Listening to Donors: Keeping it 💯

Hayden Couvillion

I remember in elementary school counting 100 cheerios on the 100th day of school. Though I no longer use my breakfast as an opportunity to mark an occasion (or practice my arithmetic), this month at CEP I find myself again appreciating an important hundredth milestone. CEP is about to launch the surveys for our 100th Donor Perception Report (DPR) on behalf of a community foundation.

CEP has been working with community foundations to understand their donors’ perceptions since 2009, when a group of community foundation CEOs and development executives helped us design and test the survey. Since we began gathering the perceptions of donors through the DPR, we’ve sent surveys to more than 41,000 donors. This milestone of 100 DPRs provides us a moment to reflect on the important work of community foundations to play a leading role in bringing positive change to their communities — and how listening to the perspectives of their donors can be a powerful tool for community foundations to achieve that goal.

In the nearly 10 years the DPR has been in use, we’ve worked with community foundations of all sizes — ranging in asset size from $12 million to over $1 billion. For some foundations, these dollars are almost exclusively tied to donor-advised funds (DAFs); for others the majority of their assets are unrestricted. Yet no matter how a community foundation is financially structured, their broad goals, even if balanced differently for different foundations, are similar: maintaining and growing its assets; having satisfied, committed donors; and creating a positive impact in their community. And it’s that last piece that is so significant. Because while having happy donors and a growing asset base is important, as CEP President Phil Buchanan recently wrote, “donors value community foundations for their community impact and leadership. That is the role they want them to play!”

This is why the DPR is so powerful. When we send out our 100th survey next week, nearly 10,000 donors will have responded to it in the past nine years. Using those responses, the DPR maintains a dataset that provides a comparative context, allowing community foundations to hear through the noise, understand what their donors most value about them and their work, and ultimately take action to achieve the goals they share with their donors.

How are they acting? In our experiences working with community foundations that have commissioned a DPR more than once, we have seen many examples of foundations improving on key survey measures like donors’ overall satisfaction, donors’ likelihood to recommend the foundation to a friend or colleague over time, and donors’ perceptions of the impact their community foundation is having on their community.

We cannot claim causality here, of course. The sheer act of commissioning the DPR could be seen as an emblem of a funder’s commitment to investing time and energy into improving the experience of its donors. And often times when community foundations commission a DPR they’re undergoing a strategic shift, leadership transition, or some other measurement-gathering initiative. So yes, there are other factors at play. But the DPR is a snapshot in time that provides community foundations with the tools they need to improve their work.

It helped the Arizona Community Foundation improve how they communicate and interact with donors. It informed how the Grand Rapids Community Foundation (GRCF) builds and maintains their donor relationships. (GRCF’s philanthropic services director notes that the DPR “raised our collective consciousness about the importance of all relationships we form through our work.”) And the DPR helped the Greater Cincinnati Foundation better welcome its donors to the foundation and create donor interaction standards.

These are just a few of the examples of meaningful change we see community foundations making to strengthen how they work with their donors — so that they can make meaningful change in the communities that matter so much to all parties involved.

We’re excited about sending out our 100th DPR. But we’re more excited to see what community foundations do with their survey results in the years to come.

Hayden Couvillion is senior analyst, assessment and advisory services, at CEP. Follow him on Twitter at @Hayden_Couvi.

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