Nonprofits: Create “customer pathways” to build loyalty



Recently, I was sent a free copy of You’ve Got to Have Heart, a new book about how to achieve success in the nonprofit sector by Cass Wheeler, longtime CEO of The American Heart Association (AHA).  I went right to the “Big Brass Bands” chapter on marketing.

Wheeler talks a lot about AHA’s growing customer focus, both the methods it employs to understand customer needs and how it uses that information in designing programs and communications.

One of his ideas in particular struck me as relevant to communicators—the recommendation that nonprofits consciously create “customer pathways” to make it easy for people to deepen their relationship with the organization.

The example he shares is AHA exploring how an initial contact—like a Web site visit—can be turned into call to a call center, which can then turn into participation in a Heart Walk, which can then turn into a lifelong relationship and possible donations.

Think about how your supporters typically come into first contact with your organization. Is it through your Web site, another Web site, a social networking site, an ad, a newsletter, attendance at an event? (If it’s your Web site, track analytics to find out which pages they land on most. In the age of search engines, they can zoom right into a subsection and never hit your homepage.)

Then think about the next step you’d like those new supporters to take to get more involved with your organization. (Don’t necessarily leap to donation, you’re building a long-term relationship here. Put their interests, needs, and comfort level first.) Do you want them to sign up for a newsletter, add their name to a mailing list, get more information on your cause or organization, visit your Web site, call with a question, sign up for your Facebook fan page?

How can you intentionally prime your initial contact points to encourage new supporters to take those next steps?

  • Do you need to add an enewsletter sign up to your most popular Web pages?
  • Should you feature an information line phone number in your newsletter?
  • Do you need to promote your Web site more in your printed pieces?
  • Do you need to add a social network widget to your enewsletter?
  • Do you need to create a tailored landing page for the link from your social network page or the link from a charity hub Web site?

Make it easy for them to get to know you better, in ways that are meaningful to them. This is an offer of friendship, not just a sales pitch. Provide them with simple ways to satisfy their need to be connected to a worthy cause that has personal significance, and to learn how they can support that cause with their social and financial capital.

Now, go even further. What would you like them to do after that—participate in an event, become a volunteer, refer their friends, comment on your blog, contribute content to your communications, raise awareness or funds through their social networks, provide a testimonial, donate money?

Create clear, convenient paths for them to move forward, making sure at every touch point they have a satisfying, consistent experience. Seek their feedback, answer their questions immediately and honestly, don’t be stingy with thank you’s, and remember the power of even small incentives. When they sign up for your enewsletter, offer them a free, short, well done, up-to-the-minute report on something they might be interested in related to your work. And in that report, offer them a link to your institutional blog or Web site as a way to keep up with other news and events. Maybe you can offer them free or discounted entry to an event or conference if they refer 5 friends.

The best way to start creating customer pathways is with a simple segmentation of your potential supporters—so you can develop paths specific to each major segment. That assumes you’ve done research on those segments and have a good idea of their preferences, needs, and interests. Getting back to the book, the American Heart Association has identified six major customer market segments and assigned staff to each. These staff are responsible for creating customer profiles through data gathering and annual surveys, then creating loyalty action plans. The goal—very satisfied customers.

Not every nonprofit can undertake that level of commitment to finding out what supporters want and need, but there are free or inexpensive ways to gather that information. I’ve suggested several in a past post.

Don’t be satisfied with just putting a big donate button on your homepage. (Yes, you should have a big donate button on your homepage.) Think creatively about how to integrate all your points of communication in ways that encourage your newest supporters to become your lifelong friends.

I’m going to be sending this hardcover book to someone free! If you’d like it, tell me why in the comments below by Thursday, April 30.

CC photo credit: egg on stilts



8 Responses to “Nonprofits: Create “customer pathways” to build loyalty”

  1. Relevant article on Friendraising… « Fundraising 2.0 Says:

    […] on April 27, 2009. Filed under: Fundraising | From Nonprofits: Create “customer pathways” to build loyalty…great example of […]

  2. Ana Says:

    One of the things I believe our organization lacks is that personal contact with our volunteers and donors. We don’t do enough to keep them in the loop. We have a centralized office and I am running one of the satilite offices. Right now we are without an Executive Director and with that said communications is not the best. We need to refresh ourselves and what we want to accomplish and this information is something that I can share at our retreat.

  3. Barbara Talisman Says:

    Dear Gayle,
    Thanks so much for this post! The pathways is a great description and in this high-touch virtual world we need to find touchponts that work for our customers/donors/volunteers.
    Thanks for the great blog. Have and will continue to share with my colleagues and clients.
    Barbara Talisman

  4. Jennifer Says:

    Our organization has so many different people involved in the communication pathways, and not always coordinated. It would be wonderful to have some concrete examples of how we can be more effective at “friend-raising” and it sounds like this book would be a great discussion starter so we can do this (pick me!)

  5. Cate Steane Says:

    I’m just starting up a Marketing Volunteer Leadership Team for our organization. These concepts will help guide our efforts as we redesign our website and seek to make better use of all our points of contact with volunteers, community members, and alumni of our program.

  6. Tactics—Step 4 in strategic communications planning for nonprofits « IMPACTMAX Says:

    […] closer to action. Within that big wave there are smaller waves that add momentum. You can create an engagement path for them month by month. And you can choreograph those little waves to resonate with their shifting […]

  7. Nonprofits: Create “customer pathways” to build loyalty, by Gayle Thorseon Says:

    […] all the terrific articles Gayle has posted there. It will be time very well spent!  Thanks, Gayle!Nonprofits: Create “customer pathways” to build loyaltyRecently, I was sent a free copy of You’ve Got to Have Heart, a book about how to achieve success […]

  8. Blogs vs. Facebook for Nonprofits « IMPACTMAX Says:

    […] direct mail, and all other social hubs you eventually develop. Remember, Facebook is one step on a much longer path to lasting engagement. Clearly understand the tactics and media you’re going to use to guide […]

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