Want to Inspire More Donor Loyalty? Do What Marriott Does.

Marriott gets it. The nonprofit sector, not so much.

I’m talking about fostering loyalty.

Marriott has built the world’s largest hotel company, in part, by knowing how to cultivate a loyal customer base. By contrast, nonprofit organizations continue to hemorrhage donors, according to the 2016 Fundraising Effectiveness Survey Report from the Association of Fundraising Professionals and the Urban Institute.

To help you more effectively cultivate donor loyalty, I’m going to give you one excellent, easy to implement idea inspired by a recent email I received from Marriott:

Show your donors gratitude.

I know. I know. You already send your donors a thank-you letter when they make a gift. As a donor, I expect that, just like I’ve come to expect a thank-you email from Marriott following each of my stays.

gratitude-cartoonBeyond that, I’m talking about surprising people with an unexpected message of gratitude.

A few days ago, I received an unanticipated email from Marriott. The subject line read: “Happy 24th Anniversary!”

I had no idea what the email was about, so I had to open it. When I did, I read:

Congratulations! Celebrate 24 Years with Marriott Rewards

Michael, we appreciate your loyalty and thank you for your membership!”

Yes, I know I’m a Marriott Rewards member. However, I did not realize that I’ve been a Marriott Rewards member for nearly a quarter-century. I enjoyed learning that. In addition, I appreciated being thanked for my overall loyalty, not simply for a recent stay.

Throughout the year, often in surprising ways, Marriott shows they appreciate my business. The fact that Marriott shows its appreciation is not the only reason the company is my preferred hotel company. There are many other factors. But, the fact that Marriott makes me feel valued is one important reason I value Marriott.

This Thanksgiving, send your donors an email, card, or letter expressing your appreciation. However, don’t simply thank them for their past support; thank them for caring about whatever your organization’s mission is. Also, thank them for their loyalty.

You’re not going to thank a donor for loyalty if they’ve been supporting your organization for just the past six weeks. For your newer donors, you can thank them more generally for their support and for caring. However, if they’ve supported your organization for five years or more, why not thank them for their loyalty as well?

If you send a message of appreciation, please do not ask for another donation. Your communication should be a genuine expression of gratitude rather than a veiled or gimmicky solicitation.

When you thank donors for their loyalty, you’ll pleasantly surprise them. While they might be surprised by how many years they’ve been giving to your organization, they’ll definitely be surprised that you’re thanking them for their loyalty and not just a specific gift.

This is just one simple, good idea for expressing gratitude and cultivating deeper donor loyalty. By itself, it probably won’t accomplish too much. However, as part of a solid donor relations effort, it most definitely can help you retain donors and generate even greater levels of support from them, including major and planned gifts.

I’ve written often on the subject; for additional tips, just search this site for “donor retention” and “donor loyalty.” Adrian Sargeant, the Plymouth University professor and philanthropy researcher, has written far more extensively on the subject including the book Building Donor Loyalty. Roger Craver, the direct-response guru, has also written extensively about donor loyalty, including his book Retention Fundraising. These resources will give you plenty of superb ideas for enhancing your stewardship efforts.

Do not let yourself be overwhelmed. This Thanksgiving, keep it simple and follow Marriott’s fine example. Remember the following words of advice from Tom Peters, author of In Search of Excellence:

Swipe from the best, then adapt.”

So, what are you going to do this Thanksgiving to show your donors you value them?

That’s what Michael Rosen says… What do you say?

9 Responses to “Want to Inspire More Donor Loyalty? Do What Marriott Does.”

  1. We did Donor-Motivated Fundraising at UJA National in 1980’s… for solicitor training and motivational-educational videos. 🙂 Thank you too! Neal

    • Neal, thank you for sharing your experience at UJA National. Understanding donor motivation is certainly very important. Training staff and volunteers is also essential. Not only does training give folks vital information, it boosts their confidence and, ultimately, their success.

  2. Michael, great subject, great example. It is much less expensive to keep a donor than to acquire a new one.

    • Rob, thank you for your comment. You’re absolutely right. Not only is it less expensive to keep a donor than to acquire one but, by enhancing donor lifetime value, it actually makes donor acquisition efforts a far better investment.

  3. Since you posted this I had another great loyalty-building experience with Marriott: One of their Washington State properties failed to give me Marriott Rewards credit for a one-night stay, so when I submitted a “missing stay” request I got a personal email back with an apology–and credit for TWO nights instead of one.

    • Mark, thank you for sharing the terrific story. It raises an interesting point: If one is in business long enough, one will make mistakes. Therefore, what separates good folks from bad is not whether one can be perfect; no one is perfect. Instead, what separates good folks (or companies) from the bad is how they deal with mistakes once they are identified. Bravo to Marriott!


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