Don’t Wait To Care More About Donor Satisfaction

What would you do differently if you could do it over again? This is a pretty standard reflection question we often ask ourselves in life – what would my life be like if I went into musical theatre instead of baseball for example – but also in business. It’s one of four questions I often ask teams in reflecting on campaigns and projects:

  1. What went well? Do it again.
  2. What sucked? Don’t do it again.
  3. What can we do differently and better next time? Try that next time.
  4. Who should we thank for their hard and great work? Thank them.

I recently came across a post from a life-long fundraiser titled 7 things I would do differently if I were an appeals director now when reading Jeff Brooks’ 7 things you can do right now to be a better fundraiser. In the post, Giles Pegram reflects on his career and identifies the following 7 things he would do differently:

  1. Create and implement a clear vision for fundraising leadership
  2. Improve the donor experience
  3. Make the first ‘thank you’ perfect
  4. Measure and reward long-term performance, not just short-term
  5. Consider satisfaction as the key measure of Lifetime Value
  6. Spend at least as much on retention as we spend on recruitment
  7. I’d keep my head in the clouds and my feet firmly on the ground

When I saw those and read the full article the common thread was clear: care more about donor satisfaction. Now ‘donor satisfaction’ is not really a common term in fundraising so let’s define it. Dr. Adrian Sargeant, the ‘guru’ of donor retention, discusses satisfaction at length in his paper Donor Retention: What Do We Know and What Can We Do About It? and, based on that, here’s a working definition:

Donor satisfaction occurs when the expectations of the donor are met or surpassed through delivered service of some kind.

But why should you care about satisfaction? Because, again according to Sargeant, people who were ‘very satisfied’ with their quality of service were twice as likely to give again to an organization. This therefore boosts donor retention which in turn boosts LIfetime Value (LTV). Mr. Pegram identified satisfaction directly with his 6th point and puts it this way:

The key driver of LTV is donor satisfaction; how good is the donor experience. And measuring and influencing that can and should be within our control.

Mr. Pegram’s other points on donor experience, the first thank you and focusing more on retention are slightly less direct ways of saying ‘focus on donor satisfaction’. But also paramount to the conversation is his #4: Measuring and rewarding long-term performance, not just short-term.

The old adage ‘ you are what you measure’ is certainly true in fundraising where we often care more about total revenues and new money and revenue sources instead of caring for the current donors we have. So if you don’t want to wait until the end of your career to focus more on donor satisfaction, one thing you can do right now is start tracking, measuring and rewarding satisfaction metrics like LTV and donor retention and having longer timelines for goals (1-3-5 years for example).

In addition to shifting goals, timelines and performance objectives, which can be a long and time consuming ordeal (although worth it), to improve donor satisfaction you’ll have to understand the drivers behind it. Jay Love at Bloomerang summarizes the 7 drivers of donor commitment from Roger Craver’s Retention Fundraising: The New Art and Science of Keeping Your Donors for Life which can act as a bit of a ‘donor satisfaction’ checklist for you.

7 Drivers of Donor Commitment

  1. Donor perceives your organization to be effective in trying to achieve its mission.
  2. Donor knows what to expect from your organization with each interaction.
  3. Donor receives a timely thank you.
  4. Donor receives opportunities to make his or her views known.
  5. Donor is given the feeling that he or she is part of an important cause.
  6. Donor feels his or her involvement is appreciated.
  7. Donor receives information showing who is being helped.

Jay points out that communications, how and when information is shared, is absolutely paramount to all of these 7 drivers. With that in mind, here are…

Two Things You Can Do Today To Focus On Donor Satisfaction

Ask Donors More Questions.

How do you know how donors perceive your organization? How do you know if they feel like a part of an important cause? While you can track and watch how donors act (especially online) and survey data isn’t to be trusted blindly, most organizations spend little to no time asking their donors these key questions.

Not only is it key to know how you are doing but look at #4. Donors want opportunities to provide feedback and be heard. A survey of some kind can help there as well. Have a short survey after an action is taken (donation completion or email sign up), send one out regularly (once or twice a year) or have your team all have access to the survey to send to their donors and prospects throughout the year when they feel appropriate. The main thing is to try and give your donors a voice and collect more information on how they are feeling and perceiving your organization.

Have Your Board and Staff Get All Your Communications (and others)

This was a suggestion of Jay’s but a good one. It sounds simple but I’m sure there are many board members and even staff who do not receive all your online and offline communication. Make sure they do. And then be sure to have feedback sessions where you can look at how well you are doing in relation to the 7 drivers and also ask about the good, bad, improvements and praise around those communications.

Jay also suggestions getting communications from other organizations. You can pick ‘competitors’ if you like but I suggest following organizations like charity: water who are doing great work in the areas of storytelling, donor care and customer satisfaction.


Donor satisfaction is the key driver of Lifetime Value. LTV is a metric that good fundraising programs can and should be built around as it keeps donors in focus and helps focus on longer-term goals. Boosting donor satisfaction is really about understanding what donors want and addressing those needs, largely through your communications with them. By asking more questions more often and having an internal ‘communications audit’ you can give your donors and staff a voice as well as discover how well you’re doing and where you can improve. Don’t wait until the end of your career to make some of these changes, get started today.

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