NEWS: Major review of academic theory suggests how relationship fundraising could ‘refashion’ itself

A major review of relationship fundraising conducted by Rogare, the fundraising think tank at Plymouth University’s Centre for Sustainable Philanthropy, has recommended several possible ways to ‘refashion’ the discipline.

The review – conducted by Adrian Sargeant, Ian MacQuillin and Jen Shang – has also identified how current theories of relationship building and maintenance from social psychology could be transferred to donor relationships.

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The main suggestions for the future direction of relationship fundraising from the year-long review – jointly funded by US donor management software company Bloomerang and American fundraising agency Pursuant – are:

1. A choice between relationship fundraising and ‘good old fashioned’ customer care

2. When to focus on the donor; when to focus on the beneficiary

3. Use academic theory from social psychology to meet donor needs

4. Focus on commitment, trust and satisfaction 

5. ‘Total relationship fundraising’ and building a ‘culture of philanthropy’.

Read a summary of these five main conclusions.


Download the full review

The review contains four volumes, all of which can be downloaded here:

  • Volume 1 explores theories and ideas from relationship marketing that could be applied to relationship fundraising.

  • Volume 2 explores theories of relationship building and maintenance from social psychology that could be applied to relationship fundraising.

  • Volume 3 presents the findings of research among relationship fundraising practitioners, identifying the discipline’s strengths, weaknesses and challenges.

  • Volume 4 is the summary report that draws together findings and conclusions from the other three volumes.

All covers


Rogare’s director Ian MacQuillin says:

Ian MacQuillin 1“It is absolutely essential that relationship fundraising draws on the latest relevant theory to continually refresh and reinvigorate the ways it can deliver the best possible experience for the donor. This has been lacking over the past 20 or so years but is imperative to ensure relationship fundraising does not stagnate in the future and become little more than a fundraising ideology.

“Members of our advisory group said the relationships they had with colleagues were not sufficiently strong to allow relationship fundraising to flourish. So fundraisers must think beyond the donor and start improving all those relationships that are currently impinging on the donor relationships, particular with ceos, board and their supplier agencies.

The onus is on fundraisers to build the relationships that will foster this ‘culture of philanthropy’, as it seems unlikely that the impetus will come from elsewhere.”


Thank you Bloomerang and Pursuant

Rogare would like to thank Bloomerang and Pursuant for making the project possible.
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Jay Love, co-founder and ceo of Bloomerang and a board member of the Centre for Sustainable Philanthropy, says:

“In her foreword to the second edition of Ken Burnett’s groundbreaking book Relationship Fundraising, Jennie Thompson wrote that fundraising ‘is people giving to people, the hope of a shared dream, the success of a worthy cause. And it will not be effective if we continue to treat our donors simply as computer records within gift categories.’Screen Shot 2016-01-11 at 15.20.53

“Those of us involved with this project believe the renewed focus on relationship fundraising will be immediate and long lasting. By empowering fundraisers with the theories, frameworks and ideas to be successful, we can finally realize the true potential of Ken Burnett’s groundbreaking principles.”


Trent Rickler, ceo of Pursuant, says:

“Yogi Berra once said ‘in baseball, you don’t know nothing’. Nonprofits around the world have been practicing relationship fundraising for 30 plus years, and in some respects, it’s like baseball ­– we don’t know nothing. As soon as the fog begins to clear, the world changes, along with the mindsets and motivations of donors everywhere.Screen Shot 2016-01-11 at 15.22.28

“Rogare’s research gives us a fresh playbook. It unpacks qualities important to both ‘relationship’ and ‘fundraising’, with actionable insights vital to development success today. As a proud sponsor of this study, may this work help you enrich your donor relationships and find greater meaning in the important work you do.”



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