Datapoint: Donor Engagement and Donor Satisfaction

In recent years, various experts and observers have discussed the value of engaging donors at community foundations.[1] The knowledge and connections community foundation staff have, and their ability to educate donors about a community’s greatest needs, have long been seen as key to the distinct value community foundations can offer to donors.[2]

But what connection does donor engagement have with donor satisfaction at community foundations? Are donors who regularly engage with the foundation more, or less, satisfied with the foundation overall?

In CEP’s recent research report What Donors Value: How Community Foundations Can Increase Donor Satisfaction, Referrals, and Future Giving, we address precisely that question. We found that 38 percent of the donors we surveyed are “engaged” with their community foundation as we defined it.[3] However, our data indicate that donors can be satisfied with their foundation even when they have, or desire, little or no involvement from the foundation in their giving decisions. When it comes to predicting donors’ satisfaction with the foundation, neither donors’ current level of engagement with the foundation (including whether they use advice from staff to help make their giving decisions) nor their desired level of assistance from the foundation for their future giving decisions are important factors.[4]

Although donor engagement may not be the key to donor satisfaction, our data do indicate that there can be important benefits when donors are more engaged with the foundation’s resources or knowledge, including a perceived increase in their knowledge about the issues they care about, their sense that they are having an impact on the issues they care about, and their feelings of connection to their community.

Mark Chaffin is a Senior Research Analyst at the Center for Effective Philanthropy.


[1] Rebecca Graves et al., “Do more than Grow,” FSG (2012),; Donna G. Rader, “Advancing Community Leadership Through Donor Engagement,” CFLeads and COF (2010): 2,; Ralph Hamilton, Julia Parzen, and Prue Brown, “Community Change Makers: The Leadership Roles of Community Foundations,” Chaplin Hall Center for Children at the University of Chicago (2004): 5–20,

[2] Lori Larson, “Community Foundations: Building Philanthropy and Effecting Social Change,” Markets for Good Blog, August 1, 2013,; Lucy Bernholz, Katherine Fulton, and Gabriel Kasper, “On the Brink of New Promise: The Future of U.S. Community Foundations,” Blueprint Research and Design, Inc. and the Monitor Institute (2005): 36,

[3] For the purposes of this research, engaged donors are defined as using at least one of the following: 1) advice from foundation staff about their charitable giving; 2) performance information on nonprofits in the community provided by or through the foundation; 3) foundation events or educational programs for donors, experts, stakeholders, or some combination of the three; 4) foundation-sponsored visits to nonprofits in the community; or 5) the foundation’s website and having or doing at least one of the following every few months or more frequently: 1) personal e-mails or phone calls from the foundation; 2) in-person meetings with foundation staff; or 3) attendance at foundation events.

[4] Although whether or not a donor is engaged with the foundation is related to his or her satisfaction, a donor’s engagement is an extremely weak predictor of donor satisfaction when tested in the context of other predictors which have much greater value for predicting levels of donor satisfaction. These other predictors include: donors’ perceptions of the responsiveness of the foundation’s staff when they have a question or need assistance; donors’ perceptions of the impact the foundation has on the community; donors’ satisfaction with the foundation’s leadership in the community; or donors’ satisfaction with the financial practices of the foundation.

community foundations, Donor Perception Report, research
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