Cash back for non-profit donors? Hmmm … Ah-ha!

laughing1Sometimes I see things at just the right time and in the right place, and it results in me seeing something differently. Usually, when this happens it results in an AH-HA moment. This is exactly what happened to me yesterday when I opened an email from my friends at Non-Profit Humour featuring their latest piece of satire (reminiscent of the Onion newspaper) titled “Charity offers cash to get people to donate“.

Here is the part of the post that caught my attention and almost had me fall to the ground in laughter:

The charity started the program quite by accident when a donor event turned ugly. A frustrated fundraiser couldn’t get key donors to make extra pledges.

“Sara just lost it at our wine and cheese party a month ago, and asked out loud what it would take to get our donors to give. She pulled out a $10.00 bill and waved it around just to make a point and sure enough all of our donors started signing pledge forms,” said Snidely. “That’s when we realized that all the stuff we were doing was all wrong.”

The visual of some fundraising professional reaching her breaking point and waiving around cash for pledge cards was hilarious to me. However, I know that I’ve been close to that breaking point and many of you probably have, too.

And by “breaking point” I, of course, mean being flummoxed and absolutely frustrated by what more it will take to engage donors in a manner that inspires loyalty. Just yesterday in my post titled “Uh-Oh: ‘The only time I ever see you is when you’re asking me for a donation’,” I rattled off a long list of things many non-profits employ as part of their donor communications program. If you missed yesterday’s post, here is that list:

  • newsletters
  • bulk email / eNewsletters
  • annual reports
  • impact bulletins
  • computer generated gift acknowledgement letters
  • handwritten letters
  • donor recognition societies (featuring stewardship activities)
  • donor receptions
  • donor surveys and focus groups

I went on to talk about how important it is to add a Moves Management component to this laundry list that involves engaging your agency’s volunteer solicitors in reconnecting periodically with those who they solicited for your annual campaign.

laughing2So, the title of today’s blog post had the word “AH-HA” in it, which implies that my friends at Non-Profit Humour inspired a light bulb of some sort.

The thing that struck me while reading their satirical piece was that maybe non-profit organizations would do better with inspiring donor loyalty if they STOPPED looking at the aforementioned laundry list of tools/tactics as a “Donor Communications” program and STARTED looking at it comprehensively as a “Donor Loyalty” program.

The second part of my AH_HA moment was that there are soooooo many great examples of “loyalty programs” that work in the for-profit sector, this situation surely screams out for some young, entrepreneurial non-profit agency to engage in a benchmarking project.

I am literally at no loss of benchmarking ideas when it comes to loyalty programs. Consider this initial list:

  • Hilton’s HHonors program
  • Holiday Inn’s Priority Club
  • United Airline’s MileagePlus
  • National Rental Car’s Emerald Club (e.g. pick a car from any aisle)
  • Starbucks’ My Starbucks Rewards (e.g. their gold card)

laughing3Yes, yes, yes . . . I know what you’re thinking: “Our agency doesn’t have things like hotel rooms, flights and cups of coffee to give away like these for-profit corporations.” But are you sure about that? Because I’ve attended many charity auctions in my life.

You’re already spending money on donors all in the name of “loyalty,” right? After all, those newsletters and special donor receptions cost you money — both direct and indirect costs.

What if some creative marketing genius told you that you could bundle up many of the aforementioned engagement tactics/tools and create a multi-level donor recognition society? In such a brave new world, newsletters, special tours of your facility, receptions and phone calls from board members might be seen as “rewards“.

I’m sure some of you aren’t biting on this idea yet, but you should check-out what the Indiana University Foundation is doing with its donor recognition societies. For example, if you give a combined $2,500 to the foundation in one calendar year, then you can join the prestigious 1820 Society. And membership has its privileges! Just check out these “rewards“:

  • Invitations to campus and regional events
  • Insider communication from IU leaders
  • Other opportunities to stay connected with IU

Some of you are probably worrying about those donors who tell you to: “Save your money and stop sending me stuff and fussing over me! I don’t make a contribution to your agency for you to spend it on recognizing me!

Ah, yes! Those donors exist. And those donors are loud. However, many of those donors are the same ones who stop contributing because they don’t see their contribution being put to work or having the impact they envisioned.

Your mission — if you choose to accept it — is to engage your donors in a way that inspires loyalty and doesn’t irritate them.

I wonder if there is a for-profit company in your town that will give special discounts to members of your donor recognition society? Oh wait . . . I suspect your National Public Radio (NPR) station has blazed this trail. I’m particularly fond of WBEZ’s High Fidelity monthly giving program (aka loyalty program).

Does your non-profit organization provide donor recognition societies? What types of “courtesies” do you offer those donors? If you’re not buying into today’s big idea about “loyalty programs,” please share with us what you’re doing to inspire donor loyalty. Please use the comment box below to share your thoughts and experiences.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847


  1. Great article. I have been trying to get organizations to think like this for a long time. Love the piece and will share with other Clubs.

    1. OMG … Alan Brostoff is alive and well. I thought your employer might have ground you into dust with all of that travel. It is great to hear from you old friend! Thanks for the kind words and a BIG thanks for deciding to share this with your Clubs. Please don’t be a stranger and safe travels!

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