Learning about Donor Satisfaction: Interviews with Community Foundation Leaders

On March 26, Marilyn Zack, vice president of development, and Jonse Young, philanthropic services director, from the Grand Rapids Community Foundation joined CEP’s Kevin Bolduc and Naomi Orensten for an informative and lively webinar about the Donor Perception Report (DPR). To help guide effective work with donors, the DPR allows community foundations to survey their donors about topics regarding donor perceptions and experiences, such as satisfaction, communication, perceptions of impact, and commitment to future giving. In the conversation, Marilyn and Jonse discussed their donor relations strategies and shared the Foundation’s experiences using the DPR twice — in 2010 and, most recently, in 2014 — to inform and track progress in their work.

Thank you to Marilyn and Jonse for sharing their perspectives, and to all our audience members who tuned in and submitted thoughtful questions. Here are some highlights of what Marilyn and Jonse shared in response to questions from CEP and our audience during the chat:

What did you learn from the first time you used the DPR?

Marilyn: Results from our 2010 survey were adequate, but we were cognizant that there were lessons to be learned and that there were things we could have, and should have, been doing better. The first big issue that we addressed as a result of that initial survey was about how our department was structured. At that time, we all on the development team were wearing relatively the same hat. We had a structure in which we each had a portfolio of different donors we were working with. But the survey made obvious to us that since we all had our own ways of doing things, we weren’t having that consistent level of service that’s so important in this business.

Jonse: We had been on the verge of doing things differently and moving toward a different philanthropic services context for our donors, and the DPR helped guide us along in this process. The first thing we did was restructure the development and philanthropic services department, and this change has been key to our success. For example, we became increasingly specialized. Rather than all staff working with all types of donors, staff were assigned to build and maintain relationships, develop new relationships, or manage new initiates — but not all three. The improvement we have seen over the past few years has been a direct result of this change in our structure.

The restructuring process also allowed us to connect our donors with the community knowledge of our program staff.  This connection has deepened our relationship with donors, thus causing them to understand the scope of our work and how we can proactively and effectively link them with causes they care about.

How did the Foundation’s second DPR help you track your progress?

J: Last fall’s DPR confirmed that the restructure was the right thing for us to do. We learned from this most recent survey that we had to build on our successes — not make deep changes like we had after the first survey. From the input we received, we learned donors wanted to be more a part of us and be more connected to us. We love to engage our donors and help them look at what they want to move the needle on with their passions in the community to realize their charitable goals.  We certainly valued learning that our donors want to connect more with us. Overall, the process raised our collective consciousness about the importance of all relationships we form through our work.

How did these DPR results change your work on an individual level? How did you use these results personally with your individual interactions with donors?

M: I realized how important the engagement piece really is. Before the DPR, I wondered about the extent to which our donors wanted to be involved with us and I didn’t want to bother or intrude. But I learned from the survey results that our donors were hungering for more engagement with us. Once I saw the results from the DPR, it gave me a better comfort level and the freedom to reach out to our donors and offer up opportunities for them to partner with us in a deeper way.

J: I found it important to be able to share the data and mirror the results back with our donors. It demonstrated to them that we were doing something with the results of the data, and that it was important for us to follow through with what they were telling us. We felt we could really do this with ease and comfort.

How did the comparative context of the DPR help you?

M: We liked being able to select the types of community foundations we wanted to benchmark ourselves against. We knew that there were community foundations out there that have pretty different structures from us, so it was important for us to look at community foundations that are more similar to us. We were able to benchmark ourselves against community foundations that we respect and admire, and it was really helpful to know how we measured up against those organizations.

What advice would you have for another funder who might be considering embarking on this process for the first time?

M & J: There are several tips we would give to community foundations who are thinking about surveying their donors through the DPR: 1) Embrace the survey to help you improve. 2) Celebrate your successes, but also use them as a springboard for planning. 3) Seize the opportunity of this learning process to engage your board. 4) Don’t be surprised and be ready to respond if some donors express dissatisfaction with the survey process. 5) Give your donors the opportunity to respond to the survey in whichever way works best for them, whether it be a hard copy survey or online.


This post is part of a series on the CEP Blog sharing interviews with community foundation leaders to hear their perspectives on, and experiences with, the Donor Perception Report.

The Grand Rapids Community Foundation’s mission is to build and manage their community’s permanent endowment and lead the community to strengthen the lives of its people and build a more magnetic and interconnected West Michigan community. You can follow the Foundation on Twitter at @GRCommFound.

community foundations, donor feedback, Donor Perception Report, donor perceptions,
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