To Affinity and Beyond

affinityby Anne Clark

So often in nonprofit donor research, we focus on donor capacity – whether a donor has money to give, and how much, based on known assets and previous giving. While this is important information to know, it literally amounts to nothing if that donor has zero affinity with your organization.

What is affinity?

According to Merriam Webster, affinity is “a feeling of closeness and understanding that someone has for another person because of their similar qualities, ideas, or interests.” Obviously, this concept can apply to organizations, and it follows that affinity and inclination to donate are directly related. It just makes sense to spend time looking for and stewarding people who have money AND a strong feeling of closeness to your mission. Of course, affinity is abstract enough that it seems like it would be difficult to figure out without spending one-on-one time with donors – and that’s where a ranking system can really come in handy. While this kind of research should never take the place of donor stewardship, it can make it so you’re spending more of your time with the right people, doing the right things.

How can I measure affinity?

You can – with a fair amount of accuracy – determine a prospect’s affinity with your organization by calculating their “RFM” score. RFM stands for Recency (how recent their last gift was), Frequency (how often they give), and Monetary (what size gifts they make). There are all sorts of RFM scoring systems out there, but the general idea is that the higher the RFM score, the more likely a person is to give to your organization. You assign a certain number of points based on the system, and then add the points together to come up with a total score. You can and should determine the ranking mechanism that make the most sense for your organization, but here’s a very basic one to get you started:


What does an RFM score tell me?

Perhaps surprisingly, someone who has given $500 every year for the past three years gets an RFM score of 11, while someone who gave $5,000 six years ago only scores a 7. Going on RFM score alone, you would actually be better off putting more time and effort into the first donor – who has given significantly less!

How can affinity rankings help me fundraise?

Of course, an RFM score is just one piece of the puzzle, and ideally you will use it to create a more complete picture of the donor prospect, alongside other information such as capacity and linkage (which measures the different ways a donor interacts with your organization, and is a whole ‘nother subject that I’ll save for next time). But there’s no doubt that understanding and implementing RFM scoring can help tailor communication (see this post from Julie Bianchi about segmentation), engagement, and stewardship strategies and, overall, strengthen your relationships with your biggest fans.

Anne Clark is a Research Associate at Collins Group.