Turning nonprofit supporters into promoters

John Klein
John Klein

John Klein

After attending a recent performance at the Durham Performing Arts Center, I received an e-mail questionnaire about my experiences at the event.

It asked about elements like parking, sound, staff, restrooms (two pages) and the organization’s website.

Thirty minutes and 31 questions later, I was done.

The Performing Arts Center’s attention to its patrons is one of the reasons for its success, which includes 15 percent growth over last season and $1 million in revenue created for the City of Durham, according to recent news articles.

The organization commits considerable resources to analyze, report and act on the information from these polls.

Most nonprofits don’t have the money and time to execute this kind of research, but, buried within the questionnaire was an important element: customer satisfaction.

Customer satisfaction and “brand promoters”

Recent consumer research identified customer satisfaction as the one element that has the greatest predictive power to determine future revenue potential and identify the best prospects segments.

And most importantly, customer satisfaction can help unearth customers who represent the best marketing tool available: supporters who would recommend products and services to their friends.

The importance of these “brand promoters” was showcased in a Harvard Business Review article that detailed how researchers analyzed over 4,000 customer records and survey results from 28 companies.

They found that there was one question that best predicted growth and loyalty: Was the person was willing to recommend the service to friends and colleagues?

Why this simple measure makes sense

If a customer is willing to recommend a product, service or organization to a friend, they:

  • Feel it has value (meaning it’s worth the investment),
  • Enjoy their interaction with the organization,
  • Are connected to the brand or mission,
  • And are willing to stake their personal reputation on it

The simplicity of this measure may take some readers aback, thinking it too shallow or too easy.

But for the vast majority of nonprofits that have a mix of limited financial resources and a need to build strong financial relationships, this relatively simple process is worth trying.

How to create a “net promoter score” for your nonprofit

  • 1. Assemble your e-mail list of all patrons and supporters, current and lapsed
  • 2. Pick a relevant time to connect to your base (fundraising event, recent performance, service delivery)
  • 3. Ask them to answer one simple question: “On a scale of one (being the lowest) to 10 (being the highest), how willing would you be to recommend (organization) to a friend or colleague?”
  • 4. Segment the response groups into “promoters” (scoring nine or 10), “detractors” (scoring zero to six) and “passives” (scoring seven or eight).
  • 5. Subtract the percent of detractors from promoters to determine your “net promoter” score. Research shows the median score is around 16 percent, so don’t overreact to your first poll.

Applications of the net promoter score

  • Cultivate the Promoters – As your most valuable segment, Promoters can spread the word in their own social-media networks, be included in special performances and meetings, and can be targeted for higher-level donations.
  • Convert the Passives – This group might just need a little push to put them over the top. Consider specific communications efforts, special offers and face-to-face interactions to make them feel more connected.
  • Understand the Detractors – Part of this segment could be new to your organization and may not feel as connected as older patrons; additional communication could help. Others just may not care, and don’t warrant any additional effort.

Nonprofit leaders should do their own research on this topic to determine suitability for their organization.

As someone who lives in data analysis, I know I had to spend some time with this idea before I could see the simplicity and power of its application. But I’m converted.

John Klein is president of Trilithon Partners, a marketing consulting agency based in Cary, N.C.

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