Get what Mick Jagger can’t

Satisfaction is often a tricky business for nonprofits.  There is no physical good that you are providing that either gives you five stars of enjoyment or breaks upon opening.  Thus, we rely on a few key things—acknowledgments, reporting back, future solicitations—to create that warm feeling that you hope donors want to feel again.

But it’s a vitally important area.  Satisfaction with a gift and with the giving process is often the number one predictor of whether someone will give again.  We assume that a successful gift is a victory, but forget that that mailed-in check could be someone who tried and failed to donate to you online repeatedly and affixed her stamp with rage.

The literature on satisfaction is deep and varied.  But you can go far knowing two things: first, it’s often more about how you relate to expectations than your total actions; second, not all satisfaction means the same thing.

Expectancy disconfirmation is a fancy way of saying this first concept: satisfaction hinges on whether your expectations were met or not.  For example, a below average meal from a fine-dining restaurant may taste better than an above average McDonalds hamburger.  However, you will be more satisfied with the hamburger than the fine dining because your expectations were met.

Since I always like to get a Star Wars reference in here, researchers looked at opinions of The Rise of Skywalker.  They found that the people who had the highest expectations for the nostalgia of the film but did not have them met had a worse experience overall.  The researchers said the movie became “a lot less about what is in the movie and a lot more about what [viewers] expected it to be.”

What this means for you is the opportunity to set expectations.  You likely can’t get away with saying “we will treat you like an ATM and have poor functioning donation pages” and meeting those expectations.  People do have external references for things, known as “the entire rest of the world.”

But letting folks know, for example, about how often you will email them if they sign up for your newsletter can make sure they understand when they get another email from you.  It’s what they signed up for.

Different types of satisfiers are also important to understand.  We can group these in three buckets.  The most common and one you probably think of when you think satisfaction is a bivalent factor: people miss it when it’s gone, like when it is there, and are delighted when it’s excellent.  Think “time to get your donation acknowledgment in the mail” or “quality of thank you letter.”  These have upside and downside.

Then there’s the monovalent satisfier — the things that you don’t expect but its existence delights you.  Think of the first time you saw a car parking itself on TV; that wasn’t something you expect in a car so you aren’t sad that its not there, but it would delight you to have it.  This is “handwritten birthday card from nonprofit” territory.

As you probably guessed, the opposite—the monovalent dissatisfier—is our third type of factor.  There’s a reason that Coke doesn’t advertise itself as 100% urine-free.  It’s good that they are, yes.  It’s rather something you would expect from a high-quality brown carbonated sugar water.  But that’s the important part: you expect it.  You don’t get any brownie points for having it.  So while speed of the acknowledgment letter may be bivalent, the existence of such a letter isn’t—it’s now an expectation.

Here’s the thing about these: they change over time.  Power steering on a car used to be a luxury, then a feature, then table stakes.

So too with donor expectations — we hope!  We hope to provide better and better experiences for the people who make our missions possible, moving them to expect, and give, more.

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