Donor Behavior: They Love Us, They Love Us Not

When it concerns donors, too many fundraisers say the same two things: “But our donors love us!” and “Our donors are different.” The first is said when the fundraiser either doesn’t know or doesn’t believe the sorry state of donor retention overall or specifically for his or her organization. The latter is said when confronted with evidence about donor behavior that makes the fundraiser squirm. After all, wouldn’t an effective fundraiser have loyal donors that will stick around through thick and thin?

But regardless of what we think about our donors and their love for us, knowing some facts can help us make the decisions that lead to more loyal donors. A recent study released by Fidelity Charitable, called “The Future of Philanthropy,” provided some of those facts that cast light on what donors think about nonprofit organizations.

Why donors give: For half of the donors surveyed, giving, as a value, was motivation to donate. However, six in 10 donate because the cause is important to them.

What donors believe: Although only 17 percent of those surveyed believe that philanthropy can solve the problems they care most deeply about, 94 percent are at least somewhat optimistic. That leaves only 6 percent who are not convinced that philanthropic causes will ever have an impact on developing cures for diseases, solving the hunger crisis, providing health care or other causes that are priorities with donors. Of the Baby Boomers surveyed, 15 percent are very optimistic and 78 percent are somewhat optimistic. But Millennials are even more hopeful—29 percent are very optimistic and 68 percent are somewhat optimistic.

What donors think about us (the nonprofit community) and them (in terms of donating): Nearly half the Millennials (47 percent) believe nonprofit organizations have the potential to solve society’s problems in the future; only four in 10 (39 percent) of Baby Boomers agree with that statement. Additionally, “more than four in 10 donors believe individuals should do more to fund solutions, and half believe individual donors should maintain their support at current levels.”

I encourage you to download this report; it’s only 24 pages and well worth reading. But whether you read it or not, here are two takeaways that can challenge your thinking in the coming days.

1. People give because the cause is important to them.That implies that it’s the cause that matters, but not necessarily the organization centered on that cause. In other words, many donors love the causes we address, but may be more ambivalent about one particular organization as opposed to another.

So how do we develop donors who love our organization, as well as our cause, and who are convinced our organization is the best choice for solving the needs they care about? It seems to me that it boils down to one of today’s buzzwords: transparency. We must never be too busy or too tight on budget to make sure our donors know what happened because they gave. The stories we tell and the photos we share are essential to giving a donor a reason to believe our organization matters, not just the cause that we—and many, many others—are addressing.

It also requires genuine gratitude that shows a donor he or she is a valued partner, not just a transaction. Saying “thank you” can be automated using a computer-generated receipt or an auto-response for an online gift. But really showing the donor we’re thankful takes serious effort and a genuine belief that without the donor, our work would not be possible.

2. People also give because they have faith that maybe someday, in some small way, the problems they care about will be solved—or at the least reduced—because they gave.So in addition to saying “thank you” and sharing photos and stories that tug at the heartstrings, we need to provide facts.

For many organizations, the annual report has gone the way of the dinosaur, or at that least been relegated to a webpage about three dropdown menus removed from the home page. Producing the annual report was often the one thing that required us to ferret out the facts. So how many people did we feed? What progress did we make toward finding a cure? What can we point to that shows the impact our health clinic had on a community?

Truth be told, it was a pain to get all these facts together. It required reading grant applications and reports, and pleading with colleagues to provide the answers. But the end result was proof positive that our work had an impact, all bound in one report and (often) delivered right to the donor’s mailbox. I’m not against progress—but I am suggesting that we need to take what was good about the traditional annual report and marry it with what is awesome about today’s communication vehicles to deliver this important value to our donors because the only thing worse than never pulling together all that proof is pulling it together but not making it accessible so the donor can ingest it.

This old dog encourages you to check out Fidelity Charitable’s report and ask yourself, “So now what do I do differently as a result of reading this report?” You will be a truly effective fundraiser when you build lasting relationships with donors who love your cause—and love your organization for doing such a good job addressing it.

Originally published in NonProfitPRO.

Author: PJBarden

With a professional career in strategic fundraising that spans more than 35 years, Pamela brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to working with nonprofit organizations. She specializes in writing fundraising copy, grant proposals, P.R. materials, instructional articles and blog entries, as well as developing and executing fundraising strategy for her clients. Pamela is a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE); an instructor for UCLA Extension School’s Fundraising Certification Program and the University of La Verne, College of Business and Public Management; a frequent webinar speaker; and author of two online courses for UCLA Extension. Pamela earned a Doctorate of Business Administration in 2015; her doctoral project (dissertation) was entitled “Nonprofit Organizations’ Awareness of and Preparation for Legislation, Regulation, and Increasing Scrutiny.” She is a past winner of a Gold Award for Fundraising Excellence and an ECHO Award from DMA; recipient of a Distinguished Instructors Award from UCLA Extension; a weekly columnist for NonprofitPRO (formerly Fundraising Success); and a monthly contributor to Blackbaud’s blog, npEngage.

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