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We’re in This Together

By Renee Obrecht-Como, Program Operations Director — Health & Nutrition

Between Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve, it seemed that every organization to which I have contributed anything in the past decade — time, money, a good word — had one purpose: Send an email each day declaring that time was running out to make a tax-deductible contribution before 2014 was over.

How much did I donate during that week? $0.

I’m simply not the target audience for these end-of-year donation pleas: deducting charitable contributions does not reap tax benefits for my household.

The annual deluge of emails asking for donations always sets me thinking about fundraising. This isn’t surprising, given that Health and Nutrition’s fiscal wellness is a major focus of my work. This year, my mind turned not only to fundraising but also to volunteering, program partnerships, and employee engagement. What do these have in common? Relationships.

All demand strong relationships, forged through identification, satisfaction, trust, and commitment, in order to succeed over the long term.

These four characteristics are the keys to donor loyalty identified by Adrian Sargeant, Ph.D., a leading scholar of philanthropic giving. Sargeant heads the Centre for Sustainable Philanthropy at Plymouth University in England and has devoted nearly two decades of applied research to helping nonprofits effectively market themselves. He has concluded that in order to retain donors, organizations need to cultivate the following characteristics. Please note that Sargeant’s analysis is far more complex than these brief definitions imply and is well worth a read:
  • Identification: In Sargeant’s words, “the concept of identification is regarded as satisfying the need for social identity and self-definition. When a person identifies with an organization, he or she perceives a sense of connectedness with it and defines him- or herself in terms of the organization.” Just think of 4-H.
  • Satisfaction: Satisfaction happens when a person’s expectations are met or exceeded. The key is to understand expectations.
  • Trust: Trust is earned in a variety of ways, including evidence that the organization delivers what it says it will, uses sound judgment, and provides high-quality service. Above all, Sargeant emphasizes excellence in communication, with the frequency and content meeting the target audience’s expectations.
  • Commitment: According to Sargeant, commitment is essentially the “desire to maintain a relationship.” The key is a sense of ownership in the success of a program or organization.
These same four characteristics can also be seen as strengthening loyalty in volunteers, program partners, and staff. Consider this question: Whether the “currency” is money, time, working across organizations to deliver programs, or working together as Family Development colleagues, how can we strengthen relationships? Mass emails reminding us that time is running out to donate? There’s a place for this kind of marketing tool, but I challenge you, as I challenge myself, to focus on engaging with our financial supporters, volunteers, partner organizations, and Family Development colleagues in ways that build identification, satisfaction, trust, and commitment. Look for any opportunity to forge these bonds. Especially trust and commitment.

We are, after all, in this together. And we’re in it for the long run.

Sargeant, A., & Woodliffe, L. (2007). Building donor loyalty: The antecedents and role of commitment in the context of charity giving. Journal of Nonprofit & Public Sector Marketing, 18(2), 47-68.
Sargeant, A. (2013). Donor retention: What do we know & what can we do about it? Nonprofit Quarterly, 20(2).

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