Just Puppy Love? 4 Ways Nothing Beats It When it Comes to Donors

How to build donor loyalty and take puppy love to forever love.

How to build donor loyalty and take puppy love to forever love.

Do you know why your dog is not only your best friend, but your exuberantly best friend – a Best Friend Forever on steroids?

Can anything be as joyous and lovingly loyal as a dog? Picture Snoopy doing the ‘Ode to Joy’ dance. Unbridled ecstasy. Happy, happy, happy. What makes Snoopy Charlie Brown’s BFF? My guess is that it’s the same thing that makes your pooch pop with pleasure as you poke yourself across the threshold at the end of the day.

Chances are 9 out of 10 that your doggie is your BFF because you are hers. You treat your pet like royalty. How are you treating your donors?

Count the Ways Your Pooch Loves You; Extend Those Ways to Your Donors

Think about it. If you want Fido to be waiting at the door, tale a waggin,’ when you walk in the door after a long day’s work, then you’ve got to have fed the love before you left. Extra points for playing fetch before you go… taking Cuddles for a walk… bringing home a new chew toy the night before.

disappointed puppy

I’ll just slip out the back Jack… Know you don’t love me. Dee… There must be 50 ways to lose your donor.

Conversely, imagine how your dog will greet you if you don’t treat him well? Can anything be as disappointed as a dog when you say, “No, we are not going for a walk”? Down he flops onto the floor, with a look of utter dejection.

The same principles of loyalty building apply to donors. You can light up the ‘joy’ buttons or the ‘disappointment’ ones. It’s in your power. I’ve often told fundraisers that if you want gifts you must give them. And the more meaningful the gift (from your recipient’s perspective), the better.

4 Ways to Feed the Donor Love and Become BFFs with your Supporters

If you know what makes me jump for joy, you can give it to me. I’m betting you know your hound really well. Because you pay attention. You care enough to find just the right little patch of tummy to scratch. You scratch my… I’ll scratch yours.

Here are ways to show your donors you love them as much as your doggie.

1. If you want to connect with someone, find a way to help them. I’ve got this at the top of the list because it will undergird everything else you do. Do unto your donors as you would have them do unto you. Adopt an overarching attitude of customer service — an attitude of gratitude. You have to have a generous spirit. Don’t treat donors as wallets — or tools. Always be thinking about how you can delight your donors. Build relationships with them.

How can I help? What do you need? Shall we heal the world together, as BFFs?

How can I help? What do you need? Shall we heal the world together, as BFFs?

ACTION TIP: Figure out what your constituents want and need; then give it to them. It doesn’t have to be expensive or tangible. It can simply be an article you’ve written with answers to frequently asked questions. Or a “how to” guide. Or “top 10 tips” to keep your aging parents safe… go a little greener… get your kid to finish their homework… communicate your concerns to your legislator… etc.  Share what you know and provide little “gifts” now, to promote longer and more lasting interactions later.

2. Pet your donor; shower them with love. Don’t take them for granted. Don’t neglect them. Thank them immediately, and with gusto.  Show them you care for them. Reward them for their devotion.

I sure love it when you let me know what I do matters to you.

I sure love it when you let me know what I do matters to you.

ACTION TIP: Develop a donor gratitude program. Begin by adhering to the rule of “timely, personal and prompt .” Savor the moment of this first gift. Remember, first gifts are where the relationship building begins.  They aren’t where it ends. A study conducted by Charity Dynamics and NTEN shows that 21% of donors say they were never thanked for their support. Don’t be one of the bad guys. Get everyone in your organization to buy in to the 48-hour rule. Donor etiquette is not like wedding etiquette. You don’t have a year to send the thank you note. This is perhaps the most important thing you can do to sustain donor relationships. But if anyone doesn’t take this seriously, it won’t happen. And if you can’t make this happen, you’re going to leave money on the table. You’re going to lose donors. Period.

puppy parachuting

Can we do something fun together? I want to be more actively engaged.

3. Give your donor plenty of exercise. Your donor needs things to do beyond just writing a check. Engage them!

ACTION TIP: Wrap engagement opportunities into your stewardship plan.  The goal is to learn more about your donor, and to reveal more of yourself to them.  This is what’s called a relationship, and it requires an investment of your time. And the donor’s time. Once a donor becomes engaged they’re much more likely to become invested further.  That’s why Publisher’s Clearinghouse makes you tear off and affix a zillion stickers to your sweepstakes entry. They want you to have some skin in the game. Offer donors opportunities to activate their passions. When your dog needs to go out, you take him or her out. You know he needs to go, because he will give you pleading looks, stand by the door, bark, etc. Learn how to recognize your donor’s signals too. If they make a comment on a blog post, respond. If they like, favorite or share your content, thank them. If they offer up a complaint or criticism, address it head on (and be nice!). Most often your critics are those who care the most – and they have potential to become your leading influencers moving forward.

4. Talk to your donor. Dogs love it when you talk to them. So do your donors! You will develop your own language together and share intimate moments. Don’t you like it when people make an effort to get to know you? And when they then show you they know you?  It’s pretty simple, but for some reason most nonprofits don’t do it that well.  If you become the exception, you’ll rock your fundraising next year.

puppy with notepad

Can we talk? I think I may have some feedback for you. Are you open to it?

ACTION TIP: Develop (or rev up) your nonprofit blog. There are lots of ways to turn your marketing communications into action. Begin with conversations. Not broadcasts. Not term papers. Woo people. If you speak to donors in their own language (don’t make it esoteric, data-based or jargon-filled), you’ll even get your donors talking about you too! Give love… spread love… get more love coming back again your way.

The greatest blessing for nonprofits is the donors who make it possible to fulfill our missions and strive towards our visions. You’ve got to put energy into building lasting relationships – with doggies and with donors. I encourage you all to channel an attitude of gratitude this year and give meaningful thanks to those upon whose tail wagging you rely.

Build your own Ode to Joy: From Puppy Love to Forever Love

Some resources you may find useful:

 Images courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

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About Claire

I’m Claire and I want to help you raise more money, reach more people and build long-lasting relationships with your supporters. Take a look in the archives.


  1. […] Claire Axelrad asks in her blog Clairification, “How to build donor loyalty and take puppy love to forever love?” in a post she titled “Just Puppy Love? 4 Ways Nothing Beats It When It Comes to Donors“ […]

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