Charity's mission 'is the most likely facet to attract loyalty'

A paper by two academics, based on research in Australia, says donors and directors are the least important aspect of an organisation in terms of inspiring loyalty

A charity’s mission is the aspect of the organisation most likely to attract feelings of loyalty among supporters, whereas its donors and trustee board are the least likely, according to new research.

The paper Supporter Loyalty: Conceptualization, Measurement, and Outcomes, based on research carried out with 206 Australian adults, says that a charity’s mission – defined as its "cause, idea, principles or ideology" – was found to be the facet most likely to generate in a supporter feelings of attachment and devotion about an organisation.

The beneficiaries served by the charity came second, while the leadership, staff and volunteers were ranked third, fourth and fifth, respectively.

The organisation’s donors and board of directors were considered the least important facets among survey respondents.

In the paper, authors Walter Wymer of the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada, and Sharyn Rundle-Thiele of Griffith University in Queensland, Australia, say the findings have practical implications for charities.

"Cultivating supporter loyalty must be informed by an understanding of which facets of the organisation are most likely to serve as loyalty objects," they say in the paper.

"Communicating an organisation’s values embedded in the mission, perhaps by showing how the people served by the organisation (the second most important loyalty object) benefit, may be an effective strategy in increasing levels of supporter loyalty."

Supporter loyalty is defined in the study as "an individual’s affective attachment and devotion to a non-profit organisation".

Another aspect of the study involved exploring which supporter outcomes were most influenced by supporter loyalty.

According to the paper, it was found that having strong feelings of loyalty towards a charity had a "medium or moderate" influence on a supporter’s likelihood of attending the organisation’s fundraising events but merely a "relatively small" or "modest" effect on other outcomes, such as the frequency of donations, the frequency of volunteering activities and willingness to leave a legacy.

"It would be valuable to identify antecedents which are more influential than supporter loyalty," it says.

Despite this, the paper urges charities to periodically measure the loyalty of their supporters using a five-point scale tested during the study.

"If managers do not measure supporter loyalty or the outcomes that it influences, they will not be well informed about the state of supporter attachment to the organisation or their supporters’ contributions to the organisation," the paper says.

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