Higher Education Donor Experience Research Project

We’ve launched the first ever research project into the donor experience from the perspective of higher education development professionals like you.

We want to talk to you about the realities of planning and delivering outstanding donor experiences. With a good understanding of the challenges, we as an industry can have better conversations about how to support change.

If you’d like to receive general updates on progress and ways to get involved, please sign up here.

Our research aims

We are seeking to understand:

  • How you think and talk about donors and the donor experience
  • How you evaluate and make judgements on the quality of the donor experience
  • How you make decisions relating to the donor experience

How we’re going to do it

The research study will consist of two phases; a qualitative phase in June/July 2018 where we will interview a range of staff about their experiences, and a quantitative phase in October/November 2018 where development professionals across all UK institutions will be invited to share their thoughts. The results will be published in early 2019.

Our Research Advisory Board

We have established a Research Advisory Board representing development professionals like you.


Our partners

We’ll be announcing all our project partners and sponsors in July. This project is only possible due to generous volunteer contributions, gifts-in-kind and sponsorship to cover direct research costs.

Why this research?

In May 2017 it was announced that “UK universities’ philanthropic giving has reached record levels, surpassing the £1 billion-a-year milestone for the first time”. That figure is taken from the latest Ross-CASE Survey of Charitable Giving to Universities, and within that same report lies a less encouraging statistic: a 3% decline in alumni donor numbers following years of sustained growth. Higher education fundraising has grown into a billion-pound industry, but at the same time fewer alumni are choosing to give back to their alma mater.

Shortly before the release of the latest Ross-CASE results, Holly Palmer Consulting issued the findings from our mystery shopping exercise, Unrequited Love: a study on the early UK university non-alumni donor experience. Our research examined the standard of donor care across fifteen higher education institutions in the UK and found that “not a single one of the universities included in the study adopted a clear relationship fundraising approach”. The findings of this study and our subsequent practitioner discussions suggest that the donor experience could be playing a significant role in declining donor numbers.

We know that improving the donor experience is not always straightforward, nor is the same approach going to work from one institution to the next. Our goal with this new research is to explore and uncover what it takes to provide an outstanding donor experience and what can get in the way. The outcome of the research will be a series of practical recommendations to help those wanting to make changes, recognising this may not always be easy.

Our link to the Donor Experience Project

This study is aligned to the aims and objectives of The Donor Experience Project, hosted by the Institute of Fundraising. The Donor Experience Project’s ambition is to provide evidence that a donor who receives an excellent donor experience will feel good about giving and will therefore, over their lifetime, engage significantly more than someone who doesn’t. Our research will explore the views of higher education development professionals on the importance and value of the donor experience, and gather insight into the realities staff face when making improvements.

We need you!

If you’d like to receive research updates, please sign up here.