Researchers explore if formula could indicate optimum times to communicate with donors

Jen Shang, professor of philanthropic psychology at the University of Plymouth, examines if the Memory Retention and Forgetting Curve could be used by fundraisers

Researchers are exploring whether fundraisers could employ a formula describing how individuals retain and forget information to ensure their communications are sent at the optimum moment to jog people’s memory about their cause.

Jen Shang, professor of philanthropic psychology at the University of Plymouth, revealed at the International Fundraising Congress in the Netherlands last week that according to studies into memory retention, the optimum time to send someone a receipt acknowledging their gift is one day after they donate.

The optimum time to send a welcome mail or call would be after three days and another follow-up communication should be sent after six days, she said.

It is unhelpful, she said, to send donors a confirmation email immediately after they donate because their memory of having done so is still intact at this point.

Shang is investigating whether the formula, known as the Memory Retention and Forgetting Curve and originally developed to help students improve their recollection of important facts, could be directly applied to fundraising communications or whether it would need to be adapted.

She said it was possible that an emotive image that prompted someone to donate could be retained for longer than a fact, which would change the formula charities should follow.

Shang also warned charities against using the curve to send repeated messages thanking people for their donations.

"Do not use your memory curve as an excuse to bomb your donors with four thank yous," she said. "You have to design your communications within the schedule so that each one makes your donors feel better about their original donation."

She urged charities using pictures of beneficiaries to elicit donations to continue updating donors on the beneficiary’s progress in their post-donation communications.

"If that’s where people enter into the relationship, you have to show respect by telling them something about the beneficiary they supported," she said. "There’s absolutely no excuse for you not to reinforce the relationship with these people in your confirmation emails."

Charities interested in taking part in Shang’s research into the memory curve can email jen.shang@plymouth.ac.uk

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