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The 2 Critical Factors of Donor Satisfaction


By Allison Gauss

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Reading Time: 4 minutes

Keeping donors satisfied and motivated is the key to cultivating long-term supporters and future revenue. With so many causes and nonprofits clamoring for donors’ attention, you can’t afford to give donors a negative or underwhelming experience. We think looking at donor satisfaction from a new perspective will help organizations evaluate how they interact with their supporters. First, we will explain an intriguing psychological theory on motivation, and then we will see how this framework can be adapted to delight donors.

The Two Factor Theory of Motivation

Fredrick Herzberg, an American psychologist, began studying employee satisfaction and motivation in the 1950s and by 1959, he had published his Two Factor Theory. Also known as the Motivator-Hygiene Theory, it proposed that employee relations were impacted by two different types of factors and that just because an employee wasn’t dissatisfied didn’t mean they were satisfied. After interviewing more than 200 engineers and accountants on their happiness at work, Herzberg claimed that the factors that prevented dissatisfaction were independent from the factors that created job satisfaction.

The first of the two types at play are called Hygiene Factors. What does the word “hygiene” bring to mind? For most people, it is things like bathing regularly and brushing your teeth. If you don’t do this you are prone to disease (and being unpopular), but doing them doesn’t necessarily make you happier, smarter, or more productive. This is a good way to think about Hygiene Factors because Herzberg claimed they operate to prevent dissatisfaction but cannot create satisfaction.

Hygiene Factors are the minimum conditions of safety and comfort anyone would require in their job, such as an office with adequate lighting and space or a salary appropriate for the position. If your office was sweltering in the summer with no air conditioning, you would certainly be dissatisfied at work. But a temperate climate doesn’t make you motivated or satisfied.

The other conditions Herzberg identified are called Motivation Factors, and their name is fitting. Motivation Factors are what makes an employee really happy at work and could motivate them to succeed and perform better. Motivation Factors usually come from more emotional or mental working conditions such as status and responsibility or opportunities for career advancement. According to Motivator-Hygiene Theory, Hygiene Factors can keep employees from becoming disgruntled and dissatisfied but only Motivating Factors can make them truly satisfied and inspired to work.

What Does This Have to Do with Donors?

While Motivator-Hygiene Theory is a great way to look at employee relations at your organization, it can also be adapted to explain how to satisfy donors. Just like employees, donors have certain minimum expectations of a charity they donate to, but meeting these expectations will not necessarily create satisfaction. In essence, you need to meet a donor’s Hygiene Factors to have any chance of future involvement, but Motivating Factors will be the driving influence to give again or become more involved with the cause.

Hygiene Factors for Donors

  • Easy-to-use donation page
  • Donor information is secure
  • Donor receives a receipt for their gift
  • Some kind of acknowledgment or thank you

You’ll notice that Hygiene Factors for donors are often procedural. Donors shouldn’t have to wonder if their online donation went through or if their credit card information is safe with you.

Motivation Factors for Donors

  • Follow up with donor to show the impact of their gift
  • Personal thank you (phone call, handwritten note)
  • Being offered exclusive content or early access to a campaign/event

Motivation Factors are the extra touches that can set your organization apart. For donors, motivation factors need to create delight.

Lay the Foundation First

While Motivating Factors are what delight and inspire donors, they can only do this when you have already met all the donor’s basic expectations. You could have a great job with challenging work and career opportunities, but if the building’s roof leaks and you have to climb six flights of stairs to use the restroom, you will probably be dissatisfied.

Little irritations can undermine the power of more important factors, for both employees and donors. A follow up email showing the impact someone’s donation has probably won’t reassure a donor who had to spend twenty minutes to submit their gift and never got a receipt. To put it simply, you have to take care of Hygiene Factors for the Motivating Factors to be effective.

If you want to make sure you leave donors satisfied and excited to stay involved, the first thing you should do is check out how well your organization takes care of these Hygiene Factors. You can start by going through the donation process yourself. How long it takes to complete the form, the amount of information required, and how long until the donor receives a thank you email and receipt are all basic factors that have the potential to leave donors dissatisfied.

If possible, ask some of your supporters what their experience was like in a follow up email or survey. The good thing is that Hygiene Factors are relatively easy to fix, either by adjusting the form or updating your automated email response.

Delivering Delight

Once you have made the donation process smooth and simple, you can start thinking about the steps that will really delight a donor – the Motivational Factors that will inspire them to continue giving to your organization. This is where you have to give the donation meaning, either by illustrating the good it did or appealing to the donor’s sense of self. Most Motivating Factors will occur in the follow up after a donation.

A great way to delight and inspire a donor is to surprise them with a personal thank you. Team Rubicon frequently makes phone calls to donors, but you can also send handwritten thank you cards. Donors should automatically receive a thank you email, but a more personal thank you lets them know they are important and appreciated by the people in your organization. You can also motivate a donor by updating them on the status of the project they contributed to.

This affirms the donor’s impact on the cause, showing them the reward for their generosity. Finally, you can add meaning to a gift by granting the donor exclusive information or access. Asking them to be among the first to register for a future event communicates trust and intimacy. If Hygiene Factors make a donor feel safe and comfortable, Motivating Factors make them feel powerful and important.

Image Credit: Herb Real

The Pocket Guide to Fundraising Psychology

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