Family Philanthropy Playbook for Community Foundations

Unit 4: Understanding Customers

What desires are driving your customers’ interest in family philanthropy? What prevents them from achieving those desires?

The research in Units 2 and 3 of this Module helped you understand larger trends in donors’ goals and challenges. Now it is time to determine how your own donors, fund holders, and prospects align with or differ from those trends. The first parts of this unit are quicker internal tools to “start with what you know” about your customers. The rest help you “go to the source” through interviews, focus groups, and surveys.

DISCUSS (45 minutes): What Holds Donors Back? [members only]

This worksheet can guide an internal discussion about your current experiences with your donors and fund holders, and what holds them back from involving their families.

TUNE-IN (61 minutes): Innovation in Philanthropy: Insights from Behavioral Science [members only]

ideas42 uses deep insights into human behavior—why people do what they do—to help improve lives, build better systems, and drive social change. Over the last several years, with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and others, ideas42 has applied their approach to help donors give in better, more effective ways. In this 2021 workshop recording, ideas42 shared how community foundations can overcome four behavioral barriers to unlocking generosity. Also see these resources:

DISCUSS (30 minutes): Estridge Family Case Study [members only]

This case study is a real-life example of the challenges a community foundation faced when helping a three-generation family. How would your foundation develop services to answer the family’s questions about grantmaking, generational value differences, and family dynamics?

DO (60 minutes): Customer Personas

A persona is a fictional character, created from the characteristics of similar people, to represent an ideal customer. The persona helps you better understand that customer’s attitudes, aspirations, needs, and environment. Well-designed personas are not easy stereotypes but are examples that “help ensure that your work stays focused on people, rather than an abstract description of the group they are said to represent.”[1] A service or product may have more than one ideal customer, and the personas help define those customers’ similarities and differences.

Group Exercise:

  1. Download this CF Customer Persona Profile [members only] as a template and make a few copies.
  2. Convene the staff who interact with your donors, fund holders, and prospects. You might also include board members.
  3. List names of real people who are existing customers or potential customers for your family philanthropy services and products. Then group them by basic demographics and/or goals.
  4. Discuss the sections in the Customer Persona Profile to create one hypothetical persona for each group developed in Step 3. Your results might look something like this Persona Example. If you’re feeling creative, sketch a picture of that persona or cut one out of a magazine or newspaper.

Those personas can serve as useful starting points as you plan or redesign services. However, the most useful personas are based on actual research into the group of customers – interviews, observation, focus groups, etc.

For further exploration:

Development Impact & You: Personas Module

Classy: How to Develop Donor Personas for Your Nonprofit

Hubspot: The Nonprofit’s Guide to Creating Donor Personas

SolutionsIQ: What Is An Empathy Map?

[1] Development Impact & You, Nesta, 2014

TUNE-IN (60 minutes):CF Topical Call: Using Donor Feedback to Improve Family Philanthropy Services [members only]

More than 60 community foundations have used the Center for Effective Philanthropy’s Donor Perception Report to gain feedback on important topics such as satisfaction, relationships, and future giving. In this topical call recording, staff from the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley, Central New York Community Foundation, The Calgary Foundation, and The Saint Paul Foundation and Minnesota Community Foundation discuss how they used donor feedback in their reports to improve family philanthropy services. We apologize for the audio problems in the first five minutes.

DO (5 minutes): Money for Good’s Donor Giving Personalities

In Money for Good, the Camber Collective researched “the barriers and drivers behind donors’ giving behaviors, with the goal of unlocking opportunities to increase and improve their giving.” The research resulted in five philanthropic giving personalities, three of which have “the most potential to shift or increase their giving if their needs are better met.”

The Seattle Foundation worked with Camber Collective in 2017 to segment its donor base and then tailor marketing messages to each segment. On the Money for Good site, Camber Collective offers a free, downloadable Segmentation Tool that you can use to survey your donors and/or fund holders. It is helpful to have someone available who knows basic survey methodology and has above-average Excel skills.

DO: Focus Groups

The Community Foundation Family Philanthropy Services Evaluation Toolkit [members only] provides instructions for choosing questions, attendees, and facilitators, and for conducting the focus groups. The Philanthropic Initiative and Blueprint Research & Design developed the toolkit as part of the “Excellence in Family Philanthropy” peer learning group in 2007-2008.

BORROW & ADAPT (30 minutes): Donor Interview Questions

Pages 45-46 of DIY Strategy Improvements: 10 Activities for Community Foundations by The Giving Practice contain 14 sample questions you can adapt for interviews with individual donors, couples, and fund advisors.