Vets, Kids Lead Donors’ Giving Choice

March 13, 2015       Paul Clolery      

Direct mail donors age 35 and older when given $100 to donate among 10 charities categories would most likely give a majority of the money to either a veterans group or to kids in poverty. And, that predisposition was across the political spectrum from conservatives to moderates to liberals.

The belief that too much of the money would go to overhead costs was ranked at the top of the list by respondents as the reason they would not give. Also on that list but at the bottom was the belief that a small gift would have little or no impact.

Those are some of the results of a study called The Donor Point of View: A Survey of Direct Mail Donor Attitudes. Infogroup Nonprofit Solutions surveyed online people who said that they have given to a direct mail appeal during the previous 12 months. The idea was to measure donors’ attitudes regarding charity missions and elements of direct mail appeals. The point was to attempt to quantify the effects of ask level and free gift (premium) on the amounts consumers donate when receiving a mailed request for a charitable contribution.

Each respondent, U.S. adults age 35-79, saw and responded to only one presentation with random assignment to exposure condition. A total of 2,905 self-administered online interviews were completed – approximately 240 per condition.

The respondent mix was 51.3 percent female and 48.7 percent male ranging from age 35 to age 79. The largest segments of respondents were 55-64 (33.1 percent) and 65-74 (28.3 percent).

The annual income started at $50,000, with 62 percent of respondents reporting income of $50,000 to $149,999. Only 10.6 percent of respondents had a high school diploma or less education. College graduates were the majority at 37.4 percent, followed by some college courses at 29.3 percent and a post-graduate degree at 22.7 percent.

Respondents broke down into three self-reported groups: 41.4 percent moderate, 38.7 percent conservative, and 19.9 percent liberal.

Older donors thought a small gift would do little. The responses showed that donors 55 and older should be told how multiple small gifts add up over a year and that emphasis should be placed on how efficiently funds are used, according to Don Austin, director analytics at Infogroup.

The majority of respondents didn’t care who signed the direct mail appeal’s letter (43.8 percent). A person who has been a recipient of the organization’s services (27.1 percent) was the next most popular answer. A member of Congress signing the letter came in dead last at 3 percent. Senior organizational leadership fared only slightly better than a member of Congress at 7 percent.

There was a clear demographic difference regarding signers. Males were more likely to be impressed by a well-known outside figure whereas female donors wanted to hear from service recipients, said Austin.

First-time donors might be willing to give an average $137.10, according to the respondents. Those with the greatest wealth, income of $150,000 or more, projected an average first gift of $219.64. Interestingly, the group with the least income — $50,000 to $74,999 — was not projected to give the smallest first-time gift. The $106.17 average gift of that group was more than the $101.07 averaged for the income group $75,000 to $99,999.

Respondents were given 10 potential areas of support from health to public radio to wildlife and religion. Sending bibles overseas was much more important to donors 65 and older. (See accompanying chart.)

Political outlook might have less impact than expected on a donor’s willingness to give. Assuming that you know response based on the political leanings of donors and prospects might be incorrect. According to Austin, the study shows across the board support of the mission connects with people.

How They’d Give

The youngest donors sampled (35-44) were the largest group willing to give online in response to a direct mail appeal at 17 percent. It drops significantly as the donors get older, all the way down to 4 percent for donors age 75-79. The youngest group is writing checks, too, at 53 percent. That increases with age to 76 percent for donors 75-79. Austin cautioned that there is a slight online bias since the survey was done online.

For all donors, giving by mail with a check was 67 percent and by mail with a credit or debit card was 17 percent. Online response to direct mail overall was 12 percent. Those self-identifying as liberal were most likely to respond online to a direct mail appeal at 16 percent, with moderates at 11 percent and conservatives at 9 percent.

To avoid respondent confusion and possible copyright violations, the test was executed as a simulation of real-world direct mail campaigns. The simulated direct mail appeals were for three missions — disabled veterans, cancer research and food for children in poverty. There was a straight appeal and one with a premium of name labels. There were also two ask strings: $5, $10, $15 or $20 and $15, $20, $35 and $50.

Veterans charities not only had the highest response rate but those polled said the ask string was too low for both the direct appeal and the label premium.

The responses in some cases did not mirror previous results tracked from actual donors. For example, these donors were not highly motivated by the premium of free return address labels. “What donors think of their own action, even thinking a more considered choice, is different than decisions actually made in real life,” said Stephanie Ceruolo, vice president, major markets account development, at Infogroup Nonprofit.

One of the key takeaways, said Austin, is that respondents’ answers to why they would not donate shows that “where money goes really is important to donors.” He also said that the reaction that small gifts don’t mean much is not the case in real life. “I don’t think very many people think that way,” he said.

The results did prove that branding is vital to obtaining a new donor. “A person making an impulse donation is likely much greater to give to a top five (of choices given) rather than bottom five types of missions,” said Austin.

“It’s top of mind or as we say top of wallet. Churn donors are motivated by a premium. In acquisition there are more discrepancies on how you acquire the donor (and what they say).” For a lot of donors, “it’s not a thoughtful gift,” said Ceruolo.

The survey shows that if they know you and are thinking about it, the initial gift can be substantial. Saving endangered wildlife ranked seventh when respondents were asked to rank charities to which they would give. But when it came to giving amounts it had the third largest average gift across educational levels.

To see the complete report, go to http://bit.ly/1B58ZSD

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