What Community Foundation Donors Value: The AdNet Conference 2014

On the 100th anniversary of the community foundation – as we contemplate how these crucial institutions can be even more relevant in the next century of their existence than they have been in their first – it’s crucial to look hard at what donors value.

Turns out, donors value what community foundations are uniquely positioned to deliver.

Research conducted by the Center for Effective Philanthropy, the organization I lead, has shown that donor satisfaction is tied both to intent to give in the future and referrals.

So donor satisfaction matters.

But what does it take to increase donor satisfaction? Our research, based on analysis of more than 6,000 completed donor surveys of about 47 community foundations, shows that it’s not primarily about administrative fees and endowment performance.

These things matter, but they’re not as important as donor perceptions of responsiveness, their view of the extent to which the foundation is making an impact on the community, and their satisfaction with the foundation’s leadership in the community. As my co-authors Ellie Buteau, Mark Chaffin, and I note in our report, What Donors Value: How Community Foundations Can Increase Donor Satisfaction, Referrals, and Future Giving, the fact that data from donors themselves indicate that community impact and community leadership are crucial contributors to donor satisfaction—and even more important to donors than the foundations’ financial practices—is good news for community foundations.

After all, these are areas in which other entities, such as Fidelity Charitable and Schwab Charitable, may be at a competitive disadvantage because they lack the deep community history and knowledge that community foundations possess.

At the AdNet conference in Cleveland, I am looking forward to providing more information about what we learned in our analysis, and to sharing the podium with exemplars like the Greater Cincinnati Community Foundation and the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham. These are foundations that are getting it right in the eyes of their donors, and we’ll probe what they’re doing and how they’re doing it.

Community foundations are vital American institutions – uniquely positioned to make a difference. While community foundations will need, of course, to evolve as the context around them changes, they must do so in a way that builds on their unique strengths.

Phil Buchanan is President of the Center for Effective Philanthropy and a regular columnist for the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

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