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The Neuroscience of Donor Relations

Updated: Jul 19, 2022

As fundraisers, we realize the importance of consistent donor relations, especially stewardship. But did you realize there are adult learning principles can play into effective donor stewardship?

Stay with me on this one. How many of you can relate to almost instantly forgetting someone’s name seconds after an introduction? There are techniques to help reinforce the retention of this information such as saying the name out loud again or writing it down.

Now, let’s extend this to donor relations and how our donors remember our organizations. Did you know there is an actual Forgetting Curve that demonstrates how quickly we forget information?

The 19th century psychologist Ebbinghaus first proposed the Forgetting Curve, which demonstrates learners forget about 75% of what was learned in the first day after learning. In 2014, additional research showed that “active review” can bolster the effectiveness of the content. This ties into the best practice of having seven touches between a donor solicitation and the next ask.

Check out my article on best practices for Donor Relations HERE.

According to Ebbinghaus’ Forgetting Curve, regular, reinforced messages will help our donors through the stages of learning, helping them remember the organization’s efforts. This translates into regular, scheduled donor touches to emphasize your organization’s mission.

If you follow the Forgetting Curve model, then your donor stewardship might consistent of an initial donor acknowledgment, followed by a thank you email from a board member a few days later. Next, you would send out an impact story the next month in a e-newsletter. The goal is to bolster the donor’s cognitive recognition of the positive work being done by your nonprofit within the first 31 days of their gift. This way, they don’t forget about your organization’s mission.

By understanding how our donors’ brains work, nonprofits can utilize a reinforcing educational strategy founded in neuroscience to ensure content is acquired and recalled by participants. We’ve always said fundraising is an art and a science. Here’s the why of the science behind the model.


Michelle Crim, CFRE

Dynamic Development Strategies can help. We offer coaching, grant writing, and fundraising services for our nonprofit clients. We specialize in small to mid-size organizations because we understand your challenges. Please contact us for more information.

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