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Ruth K. Hansen, Ph.D., and Lauren Dula, Ph.D. Recipients of AFP Wilson C. “Bill” Levis Fundraising Research Grant

Current & Prospect Donor Research Strategies: Prospect Research, Research Reports
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(Arlington, Va.) The Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) Foundation for Philanthropy – U.S. is pleased to announce the first recipients of the AFP Wilson C. "Bill" Levis Fundraising Research Grant.

Ruth K. Hansen, Ph.D., assistant professor of management at the University of Wisconsin – Whitewater, and Lauren Dula, Ph.D., assistant professor of public administration at Binghamton University, State University of New York, were awarded this year’s grant for their research project, Interaction of Gender and Personal Values in Donor Response to Appeals, which studies the effects that values, social roles, and expectations have on potential donors’ reactions to fundraising appeals.

The grant—offered by the AFP Foundation for Philanthropy – U.S.—provides up to $10,000 each year to individuals who wish to undertake research projects directly related to fundraising performance.

"I study the impact of gender identity on philanthropy, so this grant allows us to open up this research beyond the gender binary,” said Dr. Dula. “Through analyzing a broader gender spectrum we hope to allow people to express their identities and values and develop a better understanding of whether and how these impact effective fundraising practices."

According to the proposal, “While there is robust literature on donor motivations, which is likely to inform fundraisers’ practice, many researchers know little about fundraising practice. As a result, research tends to draw on the substantial 'gray literature' – that is, the numerous 'how to' books written typically by fundraising consultants. While these often draw on substantial professional experience by the authors, they generally focus on what fundraisers ought to do, rather than necessarily reflecting what fundraisers by and large do do.”

As a result of this, Dr. Hansen and Dr. Dula will seek to answer questions related to such fundraising practices:

  1. What is the effect of incorporating a value of Universalism in an appeal letter, compared to the effect of incorporating a value of Security?
  2. Can the benefits of grounding an appeal letter in personal values be stacked by incorporating both?
  3. Does gender identification affect the reader’s response to appeal letters grounded in different values?

“It's no secret that the nonprofit sector is value-rich—people are motivated to act to support efforts that align with their personal values,” said Dr. Dula. “Personal values are essentially an assessment of what is fundamentally important to us, and they influence our preferences, how we behave, how we perceive situations, and what feels intrinsically personally fulfilling to us.”

Dula noted that in 1992, social psychologist Shalom Schwartz ​proposed a relational understanding of values and identified 10 universal values: Power, Achievement, Hedonism, Stimulation, Self-direction, Universalism, Benevolence, Tradition, Conformity, and Security. His value theory places the values in a "quasi circular structure" so that values that are adjacent to each other, such as Self-direction and Universalism, as one example, or Security and Power, as another example, are likely to be in harmony. Values that are opposite each other, such as Hedonism and Conformity, or Achievement and Benevolence, are likely to be in conflict.

“Using the definitions in Schwartz's values theory, a value of Universalism incorporates ‘understanding, appreciation, tolerance, and protection for the welfare of all people and for nature,’” said Dr. Hansen. “We're focusing on a social type of universalism, one concerned with equality, world peace, and social justice. This was one of the patterns we found fundraisers expressing in previous research. A value of Security (again, as per Schwartz's approach) incorporates ‘safety, harmony, and stability of society, of relationships, and of self.’ This would include concerns such as social order, family security, and reciprocity. This was another pattern we found fundraisers expressing in previous research. So when we talk about incorporating a value of Universalism or Security, we're talking about elements that resonate with those values.”

The study will work to understand how fundraising works at a deeper level and focus on the professional discretion of fundraisers themselves. Part of the study will test the writing patterns identified through an analysis of appeal letters that practicing fundraisers wrote in response to a prompt.

Once the study is completed, the findings will work to shape fundraising communications and will show that how “fundraiser choices interact with potential donor reactions is beneficial in intentionally structuring communications for successful fundraising.”

Dr. Hansen and Dr. Dula will present their findings at AFP ICON 2022 and to their local AFP chapters. Their findings will also be featured in an upcoming issue of Advancing Philanthropy.

To support the Wilson C. “Bill” Levis Fundraising Research Grant or make a gift to the AFP Foundation for Philanthropy – U.S., please visit or contact Lori Gusdorf, CAE, executive vice president for the AFP Foundations for Philanthropy, at

The AFP Foundation for Philanthropy champions philanthropy and volunteerism by strengthening the nonprofit sector’s current and future leaders, welcoming diverse new voices into the charitable world, and rigorously upholding the highest standards of ethics. The foundation currently focuses on developing fundraising leadership programs, supporting research on critical issues in the profession, building a stronger sector through a more diverse workforce, and renewing public trust in charitable organizations. More information about the foundation can be found at

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