Learning about Donor Satisfaction: Interviews with Community Foundation Leaders

From November 12-18, community foundations across the country united in celebrating the 25th annual Community Foundation Week, a time designed to recognize the vital impact that community foundations have in their local areas. And all year long, community foundations have been celebrating their rich history and newfound centenarian status (100 years ago in 1914, the Cleveland Foundation became the first ever community foundation in the United States).

There are more than 750 community foundations working to strengthen their local communities in both urban and rural areas in every state. For these foundations, relationships with the donors whose pooled resources fund their local grantmaking are crucial to their success in achieving their goals. Matters regarding donor engagement — such as satisfaction, communication, perceptions of impact, and commitment to future giving — are vital to a community foundation’s effectiveness in bringing positive social change to their localities.

CEP’s Donor Perception Report (DPR) allows community foundations to survey their donors about topics like these to learn how to effectively engage them. To date, more than 50 community foundations have commissioned a DPR to learn from the perspectives of their donors. This blog series will feature interviews with community foundation leaders to share their views about the challenges they face, what they learned from the DPR, and how listening to their donors has influenced their strategies.

For the inaugural post in this series, we talked to Nancy B. Anthony, president of the Oklahoma City Community Foundation. Founded in 1969, the Foundation serves the needs of donors and the central Oklahoma community by encouraging philanthropy, building and managing endowment funds for the benefit of the community, and providing leadership on community issues and opportunities. They surveyed their donors through the DPR in the fall of 2013, and shared their results publically as an act of transparency earlier this year. Out of CEP’s entire dataset of community foundations that have used the DPR, the Oklahoma City Community Foundation received the highest ratings in donor satisfaction.

Here’s what Nancy shared in our conversation:

CEP: What do you think are the biggest challenges facing community foundations?

Nancy: Connecting with donors in a meaningful way is the biggest challenge that community foundations have for both development and engagement. There is no natural constituency as there might be with a college, a hospital, or an arts organization. Community foundation donors have a wide range of interests, and while there is commonality in the geographic location, that does not always translate into an effective method of engagement. Donor engagement tends to be around specific issues and even then requires a great deal of one-on-one contact. Stewardship is important but the effort required forces staff to work with either the most affluent or the most intense.

C: What factors led to your decision to commission a DPR?

N: We were led to the DPR by three very different issues we hoped would be served by the information that the DPR generates.

Firstly, we had not done any type of donor survey in more than 10 years, and we felt we needed to understand more about communication with donors, what had been working, and what our donors preferred. We were also beginning a long range planning process and felt that the DPR would inform our trustees about the donor base and how they viewed the community foundation. Since our trustees are term-limited, they frequently are not familiar with the range of donors and the funds that they have supported. Lastly, there were two very significant and highly visible community issues in the preceding two years in which the community foundation was a very central player. They were not without controversy, and we wanted to understand if our involvement had impacted our relationships with our donor base.

C: What was the most surprising thing that the DPR revealed to you?

N: After receiving and studying our DPR results, we found several of the report’s insights to be rather surprising.

We had planned to revamp our annual report, and it was insightful to learn from the DPR that it was actually the communication piece above other factors that was of most importance to donors.

Our ratings from the DPR in terms of the level of donor satisfaction were very high. With the DPR’s comparative dataset, we could see that we were rated exceptionally highly within the context of all community foundations that had also used the tool. We had not anticipated that this rating would exceed that of other community foundations, and obviously we were very pleased with this result!

And lastly, with respect to the quality of the report itself, we were very pleased with the interactive database presentation and the ability to review the information from a variety of categories.

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.

Nancy B. Anthony is the president of the Oklahoma City Community Foundation. Follow the Foundation on Twitter at @occforg.

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