What donors really want from charities

Challenging the sliding scale of reward

Major gift donor programmes are often designed on the premise that the more someone gives, the more they should get in return. 

In simplistic terms these programmes use a sliding scale of reward. A donor worth £50 a year may be sent a newsletter and a magazine. At £1000, they may be invited to an exclusive event or soiree, and so on. In every way, this is like a membership scheme: higher donations unlock more benefits. 

These rigid threshold structures are based on the assumption that donors want to be rewarded for their generosity with transactional benefits. But to what extent is this true? 

At MHM, we work with charities, heritage and cultural organisations of all sizes. We use insight and strategy to help organisations build deeper relationships between supporters and their cause.  

We collaborated with a major UK charity to test the hypothesis that people who give more to a cause expect greater rewards from the charities they support. 

Do high-value donors want more in return?

We asked hundreds of donors what social, intellectual and emotional response they wanted from the charity, using our online Preference Selector survey. 

We then combined the responses from Raiser’s Edge data (a common CRM system used in fundraising) to compare the needs of donors among different financial thresholds. 

There's a common perception that major donors don’t want to be bothered with surveys. We found the opposite to be true. The hundreds of responses we received suggests this group welcomes being consulted.

- Guy Turton, Director

Our findings show - as you would expect - that people’s motivations for giving are personal, complex and varied.  But, strikingly, we found no correlation between the size of the donation and the level of ‘reward’ or service the donor expects in return. The size of the gift was not a predictor of the level or type of benefit the donor expected in return. 

So, what does this mean for fundraising strategies? 

Moving from value-based programmes to needs-based programmes

Donor relationships at all levels need nurturing, and higher-level donors will always require good stewardship. We are not saying that traditional ‘rewards’  - the letters, events, magazines and free tickets  - are wasted. Far from it. 

But our findings do suggest adding one very simple but important extra step would help charities build more effective, needs-based relationships with their donors. 

Triaging donor needs to improve ROI

If you can’t predict how much contact your donor requires from the size of their donation then there is only one other option: you have to ask them.  

For our clients, we devise a simple preference survey – more like a registration form – that takes less than a minute to complete. Responses are attached to the donor’s record so the fundraising team knows exactly what the donor is expecting from them. 

It’s all about ROI. You only reward donors with the things they actually want and your donors are less likely to think you are ‘wasting’ their money on perks they don’t need.  

Creating mutually beneficial relationships

The bottom line is that both fundraisers and donors want a mutually beneficial relationship by which to support their cause, in whatever form that takes.  What are the advantages of triaging donors in this way?

  • You can be confident your budget is deployed where it’s needed most
  • You can reduce intrusive or unnecessary activity
  • You can nurture high value donors according to their needs
  • You no longer risk overlooking smaller donors with high engagement needs who could well be great advocates for your cause

Want to speak to someone about how your charity might build better relationships with its supporters? Email: charities@mhminsight.com


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