Donor Fundraising: A research-based approach to donor-centricity

Donor Fundraising: A research-based approach to donor-centricity

Recent evidence from the Institute of Fundraising (IoF)1 suggests that the paradigm of donor fundraising is shifting. 69% of charities are now stating that they go out of their way to meet the needs of their donors and 74% state that building great donor experiences are the bedrock of fundraising communications. It seems that charities are increasingly adopting a donor-centred fundraising approach, focussing on the donor journeys and experiences. For many, this is a welcome change within the charity sector.

However, donor-centricity is not easy to get right. It is a term that is thrown around quite a lot and hazy definitions on what donor-centricity means, along with some general scepticism around its implementation has created apprehension with some fundraisers.

So what does donor-centricity actually mean? In essence, it means to organise and focus a charity around what is in the donor’s best interests and create the ideal experience for them. The initial challenge (and one that is a strenuous mountain to climb) is understanding what is in fact  the best interests of donors and how to create the ideal experience for them.

“Easy!” I hear you say. “Just ask them what they want”.

And yes, this does seem like the most appropriate answer at face value. The problem is, people might not want to be asked for their thoughts. We asked over 3000 supporters from a major UK charity if they would like to provide suggestions if the charity needed their input and, as you can see in Figure 1, only 14% agreed. This was irrespective of their relationship with the charity, suggesting that simply sending out donor satisfaction surveys (DSS) is not only insufficient, they are perhaps unwanted. That is not to say that DSS surveys are not useful, just that sending them does not necessarily make you donor-centric.donor fundraising

Figure 1 – Only 14% of supporters agree that they would like to provide input if the charity needed it

Okay, so what does it take? As Paul Delbar puts it, “fundamental, disruptive change”.2 It requires uncomfortable and tough decisions to be made. If you are going to become donor-centric, it can’t be with half measures. Your systems, communications and approach to donor fundraising in all its forms (door to door fundraising, street fundraising, legacy marketing etc.) have to all follow the same principle. They all need to be aimed and structured around the donor.

A great example of this is the RSPCA, whose recent successful consent marketing and database programme has set a standard for how communications should occur in the charity sector. GDPR forced charities hands in regards to how they communicate with their supporters as placing the rights of contact in donors’ hands naturally makes communications more donor-centric. The RSPCA took this a step further and built their whole communications strategy from the ground up around their supporters. In their research with us, they found what their supporters liked about their marketing communications, how to generate opt in opt out statements that engaged their supporters and learnt what their donors expect from their communications. This research based approach to permissions marketing allowed them to understand the needs and expectations of their supporters and form donor-centric systems around them. It is a great example of fundamental change using marketing insights to form donor-centric communications. You can read our guide to learn more about how to improve your charity’s permissions marketing statements.

Donor-centric communications are especially important when you consider that how you contact donors and how you handle their data may affect whether someone supports you or not. Figure 2 shows a piece of donor fundraising research, containing 2000 participants, that fastmap conducted in February 2018. It shows that over a quarter of people would stop supporting a charity if they felt they were being over-communicated to. Furthermore, a staggering 57% state they would stop supporting if they felt their personal data was being mishandled. The research demonstrates the importance of considering the supporter in communications and highlights how detrimental it can be for a charity if it does not occur.

donor fundraising stats

Figure 2 – We asked people what would stop them from supporting a charity

So, all-in-all, donor-centricity is an elusive but not unobtainable paradigm for donor fundraising. It’s not going to happen overnight and it is a rocky road ahead. And despite IoF research suggesting that it is occurring more in smaller charities,3 it is achievable for all brands, big to small. The core ingredient is to care about the donors which will lead to improved relationships, increased retention rate and increased individual giving. Without this, donor-centricity becomes abstract and meaningless; a buzzword that can create a haze that hides what donors actually want and need. Nevertheless, the shift is happening and the IoF research has demonstrated that there is definitely a certain amount of optimism regarding the subject within the charity sector.

This article was written by Tom Burke, Insight Executive, at fastmap. To find out how fastmap can help you with your creative testing, campaign research and more, visit or get in touch with David Cole, Managing Director, fastmap on +44 (0) 20 7242 702 or



1  IoF, (2018). ‘Improving the donor experience’. Institute of Fundraising.

 Delbar, P, (2016). ‘Donor centricity is easy, but it’s not’. 101 Fundraising.

3 IoF, (2018). ‘Improving the donor experience’. Institute of Fundraising.

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