What Nonprofits Have Taught Us About Building Relationships

Two men dapping (handshaking) each other.

Whether you’re selling widgets or providing a service, your bottom line depends on your ability to retain customers.

It’s not just about building recurring revenue or blunting the high cost of acquisition, either. In this digital age – when any individual can be a publisher and an influencer – turning customers into advocates is a winning strategy for growth.

So, when you measure the success of your marketing efforts, everyday sales should be viewed in the context of the broader goal: Did this transaction help us truly broaden our reach, or did we simply move some inventory?

The bottom line: Any business that depends on customers actually depends on building relationships with customers. That’s why corporate leaders would do well to study the strategies that drive success for nonprofits, especially those that depend on deep relationships with donors.

Nonprofits that succeed can articulate the values they share with their donors, and that common ground encourages customers to become evangelists. By focusing on relationships, nonprofits have developed cost-effective models with long life cycles.

We’ve been fortunate to learn from some of our nonprofit partners who excel at this strategy and have built strong operations based on their ability to nurture the value of memberships. By putting people first, they see real results.


Screenshot of Heifer International website.

‘We value your help’

Showing people the impact of their support makes them feel like they’re part of the team.

Heifer International is committed to highlighting the role their donors play in ending hunger and poverty. Over 75 years, their mission has grown, and they’ve made sure their supporters understand how they’ve made that possible.

Before the holidays, Heifer launched a massive refresh of its message – a new site that conveys: When you’re giving, you’re not just providing an animal to a family in need, you’re enabling us to build entire ecosystems in partnership with those we serve.

Some donors may go directly to the gift catalog to give the gift of a goat. As they go through the checkout process, they learn how their support not only provides milk and dairy products for families in need but also yields the opportunity for them to sell the excess, opening up a revenue stream that was previously unavailable.

Other visitors to Heifer.org – individuals or organizations looking to partner – are served a more in-depth message of how their support helps farmers around the world get to a living income.

Whether for a first-time donor or a long-time supporter, all of the donor paths communicate: “You share our values and our successes. We’re in this together.”


Screenshot of Voly.org website.

‘We value your needs’

When you see your audience change, adapt. Monitor consumer trends and regularly re-evaluate your own assumptions. Then, implement changes that better serve those customers.

That’s a lesson we learned from our partners at Voly.org – a platform that connects volunteers with opportunities.

Traditionally, Voly.org focused on scheduling community do-gooders and court-ordered volunteers. But when they recognized a growing trend of schools using their platform to coordinate with parent volunteers, they put a lot of thought into how best to reframe their site to serve this user base.

They engaged with school districts and learned that teachers and staff needed Voly.org to react and scale better with changing demands throughout the school year. So, they invested in site development that would help educators by offering a more flexible platform.

By paying attention to that audience’s needs, they served that audience better. And by serving that audience better, they were able to expand their reach to an entirely new sector.

As for-profit businesses, we all want to drive traffic and, of course, the revenue that comes with it. The benefits of expanding your audience go without saying, but we all need a reminder not to get stuck in our ways.


Screenshot of Perot Museum website.

‘We value your time’

Turning customers into advocates requires mutual respect, and since time is our most prized commodity, we’ve got to show that we value our customers’ time.

The Perot Museum of Nature and Science sees every first-time visitor as a potential member, so their online presence is all about enabling people to make the most of their visit. The museum invested in a site that offers several ways for people to curate their experience – whether it’s choosing your own adventure or diving right into a special exhibit.

It’s an efficient tool that tells attendees: We want to help you plan your day here so you’ll have the greatest experience. And by helping visitors optimize their time with a curated experience, Perot is increasing the likelihood that they’ll come back again and again.

That’s a result we all hope to achieve, no matter the industry. It begins with thinking about how to make your customers’ lives easier. It’s about developing a strategy built on empathy.


‘We value you’

These nonprofits are thriving by putting people first, by showcasing their values and by building relationships based on common ground.

As for-profit businesses, we would do well to follow their lead and build strong relationships with our customers that help us retain them, turn them into advocates, and drive sustained growth for years to come.

Follow Lifeblue on FacebookLinkedIn and Instagram.


Tagged with:

About Us

Exceptional results, driven by purpose

We’re a full-service digital agency with end-to-end capabilities and a commitment to exceeding expectations. As a Certified B Corporation, we’re also proud to be part of a global movement of companies that believe business should be a force for good.

JJ and Travis work.
Bhuvana looks at Derek's screen.
Nicole, Schmidty and Lauren wear Hack Week shirts at a happy hour.
Contact Us

Let's move
forward faster

Inclusive Design: Moving Beyond Web Accessibility

What does your website say about your brand? Read our report on creating better digital experiences for everyone.

A report on inclusive design that includes an image of a man with headphones on working on a computer.