Article
April 27, 2015

Charities Ignore Donor Preferences, Study Says

Donors and the nonprofit organizations they support financially have different views on optimum fundraising and communication practices, and that disconnect results in lost donations, a new study has found.

Nonprofits were 10 times more likely than donors to say that their organizations are not communicating enough with supporters, while donors regard the information they receive from charities as adequate or, in many cases, far too frequent.

The study, which also examined differences among four generations of donors, found that most charities use only one piece of information — how much each person contributes — to shape the communications their supporters receive while ignoring other important factors.

About 55 percent of millennial donors, ages 18 to 34, said that text messages from charities were desirable or acceptable once in a while. That percentage declined with age. Forty-two percent of Generation X donors, ages 35 to 50; 24 percent of baby boomers, ages 51 to 69; and 9 percent of seniors, 70 and older, approve of text messages.

And while nearly 80 percent of millennials said they would welcome or accept occasional thank-you gifts from charities they support, fewer donors in each successive generation said so, with only 48 percent of seniors open to getting thank-you gifts from the charities they support.

Despite such age differences, only 34 percent of nonprofits in the survey said they tailor solicitations and communications with donors to their age.

The research, conducted by Edge Research for Abila, a software company working with North American nonprofits, surveyed 206 nonprofit officials involved in efforts to engage donors in their organizations and more than 1,250 adults who give to charities.

When asked what matters most in making giving decisions, the top priorities among donors of all ages were knowing their money is used wisely (71 percent), feeling that organizations they support have a good reputation (69 percent), having a strong belief in the organization’s mission (68 percent), and believing that their support makes a difference (53 percent).

Donors said they feel most engaged with charities through the act of giving money, with only millennials putting volunteering slightly ahead of financial support.

Donors also indicated that certain types of communications — personal stories, updates, and thank-you notes — made them feel more involved with charities than advocacy work or participating in athletic events, buying products or responding to appeals at check-out counters, or being involved in networking events and other social functions. And receiving personal stories and updates and thank-yous did more to enhance donors’ feeling of involvement with charities whether the communication came by social media, text, or email.

With other research showing that charities lose about 60 percent of their donors in any given year, the study offered some recommendations on how to improve relations with supporters and increase fundraising returns:

Provide information that donors want. Focus on personal stories, updates, and thank-you notes. Those are more important than adding a new social-media channel, which can be a distraction.

Tailor fundraising appeals. When planning pitches and other communications, look beyond how much donors give and consider their age and factors, like how they want to be contacted.

Use communication channels appropriately. Recipients of texts and phone calls expect personal communications, the study found. For that reason, charities should be \ specific and detailed, talking about each donor’s giving history and preferences, when using those methods. 

Send an email to Holly Hall.