4 min Read
July 1, 2015

Surprise donors to deepen loyalty: Inspiration from a recent hotel stay

I was recently in Hawaii to spend time with some variation of my extended family (yes, I did choose wisely when I fell in love with someone who grew up in Hawaii). As I reviewed the many options available, I paused to see if a Joie De Vivre hotel was a possible option. To my delight, this lovely boutique chain has two hotels in Honolulu, and a lovely room was available at the Shoreline Hotel Waikiki—a hotel which embodied a relaxing, joyful vibe, aka the spirit of aloha, at a price we could afford.

You may be wondering if this is going to be a really long hotel review (I promise, it’s not) or what this has to do with nonprofit communications (I promise, it does).

Speaking to the latter, I think my fundraising friends could learn a lot from how this hotel builds relationships with people. I’m not sure if other people have compared hotel guest communication with nonprofit donor communication—but their may be a hidden connection. Think about it. There are lots of hotels to choose from and they have lots of people that come in and out of their virtual and physical doors. While they have to communicate to lots of people, all of the time, the best experiences are the ones where guests feel special—like someone really cared about their satisfaction and made sure they had everything they needed.

Like all of us consultants out there often suggest, this organization made sure to deliver happiness (nod to Zappos somewhat intentional) at every touch point—from before we checked-in through after we checked out.  

My interest in a Joie De Vivre hotel stemmed from reading PEAK: How Great Companies get their Mojo from Maslow, by the hotel chain’s founder and CEO, Chip Conley. We’ve passed the book around at Big Duck and have been doing a lot of talking about how we can deliver transformative experiences to our clients and colleagues—surpassing success and meeting unrecognized needs. We’ve even applied this thinking to how nonprofits can engage donors with their annual report. I wondered what it would be like to experience this philosophy first-hand, and sure, I was also curious to see how much they embodied their mantra to “Create Joy.” I even squeezed in an interview with one of their staff (more about that below.)

After booking the room, I made sure to sign up for the rewards program, the Joy of Life Club, where I was soon invited to fill out some information about my preferences as part of their Dreammaker program. I later discovered they used this information to upgrade our room and customize the welcome greeting (a lovely bottle of wine). As described by this case study, “Dreammaker services are meant to meet a guest’s needs or desires even before they’re voiced. Transcending Joie de Vivre’s standards for exemplary guest service, employees are encouraged to pull a ‘dreammaker’ act for a loyal, repeat guest or one who’d seem willing to spread the word.” Clearly these are techniques to deepen customer loyalty (cue donor retention), so I wondered what else they’d do to go out of their way to bring us joy.

It didn’t take long for me to find out. The front desk staff always wore a smile, and many greeted us by our first names (yay for personalization!) They were sure to ask how our day was, and some even remembered bits of our conversation (of course I wondered if there was a database or CRM powering some of that shared knowledge).

When I mentioned it was my partner’s birthday during our stay, not only did they give her a shout-out on their daily board, but they surprised us with an ice basket full of sake and chocolate accompanied by a lovely handwritten note. And one night, Mona (perhaps the most authentically friendly hotel staffperson I’ve ever met) gave us a yummy cookie butter treat—just because. From day one, they really made us feel like rock stars. (Talk about your donor love.)


Finally, I couldn’t help think about branding throughout my visit. The hotel did a wonderful job of owning its unique vibe of being very attuned to the words and ways of the local culture, while clearly representing the likely welcoming, comfortable, important, “can-do”, and playful brand personality traits of the overall mother brand.

I felt at home in Hawaii, while also connecting with the entire Joie De Vivre hotel chain—both during my stay and through the emails, tweets, and Facebook updates that followed. They even sent me a satisfaction survey and multiple invitations to offer feedback. (Marketing automation anyone?)

Before I left, I got the chance to sit with Jerome Yapching, Assistant Front Offer Manager, for a few minutes in the hotel lobby. We talked about PEAK, the hotel’s attentive approach to engaging guests and empowering staff, some examples of how the hotel works to “create dreams and sell sleep”, and its philanthropic partnership with The Nature Conservancy

So what about you? Anything you can learn from how this or other hotel treats its customers and apply to how you treat your donors? Share ideas —and travel tips—below.