Slicing Donors’ Age Nearly In Half

The Nature Conservancy entered into the face-to-face fundraising realm,  fresh off the economic downturn. The downturn exposed the Arlington, Va.-based organization’s heavy reliance on direct mail and the need for building onto its list universe with a younger base.


Less than 10 percent of the organization’s direct-mail base was younger than 50, with the average age being 67, Jaclyn Teffeau, senior manager of annual giving retention, told fundraisers assembled in Washington, D.C. for the recent Direct Marketing Association Nonprofit Federation conference. TNC’s first rollout of a face-to-face marketing campaign, from 2011 to 2013, showed glimmers of hope, but ultimately failed. Financial output wasn’t seeing returns. Retention stood at just 6 percent. One monthly donor was being secured for every four one-time supporters.


The organization considered a variety of steps forward for a rebound, including a move from a mix of street and door-to-door canvasing to a primarily door-to-door operation. A paper pitch card that was previously handed out was replaced by a menu of different places prospective donors could protect along with specific threats, tangible ways of helping and information on the benefits of monthly giving.


Onboarding was expedited. Tablets and online processing were used to sign up new donors and a welcome process launched within 10 days of a donor being added to a file. Video content was found to be effective, so new members of TNC’s online community were greeted with invitations to vote on content and participate in surveys. Overall, the tone shifted — from the work that TNC does to donors being the true rock stars.


The efforts have worked, according to Katie Valvo, the organization’s director of monthly giving.  TNC has managed to flip its one-to-four ratio between monthly and one-time donors to four-to-one in favor of monthly supporters. The organization has been successful in securing younger donors, with the average canvass-acquired donor being 35. With a new means of attracting a younger audience, TNC expects its average donor age to continue to drop in the coming years.


First-year retention for canvass-acquired donors stands at 45 percent. Valvo said that TNC will test phone surveys and welcome calls in an effort to increase first-year retention up over half.