Category business

Adapting to Evolving Donor Behaviour

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The donor landscape in Canada is changing. Fearful of turbulent economies, many ultra-high-net-worth donors are in a self-imposed holding pattern. At the same time, annual and mid-level donors are bombarded with increasingly sophisticated pressure from global brands. These factors, as well as many others, are transforming donor and consumer behaviour.

To succeed in today’s changing donor landscape, organizations must make strategic shifts that adapt to evolving donor behavior. Consumer and donor expectations are changing, and being agile and responsive to them will help organizations remain sustainable.

Keep Telling Stories

Keep telling stories. Even if a donor has reduced their annual giving or has stopped giving entirely for more than 12 months, charities should keep informing people about the incredible work that their team is doing. I encourage most organizations to increase the frequency of their storytelling while limiting the number of asks per year. This means having a strategically focused calendar that tells more stories, uses influencers and drip content to highlight specific content, and shows people that the charity remains committed to creating positive impacts.

It is important to note two things about donor and consumer behaviour:

  1. If an organization doesn’t communicate in a way that engages its audience, someone else will.
  2. If an organization stops communicating after someone fails to give for some time, the donor will notice. There are ways to acknowledge lapsed giving that show caring and understanding while still being inviting.

Ramp Up Stewardship. Make it Personal.

More than ever, full compliance with stewardship policies and procedures is essential. Charities cannot afford to lose donors over a lost opportunity to show gratitude. Well-positioned charities equip their team and callers with stories and impact facts to share during the call and additional questions that can inform go-forward strategies.

Tell Diverse Stories. Show Diversity.

Donors give because they value a charity’s impact. Other values also drive donors’ financial decisions.

Recent studies show that most Millenial and Gen-X consumers, and many Boomers and Retirees, consider their personal values when making financial decisions. Most of those individuals value diversity, equity and inclusion in their workplaces and in the companies and brands they support. In fact, many will pay a premium to support a brand that has a compelling ESG story that aligns with their values. Charities should use their regular communications to showcase alignment with donor values. This means telling stories about efforts related to environment, DEI, governance and accountability, and more. Showcase your team and community members and the work they are doing, even if that story exists outside of your charitable objects.

Retention or Acquisition? Maximizing your ROI.

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In recent years, Canadian businesses and consumers have faced an unprecedented increase in costs, and the financial outlook for many is challenging. Despite this, Canadian retail sales (excluding autos) are rising, and restaurant spending is up, possibly due to higher dining costs. Canadians continue to make discretionary purchases.

With peak spending and giving seasons upon us, businesses and charities need to make decisions now, if they haven’t already, about the investments they will make this fall and winter to maintain their revenue base. The cost of retaining, recruiting, and training workers has increased along with the costs of operating a business. Specifically related to acquisition and retention campaigns, paper costs have faced double-digit increases over the last two years, and print costs are also rising. Advertising costs, for some, have increased as high-quality digital advertising channels are less affordable now. For others, costs have grown as advertisers do their best to remain visible by “sprinkling” their message across many channels frequented by their audience.

What this means is that what was true almost 30 years ago when I started this work remains true – and critical – to this day. It is more cost-effective to retain your customers and donors than it is to find new ones. The stats are clear – focused retention efforts will net you ten or more times the engagement than acquisition campaigns.

What advice do I have for charities and businesses heading into the fall and winter seasons?
You will not retain 100% of your customers or donors and cannot rely on organic growth alone for stable revenue replacement. You need to invest in acquisition. However, you need to invest more in retention efforts than in acquisition. Create and implement a retention strategy and process, and get your team members (including your executives and board) knowledgeable about how you will retain your revenue base. A comprehensive retention strategy will include understanding your audience through research and actively soliciting feedback, meaningfully demonstrating appreciation, keeping people informed, and inviting them to return. Spend two to three times as much on retention this season as you do on acquisition, and then use the excess revenue earned from retained customers/donors to fund a second acquisition campaign in the spring. Be present and visible on the channels that your customers are using, and speak directly to them using their preferred method. There is no one-size-fits all message that will inspire the same enthusiasm in all audience members, so remember to tailor and personalize communications as much as possible.

If I can say only one thing that will stick with you this season, please let it be this: 

If you aren't connecting with your audience meaningfully, someone else will.
You cannot afford to ignore the opportunity in front of you.

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Leveraging Information and Impact to Optimize Customer Success

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With increased competition from multi-national businesses and direct-to-consumer outfits, SMBs face unprecedented pressure to retain customers. 

The increasing cost to produce, market, sell, and deliver goods, makes trying to gain market share with low prices unwise. In fact, consumer trends tell us that most are willing to pay a premium for many products and services.

So how do you gain market share in a crowded space without offering the lowest price? 


Behavioural studies show that details can help consumers to make purchasing decisions.

Businesses report lower rates of return for items with more photos, videos and information shared before purchases are completed. To help your business get the most from every transaction, and have more satisfied customers, increase the word count with each item or service description online. Add a few more photos, a video, and some testimonials. Help people understand what it will mean to them if they complete the purchase. A recent PWC report demonstrates that more than 50% of consumers say that more detailed and accurate descriptions and sizing information influence their behaviour.


Did you know that more than half of all consumers will pay an ESG premium? It’s true. A recent study found that most Canadians are willing to spend more for a product or service that aligns with their environmental and social values.

Generally speaking, customers will be willing to pay 10% or more as an ESG premium for an upmarket or premium product. Build up your CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility), ESG (Environment, Social, Governance), and CI (Community Investment) programs and allow them to become part of your consumer brand. Align the choices you make with your program to the values and expectations of your customers. If you aren’t sure what your customers expect – ask them! It’s a great way to increase engagement and build rapport, as long as it is paired with a communications strategy and links to your overall organizational direction.

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