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Nov 13, 2013

Engaging Tomorrow’s (today’s?) donors

Cygnus Applied Research released a survey on donor attitudes that suggests to me that donors are looking for engagement with the nonprofits they support.  Four points struck me.

  1. Half of the respondents said that they were more reluctant to give to nonprofits that “bombard” them with requests for donations.
    I read into this that a solicitation is arm’s length whereas the donor wants a relationship.  Sending a lot of letters or repeatedly calling for gifts is aking to a friend who calls only when he wants something.  That is a one-way relationship.  Donors now want to something more.  But what is it?  Some guesses:  regular communications (emails from the CEO) on what is going on with the nonprofit, including stories of defeats or frustrations and not just victories.
  2. One-fifth are more likely to be discouraged when nonprofits spend “too much” on fundraising.
    Leaving aside the corrosive effects of the past focus on overhead percentages by Better Business Bureau and Charity Navigator (they published a mea culpa letter this Spring that apologized for their single-mindedness), donors want to know the priorities of a nonprofit.  High fundraising spending may imply a priority on money rather than a priority on serving the needs of the community.  What is missing? The donor needs to know the story and not just the numbers.  The donor wants to feel a part of the activities of the nonprofit.  If all they see are solicitations and  fundraising spending, they may feel taken for granted.
  3. One-third said they prefer nonprofits that provide measurable results and they like to do research before giving.
    Donors want to know that their gifts are making a difference.  They want to know how their community is benefiting from the work of the nonprofit.  This push should not come from the donors.  Every nonprofit CEO should want to measure the impact of his/her programs.  How else to know where to tweak the budget, expand and contract?  How else to write a case for support?  How else to know if a program is effective?  This is where the donor and the nonprofit have common interests.
  4. Working-age donors are more likely to focus on a small number of nonprofits to support.
    While sending $100  to a large number of nonprofits may have been the way to “help” the community in the past, it seems that working-age donors want to accomplish something with their philanthropy.  Keeping up with half a dozen nonprofits sounds to me like a preference for engagement, whether through knowledge, communication, or direct participation.

In short, today’s donors want to be brought inside rather than kept at arm’s length.  Social media and web-based crowdfunding seems to resonate with the millennials.  Volunteering may be more effective for the 40+ crowd.  Who knows?  The key is to figure out the best way to engage. As I wrote in More Than Just Money, about donor’s trust, “Perhaps the most effective donors are not defined by the restrictions or requirement sthey impose but rather by their support of the nonprofit’s mission and their trust that the nonprofit knows best how to use their gifts to address and sustain the mission.”  I think the four findings in this survey say the same thing.