Age of the Customer (AKA: Donor or Member)

in Cultivation & Stewardship

According to Forrester Research, we’re in the “Age of the Customer.”

Age of the DonorAs I’ve pointed out before, just cross out “customer” and replace it with donor, member, volunteer, advocate, etc.

The same principles apply because how your supporters behave … and what they expect from organizations is consistent regardless of who they’re doing business with.

Even as a nonprofit supporter they ARE doing business with you!

“Age of the Customer” means that your donors and members have the upper hand. Their expectations and behaviors include:

Tolerance for being irritated is nil (this highlights the necessity of consistent and sincere cultivation / stewardship)

Wise to the ways of marketing and fundraising

Expect a lot from you in terms of keeping them informed; and depending on age they even expect to be entertained

Fickle. If your letters, emails, website, etc. aren’t interesting … you’ll lose them faster than you care to think.

Why is this? What’s the cause?

Information is everywhere and easily accessible. Even the 65 and over crowd has its healthy share of tech savvy donors and members. But even those who aren’t online can still access far more information than any of us could in the not too distant past.

And don’t overlook social media. Many, many people of all ages use social media for research (what’s being said out there; what’s dominating the news; and what does my network think) before making a decision to donate, join or sign a petition. This is one way they compare one organization to another.

They know how to opt out. This is straight-forward with email. Just recognize that you also likely have a portion of your subscribers who have “silently” opted out – they simply ignore everything you send. And of course they toss your direct mail in the trash without opening it.

Donors and members won’t hesitate to tune out the noise. Remember, our tolerance for anything that doesn’t meet our expectations is nil.

Expectations keep growing. People expect the letters and emails you send them to reflect who they are. I’m referring to more than their name – other data and verbiage that shows you KNOW who they are, how long they’ve been with you, what they like, how they’ve supported you in the past, etc.

Remember, every other area of their life involves interactions and purchases with major brands using sophisticated technology. This clearly puts the smaller nonprofits at a disadvantage, but the reality remains. Your donors, members, advocates, etc. likely don’t have a clue as to what’s involved to collect, track and utilize the data required for these communications. No reason they should.

Any way you look at it their consumer experiences are shaping the expectations they have for interacting with you and your nonprofit.

The days of “one size fits all” for direct mail or email are long gone. You must shift how you engage with them throughout their life cycles. This means engaging each and every prospect and supporter individually and personally – assuming you want to continue revenue growth. You are in the “Age of the Customer.”

More on this topic:

What exactly is “engagement”? You’re engaged. Congratulations!

The value of data (includes resources on software) … Data fades

Customer ServiceFeeling Ignored. Donors and Members Retaliate.


Photo Credit: JesseShapins via

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