survey feedback hasn’t prompted a reply – but for very good reason. I told them not to. But I was given the option to get a response, which I liked. They also asked me if my last experience had improved the way I felt about them – and it genuinely has – but I’m not ready to take that conversation any further. Not at this time.

It did impress me though. Increasingly the world is asking for feedback, but all too often it’s lip service. Who’s listening? What are you doing about what I tell you?

This is where the big win is. I know only too well that it can be a real sticking point for fundraising teams with tight budgets and heavy workloads, but the bottom line is that whatever it takes to act on feedback, it’s most likely less costly than replacing lost donors because of bad experiences that are never addressed.

But Audi is still missing something crucial… and that’s knowing why I’m still a customer

I’ve had my car for a while now. I’ve paid every month, so I’m a “loyal” customer as far as their transactional CRM tells them. They probably assume it’s because I love the car so much or I love the customer experience they deliver. Wrong.

If they delved a bit further they would start to understand the reason I bought – and still own – an Audi, and it’s not the same reason my neighbour bought his. One of the biggest reasons I chose my car was because my dad drove an Audi, as does my older brother. Buying my first Audi made me feel a massive sense of achievement on a far more personal level than simply buying a car. It’s more than a decision to buy Audi over VW — it’s part of my identity.

We often have an organisational idea about why our supporters donate, which might be based on anything from assumption to some level of research. We broad brush those ideas across the database, and segment and make decisions on journeys and communications by what our donors did, not why they did it.

But knowing why is where the magic happens. Because this is where we can start to be more relevant, and how we can really start to unlock a much more meaningful donor experience. I might look the same as my neighbour in terms of demographics, but my why is likely to be different.

Simple isn’t easy…

Most of this is pretty simple, but that doesn’t make it easy. Lack of investment into donor retention often holds us back as a sector and there are obvious limitations on what is practical. With the changing sector landscape and imminent new consent guidelines to contend with, retention is going to become even more crucial than it ever has been. So starting now and identifying some of the practical things you can do is a really good idea.

4 simple steps toward retention, loyalty and better donor experience

  1. Find out what your donors like and don’t like and what they want/expect from you. Avoid donor communications that makes them wade through boiled sweets in the search of a coat hanger!
  2. Seek feedback to measure donor experience, solve problems, and fix internal and external issues.  First interaction feedback should be as immediate and as process critical as collecting bank details.
  3. Fix any bad experiences and act on feedback. Dedicating time to phone calls, personal cards or just simply saying “Sorry!” by email if someone has had a negative experience can increase early-stage retention significantly.
  4. Understand WHY each of your donors are giving to you. What level of connection do they have with your cause? Segment on identity and motivation to deliver a far more meaningful journey.



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Rachel Hunnybun

Rachel Hunnybun is a Fundraising Consultant at Blakely Inc. She has worked at a senior level in individual giving at a number of charities in the UK, is a commissioner on the Commission for Donor Experience and often can be found speaking at national and international fundraising conferences.


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