It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a loyal donor in possession of strong commitment, must be in want of things to do beyond their donation.
Or at least we believe so. We look at the graphs of value and they usually show that those who volunteer, advocate, walk, etc. in addition to their donations have greater long-term value than those who don’t. And before you can say “alternate causality,” we’re off to the races with engagement activities designed to set the net for advocates. Online models will even use engagement frequency and quantity as a proxy for propensity to give.
But this assumption may be flawed. Leave aside for a moment these graphs of value. (They forget to control for history with an organization. Brand new donors both are less like to have done other activities because of mere lack of exposure and have very poor lifetime values. Oops. Guess I couldn’t leave them aside.)
Is it possible that there is an undiscovered tribe of donors that are loyal to your nonprofit but don’t want to do anything beyond donating?
Well, no. They aren’t undiscovered.
In Building Donor Loyalty (from 2004), Adrian Sargeant and Elaine Jay talk about a typology of loyalty based on two things: the perceived strength of the relationship and the potential to invest in the relationship. We’re all well familiar with those low in both measures: the responders. (Per the book: “Nonprofits can thus do little to manage retention among this group, and rather than persist they might do better to conserve their resources and invest them elsewhere.”)
And for those who are high in potential to invest in the relationship, you have “potentials,” who, with the right treatment, can turn into “advocates.”
This leaves the passive loyals – the aforementioned tribe of loyalists who have a strong relationship with your organization, but little ability for you to invest in the relationship. That’s not a bad thing – -these are good, loyal donors. As Sargeant and Jay say “Campaigns that generate high numbers of this category of supporter have successfully matched their cause with individuals with a genuine interest and concern.”
There’s a caution here, though for those with the engagement mindset. Bombarding these people with irrelevant (to them) asks commits two cardinal sins: wasting your money and annoying your donors. After all, that’s not why they signed up.
So how do you differentiate your committed donors from your non-committed? And how do you tell your advocates from your passive loyals?
As I’ve written at The Agitator, commitment and preferences are some of the first things you should be trying to learn about your donors. And this listening should happen as soon as is humanly possible. In those posts, you’ll see some examples of organizations that have lifted their responses and their retention rates by listening well, early, and often; the existence of passive loyals is yey one more reason.
Learning about preferences isn’t just mail versus phone versus email or frequency – it’s also learning what a donor wants to hear from you. In this case, it’s not that the donor isn’t that into you. They just show love by donating. Leaving them as they wish on other issues is your way of showing that love back.