It's been over 25 years since the Spice Girls debuted in the U.S.

If you're old enough to remember them, you'll undoubtedly remember their catchy debut single:

"Yo, I'll tell you what I want, what I really, really want,
So tell me what you want, what you really, really want"

So, what if you knew what your donors want...what they really, really want?

And, if you knew, what would you do with that information?


Penelope Burk literally wrote the book on Donor Centered Fundraising in 2003. Her oft-cited research found that donors really only want three things:

  1. prompt and personal gift acknowledgement
  2. confirmation that gifts will be used as intended, and
  3. measurable results on those gifts at work, before they are asked for more money.

Burk's research found that, when donors get these three things, they are more likely to continue giving to a charity - and increase the value of their gifts over time.


Fast forward a dozen years and you get Roger Craver's book Retention Fundraising: The New Art and Science of Keeping Your Donors for Life.

In the book, Craver shares a DonorVoice study that asked donors to rate 32 essential activities in terms of their importance to the donor. Specifically, which activities would cause an existing donor to continue supporting an organization?

The choices included a series of marketing, communications, fundraising and operational activities. Craver acknowledges that the list was long because they wanted to provide as complete a list of choices as possible.

DonorVoice then ranked the results by their relative importance in improving donor loyalty and their lifetime value (that is to say, the total of their gifts over time).

From the list of 32 possibilities, the study found that there are seven key drivers to a donor's commitment. In rank order, they are as follows:

  1. Donor perceives your organization to be effective in trying to achieve its mission
  2. Donor knows what to expect from your organization with each interaction
  3. Donor receives timely thank yous
  4. Donor receives opportunities to make his or her views known
  5. Donor is given the feeling that he or she is part of an important cause
  6. Donor feels his or her involvement is appreciated (create "memorable moments," the purpose is to delight the donor)
  7. Donor receives information showing who is being helped

Are you surprised at what donors want?

You're not alone. When I shared this information at a workshop recently, the executive directors and development directors were shocked. A few even commented that this was the most valuable takeaway from the session.


If you'll compare Craver's findings to Burk's, the parallels are striking.

Burk found that what donors want most is "acknowledgement" and "information."

Craver found that what donors want most relates to "communication" and "impact."

What about you? Are you spending time properly acknowledging your donors? How are you communicating? Are you giving your donors the information they want to know? Are you telling them about the impact of their gifts?

Consider how you spend your time. How often do you communicate with donors, and what do you say when you do?

Roger Craver posits, "By eliminating activities that don't matter to donors and improving those that do, we're creating a meaningful different experience for our most loyal donors and deriving significantly more revenue from them with no mid-level or major gift officer required."


Don't wait until December. Be sure you're communicating with your donors throughout the year - not just during "giving season."

Tell them exactly how you're using their money. And be sure that you're sharing the impact of their gifts.

After each new gift, tell donors what difference their contribution will make. What will happen because of his donation? What will change as a direct result of her gift?

And before asking again, make sure you've told your donors how things are different (and better) because of them and their support.

Be careful not to talk about what you (the organization) did. Instead, talk about what they (the donor) made possible. The children who aren't hungry. The single mothers who got living-wage jobs. The water that's safe to drink. The wildlife that's protected. You get the idea.

These are the messages that donors want to hear. And these are the messages that will drive donor commitment, loyalty and retention.

It's quite simple really. Keep doing your good work and give your donors what they want. When you do these two things - and do them well - your donors will keep giving.

Need help creating a donor retention plan? Laura Rhodes can help.

Send a message to start the conversation and learn how Laura can help you and your organization.

You may also be interested in upcoming training events.