Donors: Their Cheating Hearts …

April 22, 2016       Andy Segedin      

In hindsight, you should have seen it. It was months without contact. They appeared on others’ lists. They only wear that T-shirt you sent them when they’re hanging around the house. Your supporters are donating to other organizations.

The average donor has given to three charities in the past year, according to a study entitled “Your Donors Are Cheating On You!” by Infogroup Nonprofit Solutions. The Papillion, Neb.-based data, analytics and marketing service provider randomly selected 900,000 households that have given to one of nine charities within the past 24 months. Three of the organizations were categorized as Catholic social service organizations, two each were defined as social service organizations or charities with a focus on a specific disease. Veterans’ charities and nature organizations were represented by one group each.

The sample of organizations was chosen to create a representative group, according to Jeff Howard, an Infogroup statistician who co-analyzed the report. Information stemmed largely from direct-mail operations. The data showed that:

* Organizations saw between 68.6 percent and 80.7 percent of target donors give a gift to either the organization or a charity in its category during the past 12 months. The environmental organization represented the high-end, while the veterans’ charity finished at the bottom;

* Social services, Catholic social services, children’s health and veterans’ services organizations were all contributed to by about 20 percent of “out of category” donors. Political organizations performed worst in this regard, failing to average 5 percent;

* Just 31 percent of donors’ total amount contributed goes to their prime category, defined as “share of wallet.” The environmental organization marked a high of 46.5 percent, while social service organizations posted the two lowest percentages, 26.4 and 27.5; and,

* In the nine-charity sample, there were 30 instances in which at least 7.5 percent of donors’ dollars went out of category, an average of 3.3 per charity.

The study was born out of conversations with clients, according to Howard. While fundraisers might have a strong sense as to how a donor interacts with an organization, there is often little known about where else they donate and what that behavior looks like. Building further off of that idea, the data shows how the donors of one category relate to organizations of similar and differing missions.

Reasonable assumption indicates that donors generally have at least one out-of-category cause in their giving portfolio, said Stephanie Ceruolo, vice present and general manager at Infogroup. The belief is based on the fact that the average donor in the study gave to three charities within the past year and some categories receive as much as 20 percent of out-of-category donors. Howard concurs, adding that the findings reflect a natural donor response.

“I think what we’re observing is, to some extent, a somewhat natural phenomenon, meaning that I don’t think most donors are motivated to only donate to one organizations or one type of organization,” Howard said. “But it’s also influenced by the way marketing programs are executed. To some extent, if you’re never offered or provided an opportunity to respond to mailings, you aren’t likely to become a donor.”

Donors “cheating” on organizations shouldn’t to be thought of as good or bad, Howard added, but rather simply a reality of charitable solicitation. Some organizational marketers must already understand this, he said, otherwise list sharing wouldn’t be as popular. Fundraisers would be far less likely to share lists if there was a notion that donors only give to one charity or charity type.

Understanding where else current donors are giving and where potential donors might be located is a twist on a common strategy in the for-profit realm. “If I am selling a good, I have competitors,” Howard said. “This would be helpful to know who I have affinities with and who I am competing with. It would point me into some directions where I might have affinities and where I might find new donors and what things I might consider if I might potentially grow my share of wallet.”

To view the full report, visit here.

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