What Drives Donor Loyalty? Findings from the Latest Donor Research

We have a tradition of presenting “sneak peeks” of our donor research at AFPFC prior to releasing it to the greater public. We believe it’s important to do this to garner the reactions and questions from fundraising professionals out in the field every day. And, of course, because we can’t wait to share our findings! It is through the feedback from AFP members that we’re able to create research reports that are not just reflective of what’s going on with today’s donors, but that also contain actionable information.

At AFPFC this year, we gave a sneak peek of our latest Donor Loyalty Study. In this year’s study we went beyond donor engagement and dug deep into what drives donor loyalty. We surveyed 1,136 donors in the United States who made at least one donation to a nonprofit organization in the past 12 months.

Here are a few key findings:

  • Donating is personal. While this may seem like a given, it is overwhelmingly true for all types of donors. The three main reasons people donate to nonprofit organizations are very personal in nature – they have a deep passion for the cause, they believe the organization depends on their donation, or they know someone affected by the nonprofit’s mission.


  • Volunteering and events play a big role in driving loyalty. Seventy-three percent of those who volunteered and 74 percent of those who attended an event say they are more likely to donate. This is especially true for Millennials, 52 percent of whom say they’re more likely to donate after volunteering for an organization. While you might not ask your volunteer coordinator to write a fundraising appeal, he or she may play a major role in a potential donor’s experience and the decision to donate again.
  • Content is NOT just king … it’s money. Nearly 75 percent of respondents say they might stop donating to an organization based on poor content. This is a real wake-up call for the sector. How you communicate with your donors is one area where you have the MOST control (the content you create), and really need to spend time and energy building out a solid content strategy. Are you spending as much time crafting your email content as you are on your direct mail piece, for example?


  • Quality, length, and frequency matter. Adding to the findings above, the quality of content you are sending to donors really does matter. Seventy-two percent of donors say receiving well thought-out, polished content is important to them. A majority of donors would like to hear from the nonprofit they support at least monthly, and prefer short, self-contained content (short emails, letters/articles, or videos under two minutes long). It may be time to rethink that monthly newsletter and consider how you can break up that content into smaller snack-size pieces that are more personalized to your donors’ interests.
  • Donors trust nonprofits to spend money wisely. By and large, donors trust the nonprofits they support to spend their money wisely (93 percent). In this study, we also attack the “Overhead Myth” head-on, asking donors how they feel about their money going towards “overhead.” A majority of donors are fine with their money going to things like setting up for events, publicizing the mission, reaching out to volunteers and other donors, and even staffing or administrative costs.


Overall, donors want to hear from you, and they want to hear about the personal impact their donation is making. When in doubt, ask your donors how they want to be engaged, and then follow through with their preferences.

There’s so much more actionable data in the full Donor Loyalty Study. We’d love to hear your thoughts on our findings and specific topics we should dig deeper into with next year’s research.

Krista Endsley

Krista Endsley

Chief Executive Officer at Abila
Krista Endsley is the Chief Executive Officer for Abila, with more than 20 years of experience in leading teams in the software industry for both large and mid-sized companies. Formerly Sage Nonprofit Solutions, Krista served as the General Manager and Senior Vice President leading the transition from a business unit within an international conglomerate to an individual private company that is now Abila.
Krista Endsley

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