How to Enhance Donor Loyalty During Leadership Changes

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Change is constant in development – new ideas, new technology, new donors and new staff. Change can be good…but change of good development leadership can pose risk to an organization. Fundraising is a relationship-driven business, and loss of good development leadership can affect donor loyalty. It is easy to say that donors are tied to organizations, not individuals, but is that really the case?

At the end of the day, individuals have tremendous influence on donors. People give to people. The stronger the relationship is with the development leader, the stronger loyalty is with the organization. So when a relationship changes due to a development leadership change, what can organizations do to not only preserve but enhance donor loyalty?

Three thoughts:

Keep stories of impact for your mission forefront. The storyteller (development leader) is important in a relationship business…the story though is more important. In every communication with donors, written or verbal, cite a recent example of impact. “Every” includes stewardship plans, appeals, all marketing materials, speeches, presentations, etc. And, the more personal the story is to the storyteller the better. Through time continuously sharing stories of impact with donors will strengthen loyalty to the organization and lessen the effect of a development leader change.

Reference in all communications team members who help impact mission. Call out the life-changing effect of a teacher, the breakthrough made possible by a researcher, the lifesaving techniques of a caregiver. Even highlight how behind the scenes individuals impact mission. For instance, talk about the environmental services technician who maintains the physical environment of a museum, the social worker accommodating essential everyday needs of a family during a healthcare episode, how a parking lot attendant went above and beyond to provide assistance to a student with a car malfunction. Positioning many relationships that impact mission brings more relationships to the mind of the donor. They are ALL important to an organization’s success.

Over-communicate with donors during change. Advise them immediately of change to avoid surprise and to control the message. Tell them who the interim contact is and describe the process of identifying a development leader. Communicate often and involve board or executive leadership. Once the new leader is identified, communicate this to donors promptly and make introductions as soon as practical. Consider having the outgoing leader make the introduction when possible. During change, it’s important to encourage dialogue with donors and respond promptly to any questions throughout the entire process.

Implementing the items above will lessen uncertainty in a donor’s mind during development leader transitions and enhance loyalty to your organization.