A Fourth of Donors Plan to Give Less in 2023. Here’s How to Keep Them in the Fold.
Two recent surveys show that confidence in the economy is declining. A recent donor survey found that the share of donors who say they plan to give less this year than last year is the highest it’s been in three years.
Dunham+Company recently released its donor confidence survey, which in January polled people who had donated $20 or more in the past year. The good news is that 70 percent of donors said they plan to give the same or more than they did last year. But nearly a quarter of said they plan to give less.
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Two recent surveys show that confidence in the economy is declining. One found that the share of donors who plan to give less this year than last is the highest it’s been since 2020.
Dunham+Company recently released its donor confidence survey, which in January polled people who had donated $20 or more in the previous year. The good news is that 70 percent of donors said they plan to give the same or more than they did last year. But nearly a quarter said they plan to give less.
While the share of people who plan to hold steady or increase their giving remains high, the trend line is one of decline. In 2021, 80 percent planned to give the same or more, but that dropped to 76 percent in 2022, and then down to 70 percent this year. The nearly 25 percent of donors who plan to give less is the highest percentage recorded in the past three years — including the 2020 poll, which was taken in July, near the height of pandemic uncertainty and job loss.
“What the data is saying to me is that there is just a weakening of donor confidence,” says Rick Dunham, founder of Dunham+Company.
That economic concern is also reflected in a Gallup Poll conducted during the same time frame, but for the general public — not just donors. The poll found 50 percent of Americans said they were worse off financially than they had been a year ago. Gallup says the last time that many Americans felt worse off financially was during the Great Recession in 2008 and 2009.
In the survey of donors, people who said they plan to give less cited three primary reasons: personal finances (62 percent), the economy (17 percent), and inflation (16 percent). This changed from the 2022 survey, when 35 percent cited inflation as the reason they would give less, and 41 percent blamed personal finances.
“Last year, they were concerned about the impact of inflation,” Dunham says. “Now we’re seeing the evidence of the impact of inflation really damaging their financial situation.”
Income levels impacted donor perceptions on several questions. For example, among all donors, 26 percent said stock-market performance negatively impacted their giving. That figure shot to 33 percent for donors earning more than $100,000. For all donors, 32 percent said their household income negatively impacted giving. Among households earning $50,000 to $100,000, the share rose to 38 percent.
Finally, the survey found that donors are generally pessimistic about the economy. Just over half of donors (51 percent) said they were unsure about the economy or believed it would decline. Only 20 percent believed it would improve.
‘Lean In’ to Donor Engagement
With donors’ attitudes turning more pessimistic about their finances and the economy, fundraisers need to keep up their communication and give donors reasons to continue to give, Dunham suggests.
“They’re giving less, but they’re not stopping giving,” he says “This is the time to lean in even more proactively in donor engagement and donor cultivation. I would make sure that I double down on pulling together the stories of what donor support is making possible in people’s lives. I would make sure that I have clarity around my case for support.”
It’s also important to show the organization understands what’s going on economically and to speak to donors with empathy.
“You can say, ‘We realize that these are tough economic times, and you personally might not be in a position to give,’” Dunham says. “‘But if you can give, know that you’re standing in place for someone who can’t.’”
Nonprofits need to remember fundraising is a long-term endeavor, says Stephanie Schwartz, founder of the fundraising consultancy Little Bean Group. So communicating with donors often gives them more opportunities to get to yes.
“If the donor says they’re going to pull back or if a donor says no, they will come around eventually if you continue to hold them close and stay in touch,” Schwartz says. “This is a long game, even though it can feel painful and difficult in the short run.”
She says nonprofits should not let donor attitudes change their plans. “Goals need to be reflective of an organization’s needs and the financial reality on the ground,” Schwartz says. “If you’re constantly readjusting goals, you’re not actually able to be strategic and make progress on long-term goals and projects.”
Dunham agrees, adding, “Don’t let the economic headwinds become a self-fulfilling prophecy of decreased revenue for your organization.”