KNOWLEDGE: Summary of conclusions from Rogare’s relationship fundraising review

This is a summary of the main conclusions for possible ‘refashionings’ of relationship fundraising.

For the full findings, download the report: Relationship Fundraising: Where Do We Go From Here?

1. A choice between relationship fundraising and ‘good old fashioned’ customer care

There is little evidence to show that relationship marketing ­– a long-term focus on customer needs, which are viewed as pre-eminent, through a flow of two-way information – works in a mass consumer environment, or even whether consumers want such relationships with the companies they buy stuff from.

There is therefore a question of how useful the relationship analogy is in the arena of individuals fundraising, where in some cases, a more ‘transactional’ form of fundraising may be appropriate, leaving relationship fundraising to be applied where donors have a much higher level of involvement with the charity, such as corporate and high net worth individuals.

However, all donors deserve excellent standards of customer service, which may be what fundraisers need to apply in their mass market fundraising to enhance the donor experience.

Rather than blindly seek to apply relationship fundraising to every individual donor, fundraisers should critically evaluate each fundraising situation to determine whether a relationship is the best approach.

2. When to focus on the donor; when to focus on the beneficiary

What the donor wants from engaging with a nonprofit organisation changes as the relationship progresses. At the acquisition stage, donors need to be ‘aroused’ to feel something for the cause because they are attracted by what the charity does and how it helps its beneficiaries. By the time the relationship is into the retention stage, social psychology theory predicts that donors will be far more focused on what the relationship does for them, so fundraisers need to meet those needs.

In a sense, relationship fundraising can also be seen as a choice the nonprofit makes whether to meet its donors’ needs as a good in its own right rather than merely as an end to deliver a good to the beneficiary. This review passes no opinion on whether one approach is better than the other.

3. Use academic theory from social psychology to meet donor needs

There is a wealth of theory from the field of social psychology that can be deployed to enable nonprofits to meet donors’ needs and in so doing foster their commitment to, trust in and satisfaction with their relationships with the organisations they support.

We think that two of the most important of these for the future of relationship fundraising are creating a sense of identity for the donor with the charities they support (Identity Theory); and moving donor relationships from ‘exchange’ (where partners keep track of reciprocated costs and benefits) to ‘communal’ relationships (were partners forget about costs and benefits and instead care about each others’ needs and wants as if they were their own).

4. Focus on commitment, trust and satisfaction

Commitment, trust and satisfaction are proven to drive both customer and donor loyalty and through that lifetime value. They are much better indicators than monetary metrics such as Recency Frequency Value analysis and annual income targets. This is true whether fundraisers choose a relational or transactional approach to their fundraising (or a mixture of both).

The review therefore strongly recommends that fundraisers develop bespoke metrics with which to measure relationship fundraising that focus on these three factors, but particularly satisfaction; and that charities should remunerate their fundraisers according to how satisfied they make their donors feel.

5. ‘Total relationship fundraising’ and building a ‘culture of philanthropy’

It was very clear from the survey of relationship fundraisers that they did not feel they had the support or engagement of their colleagues or board to deliver relationship fundraising, which included providing the budget needed to move beyond short-term transactional techniques. What they described were failing or failed relationships with their peers and colleagues.

Many respondents said the solution would be to create a ‘culture of philanthropy’ at an organisation in which relationship fundraising could grow.

Most fundraisers were very clear on the need to build relationships with the donors. Yet few suggested the need for a similar focus on building relationships with any of the other stakeholders – such as board or fundraising agencies – that enable donor relationship to happen.

The Rogare review therefore suggests that one possible ‘refashioning’ of relationship fundraising could be to adapt the notion of ‘total relationship marketing’, which focuses on building relationships with all stakeholders (such as media, suppliers and regulators) that enable organisations to develop a relationship with their customers.

‘Total relationship fundraising’ would likewise attempt to foster, build and maintain all necessary relationships, including better relationships with fundraising agencies.

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3 thoughts on “KNOWLEDGE: Summary of conclusions from Rogare’s relationship fundraising review”

  1. I have not read the full research, and I am willing to find I have reacted badly, however …..

    Whilst the academic research, I am sure, is insightful, and the social psychology theory fascinating, am I alone in thinking there is something incredibly sad when fundraisers our encouraged to frame our views of donor needs through the lens of social psychology theory?

    The voluntary sector, driven by voluntary giving, voluntary action – the desire to make the world a better place, seems to be becoming a distant good, overridden by fundraising and academic constructs.

    Let’s think for one moment of a donor reading the above article, the donor, who would simply like to give a gift in order to make things that little bit better than they were before they made their donation.

    Surely the donor reading this would be wondering how their desire to do good, actioned through their non-contractual wish to make things better for their chosen cause, had fuelled such over-analysed debate. I fear it would be easy for donors to lose heart. Beware lest naval gazing becomes our downfall.


    1. Hi Zoe,

      Thanks for your honest reflection.

      What is important to me in the academic research we do is that we are being very clear about the purpose our research serves. Whether something is over-analysed or not depends on whether it serves the purpose right.

      The research we do at the centre for sustainable philanthropy has only one purpose: to grow philanthropy (love for humankind) by enhancing giving experience. If a piece of research can help make the giving experience more meaningful and more enjoyable, then we would consider the research fit for purpose.

      I do not think every piece of theory or evidence in social psychology can offer the same value. The purpose of the review is to pull together a sample of them to show what kind of research migh be fit for the purpose of growing philanthropy.

      If fundraisers think this review can help them support more meaningful and more enjoyable giving experience, then it is not over analysing it. Otherwise, it is. The ultimate value of any research like this can only be delivered if fundraisers use them, properly.

      I am not sure why a donor would feel sad when the fundraisers are doing their very best to learn about the most relevant theory and evidence about how to make giving to their beloved charity a more meaningful and enjoyable experience.

      But I am only an academic, there might very well be real world human emotions that I am simply detached from.


    2. For me its an issue of how we make people feel – and we’ll always make people feel something when we communicate right? So the issue is do we consciously want to help people to feel good about their giving (and wanting ‘to make the world a better place’) or not?

      For me – many of the problems that were highlighted last year, occurred precisely because we weren’t focused on donor needs or how we made donors feel. The needs of the beneficiary were often the only concern.

      If we intend to apply relationship fundraising we have to do better than that – and if we do genuinely want to practice relationship fundraising (which we are very clear IS a choice) then the question becomes whether we do it well or poorly. If we don’t consciously think through our approaches there is a real danger it will emerge as the latter.

      Examining what we know from relationship theory can help stimulate a debate around how we can do a better job of making donors feel good about themselves for giving and- -to use your words – for caring enough to want to make the world a better place. In that way giving becomes both pleasurable and sustainable.

      Research never has all the answers – but there is plenty here to reflect on.


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