Donors Take Their Own Sweet Time

July 7, 2015       Patrick Sullivan      

It used to be that you’d mail a donor and the donor would mail you back. Increasingly, that’s not the case. Donors are “not obedient like they used to be,” said Jeff Brooks, creative director of TrueSense Marketing. “Now they have their own methods.”

Brooks shared donor trends with attendees of Fundraising Day in New York, hosted last month by the New York City chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals.

“We can’t measure as cleanly as we used to,” said Brooks, citing 5 to 20 percent of direct mail response happening online. Donors: get mail and give online; get mail, research online and give by mail; get mail, give by online bill pay or electronic funds transfer; and, get email, give by mail. “That’s the way it is now,” he said. “People are used to doing things the way they want to do it and not waiting for us to tell them how.”

This is good news, said Brooks. A donor who crosses distribution channels has the high response of direct mail donors and the high average gift of online donors. You need to make it easy for donors to cross channels, since they’re doing it anyway. Have a dedicated giving page and a big “donate” button on the homepage with lots of content about giving.

“A lot of folks won’t look up a URL,” said Brooks. “They will Google you and will land wherever Google takes them.” Give them a mailing address, and make sure everything is search engine optimized. You will also need to make sure your various channels’ messaging is aligned. They have to “seem to come from the same organization,” said Brooks. “You’re losing donors by not aligning your channels.”

The second trend, said Brooks, is that donors are consolidating their giving. Target Analytics’ donorCentrics index shows that revenue is up 13 percent and the number of donors is down 14.3 percent. Health organizations have been particularly hard-hit, according to Brooks. “Clearly, fewer people are giving more,” said Brooks. “You’ve got to make (donors’) short list.”

Special offers go a long way in helping donors feel engaged. Smile Train entices donors with the offer of $250 fixes a cleft palette. Spanish nonprofit Tree-Nation lets donors buy a tree of their choice to be planted. One dollar to Project Hope covers the shipping costs of $105 worth of medical supplies. “Those donors are in on the action,” said Brooks.

Brooks said to get away from the message that donors support your organization. “That’s not what donors want to do. Donors want to make something happen, live out their values in some meaningful way,” said Brooks. “When you just say, ‘Support us,’ you short-circuit that.”

You need to thank your donors, and quickly. “If you’re not sending a receipt in 48 hours, you’re missing the boat,” said Brooks. He doesn’t care about your organization’s excuses. “I understand the problems, but fix that. There’s a warm glow that happens after a gift that lasts for a while and then fades. If you wait a while, the good feeling goes away,” he said.

The final trend that Brooks discussed is that the majority of donors are baby boomers. “The boomers got old. They’re having grandchildren, retiring, joining AARP, doing what everybody does. Giving is a thing that comes with age,” he said.

About two-thirds of the donor population is boomers in 2015, said Brooks. Most of the rest are from the Silent Generation, those born between 1925 and 1945. By 2033, Gen-Xers will be the slight majority of the donor pool.

“These generations all have different characteristics but what’s really important to us is who’s 55 and older,” said Brooks. “They change things as they go along but the main thing is they get old enough to be in our donor pool.”

That said, boomers have some defining characteristics. The Silent Generation gave out of duty; “you just had to get in front of them with something that made sense to them,” said Brooks. Significance is more important than duty to boomers.

To engage donors, show them the difference they make. Brooks said does an excellent job doing so. When you fund a classroom project at a certain level, “You get a fat manila envelope full of thank-you letters from 30 kids who know your name and think you’re the coolest,” he said.

Finally, flawless service is the way to a boomer’s heart. “They’ve gotten used to it,” Brooks said. “A lot of industries figured out that if you bend over backwards, they will pour money all over you.” In fundraising, that means: spell their names correctly, give them credit for the correct amounts, remember if they’ve given in the past, thank them quickly and be responsive.