How to Turn Donors into Raving Fans

By Guest Contributor

Posted @ Jan 30, 2020

Uniting for a cause can be a bonding experience.  I was reminded of this recently when I moved to a new city. This was a big deal for me since I haven’t moved out of town since I was two years old. As I build new relationships, I’m breaking a lot of ice by sharing my leadership experience in the sports and non-profit sectors.

Sharing the similarities and differences between the  two industries is sparking interesting conversations. And it sparked a recent discussion specifically about how to turn donors into raving fans (which you can hear here). Interestingly enough, “turn donors into raving fans” was a phrase my previous nonprofit CEO used when she recruited and hired me.

But before any consideration of “how”, it’s always useful to talk about “why”. Why are people sports fans? Why do people support nonprofits? What can be learned from the why that informs the how?
The top reasons sports fan(atic)s become so are as follows:

  1. Sense of belonging. Their team becomes their identity. They wear team gear and some even get tattoos, literally branding themselves as belonging to their team. Fellow fans become their first community.
  2. Entertainment value. It’s drama without significant consequence. Of course when their team loses it feels like the end of the world. But it’s really an emotional escape from reality.
  3. Generational/geographical. Team affinity is usually passed down from parents to children. And the majority of a city rallying around a team creates the ultimate peer pressure to do the same.

Meanwhile, the most common influences for supporting a nonprofit include:

  1. Altruism. People identify with a mission and want to make a difference.
  2. Values. Influenced by family and/or religion, people get personal satisfaction out of connecting with causes/brands that align with their beliefs.
  3. Personal experiences. Some of the biggest supporters of any nonprofit have been on the receiving end of the service provided (think college alumni, cancer survivors, etc.)

It’s easy to see some differences. The most obvious is that sports offer an escape from reality while most nonprofits are facing serious, complex issues head-on. But there are also some important similarities. People want to be a part of something bigger than themselves and the emotional connections formed along the way bond them to the “product” and their fellow “consumers” even more.

So how can donors turn into raving fans? I recommend these three c’s:

  1. Customer. Know your donor. What’s the why that brought them to your cause/product? Find the intersection of donor needs and organization mission.
  2. Community. Focus on the donor experience. Personalize it while also connecting them with other supporters so they feel a sense of community and identity.
  3. Celebrate. Celebrate your donor rather your organization. Make the donor the hero in the stories you’re telling to create an emotional stickiness to your cause/product.

For additional insight into this topic, listen to my conversation with fellow AMA Triangle member Hank Hoffmeier on his podcast.

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Chris Herndon is a purpose-driven executive leader eager to add value in the Triangle area. His mission is to enhance the quality of life for as many people as possible by connecting people and ideas – while having fun learning and improving along the way. He’s been an intrapreneur within two mature organizations, driving innovation that transformed them from laggards to leaders within their industries. Most recently, he was an executive leader for one of the largest and most progressive United Ways in the country. Chris is committed to creating better opportunities for all, regardless of race, gender or zip code.

This blog post was written by a guest contributor. The views within this blog post do not necessarily reflect those of AMA Triangle.

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