From the ADRP Research Committee: Donor Retention

When focusing on what our donors want from us, we deepen their connection. We survey our donors — ask what resonates with them and how they want us to communicate. And in an ideal world, we create stewardship that drives future giving.

But in the ideal world, there are no budgets, competing priorities, or staff shortages. In reality, few shops can achieve all of their most ambitious goals. We must focus our limited resources on the greatest impact on giving — donor retention.

We know it costs less to retain a donor than to acquire a new one. But what can we do that will drive our donors to give again and again?

In their 2019 research study titled “Giving Intention Versus Giving Behavior: How Differently Do Satisfaction, Trust, and Commitment Relate to Them?” authors Jen Shang, Adrian Sargeant, and Kathryn Carpenter offer one approach: increase donor satisfaction and commitment. 

Satisfaction is “how donors feel about the way they are treated as a donor.”

Commitment is “donors’ passion to see the mission of the organization succeed.”

Trust is “how much donors trust charities to do what is right and to use their donated funds appropriately.”

Previous studies concluded that increasing satisfaction, trust, and commitment increase donors’ intent to give. But intention does not equal action. Using surveys and giving data from 17,000 donors to five U.K. charities, Shang, Sargeant, and Carpenter compared the mediating effects of satisfaction, trust, and commitment on donors’ intentions versus their giving behavior.

Past behavior is the biggest predictor of continued giving. 

Regardless of a donor’s feelings or intentions toward your organization, the popular maxim stands: the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. The study found that satisfaction, trust, and commitment each directly affect giving intention. But only satisfaction and commitment directly affect behavior.

What this suggests is that the sector’s overreliance on factors driving intentions may have led to the potential neglect of other psychological processes that may also have the potential to drive behavior.   

If behavior begets behavior, we should focus on what drives behavior.

Satisfaction and commitment drive behavior — but satisfaction has a ripple effect.

The researchers found when you increase donor satisfaction, you also increase commitment. Since both satisfaction and commitment drive giving behavior, any effort to increase satisfaction has an even greater impact on giving.

What does increasing satisfaction look like? It looks like good donor relations! Treat donors well. Make them feel seen and appreciated.

Donors will surprise you.

Among survey respondents, 27% who said they had no intention to give actually gave. Many variables can affect one’s decision to give. Perhaps a friend or family member reminded them, or they were in a good mood. Maybe they received a birthday card from your team or a moving ThankView message. As donor relations professionals, we know never to underestimate the power of keeping in touch.

Do your donors' intentions match their giving? How does your organization invest in donor satisfaction and commitment? Let’s continue the conversation on MyADRP!

The ADRP Research Committee:

  1. Provides ADRP members with access to innovative, evidence-based approaches to donor relations that can be adapted into their own shops
  2. Provides members with resources to demonstrate the value of donor relations within fundraising at large with diverse, peer-reviewed research 
  3. Elevates ADRP's reputation as a thought leader in the philanthropic sector
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