News and analysis
November 15, 2012

Donors Frustrated by Ways Charities Appeal and Follow Up

Many charities are losing support because they don’t take full advantage of the ways donors want to give, volunteer, and advocate on a nonprofit group’s behalf, two new studies suggest.

For example, 40 percent of American donors under the age of 35 said they have used a mobile phone or other device to make a text donation to charity, and half of donors of all ages said they use cellphones to browse charity Web sites and e-mail messages. But only about a third of American charities have enabled their Web sites for mobile viewing, and fewer still have resized their e-mails so they can be more easily read on hand-held phones.

Those are some of the findings in a survey released this week by Blackbaud, the fundraising-software company.

Not making Web sites and e-mails accessible on mobile devices “can make it really hard to make a donation with a mobile phone, and this is more of a problem for younger donors,” said Dennis McCarthy, the company’s vice president for strategy.

Giving in U.K and Australia

The survey examined how more than 1,300 donors in the United States and similar numbers of donors in both Australia and the United Kingdom say they give and want to help a charity.

Gaps between what charities do and what donors want were just as prevalent outside the United States.

For example, donors in the United Kingdom who make their donations by check give twice as much, on average, as those who give via direct debit from their bank accounts. But most charities in the United Kingdom stress giving by direct debit.

Why Donors Stop Giving

Nearly 28 percent of American donors said they had stopped making regular contributions to a charity. The second most frequently reported reason for doing so, after a change in the donor’s personal finances, was “a feeling that the charity was not making the best use of its financial resources,” the survey found.

When asked what would prompt them to make repeat contributions to a charity they had given to only once before, donors said the top motivators would be improved personal finances and passion for the organization’s work.

Another top motivator cited by donors was “access to information that proved the impact of their contributions.”

Yet many donors never hear anything from charities they support, according to another survey of 1,022 contributors. More than 20 percent of donors said that they had never been thanked, according to the study conducted by NTEN, a group for people involved with nonprofit technology, and Charity Dynamics, a consulting firm that advises nonprofits on online marketing and fundraising.

Donors said they give nearly 70 percent, on average, of the money they contribute to nonprofits every year to a “favorite charity.” For that reason, the researchers said, nonprofits should make becoming their donors’ favorite charity an objective, along with recruiting new donors and meeting annual dollar goals. And they should use donor surveys to measure whether they achieve that status.

In addition to giving, significant percentages of donors in the survey said they also volunteer for their favorite nonprofit organization at least once annually (36 percent), participate in its special events (32 percent), raise money on its behalf (29 percent), sign its petitions (27 percent), contact elected officials by phone or e-mail to further the nonprofit’s goals (20 percent), and share personal stories about the cause with others (18 percent).

A majority of the donors rated each of those activities as easy to do. “More people than we expected were willing to be an extension of the organization,” said Donna Wilkins, president of Charity Dynamics.

Appealing to Different Ages

Age differences seem to play a big role in the kind of involvement donors want.

Donors under 50 were more likely than older donors to seek gifts for their favorite charity. Donors aged 30 to 49 were more likely than people of other ages to share personal stories about their favorite cause and to contact elected officials. And donors under 40 were more likely than older ones to volunteer, participate in special events like marathons and galas, and sign petitions.

Those findings suggest that fundraisers should think differently about how their organizations interact with people of different ages, said Ms. Wilkins.

While it’s easy for fundraisers to concentrate on older donors who tend to have more disposable income, they should also pay some attention to the ways younger donors are willing to help by fundraising and providing other types of help, Ms. Wilkins said.

Nonprofits, she added, need to focus on “people’s social capital as well as their ability to give.”