The Center for Effective Philanthropy recently released a report, “What Donors Value: How Community Foundations Can Increase Donor Satisfaction, Referrals, and Future Giving,” based on a survey of over 6,000 philanthropic funders. CEP’s report explores in-depth two key takeaways: (1) that donors happy with the status of their community foundations are, perhaps unsurprisingly, more likely to contribute funding and encourage others to contribute funding and (2) that “the strongest predictors of donor satisfaction are donors’ sense of the foundation’s level of responsiveness when they need assistance and donors’ perceptions of the foundation’s impact on the community.” Donors respond strongly to foundation engagement and community impact: the foundation that effectively promotes interaction between community groups and remains aware of community needs tends to be considered most favorably among donors and therefore becomes more likely to receive funding.
While the CEP’s findings might seem conceptually intuitive, the report’s case studies provide interesting insights into the ways in which foundations act upon the promises of responsiveness and community engagement. In the wake of September 2013 floods in Boulder, Colorado, for example, the Community Foundation Serving Boulder chose to take a personal approach that transcended a general partnership with the local United Way or Red Cross branch: according to foundation president Josie Heath, “They realized we were there to listen to them, to know what was happening, and to develop funds that were responsive to the needs that they had that weren’t as high level as FEMA or Red Cross but more in keeping with the culture of those communities.”
“What Donors Value” presents a detailed look at donor responses with regard to a number of criteria, including foundation administrative fees and investment strategies and staff reliability. Ultimately, the report concludes that “to thrive, community foundation boards and leaders must pay careful attention to the capacity of their organizations to be able to deliver excellent customer service while positioning themselves to have impact in their communities” — in short, they must treat their funders as respected clients and remain attentive to the individualized needs of local communities and their subsets. Also embedded in the report is a worksheet for foundation representatives to assess their own donor satisfaction and identify potential points of weakness.