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Study Reveals Communications Gap Between Mid-Level Donors, Nonprofits

Resource Center - Foundation

A new fundraising study shows that many mid-level donors fall into a communications "black hole," forgotten by the organizations they faithfully support, according to a press release by NextAfter.

NextAfter, a fundraising research lab and consultancy, made donations in the mid-level donor range—between $1,000 and $5,000—to 37 organizations across 12 verticals. Afterward, they monitored the emails, direct mail and phone calls received from these organizations for 90 days. Key findings included:

  • Only eight percent of organizations called to say thank you;
  • One-third of organizations never called their donor by name;
  • Only 31 percent of communication came from a real person; and
  • 49 percent of organizations never asked for a second gift.

In contrast, most nonprofits have standard procedures for responding to smaller gifts—usually email or direct mail—and larger gifts. Major donors typically receive a call from a representative of the organization; previous research indicates that a donor's second gift may be up to 40 percent more if he or she receives that thank-you call.

"Most organizations don't say 'thank you' nearly enough," said Tim Kachuriak, NextAfter's founder and the author of the study. "Start implementing the 'thank you, thank you, thank you' rule. Thank your donor at least three times for every gift. Give them a call, send them an email, and send them a letter. We have found that any organization, no matter its size, should be able to do this effectively."

Forty percent of the organizations studied stopped communicating after one month, and nine percent didn't communicate at all—not providing a gift receipt, appeal for more donations or new information about the organization. In other words, they provided no incentive to give again.

NextAfter received 224 messages after making the contributions, and only one percent of them came over the phone.  Twenty-one percent came via direct mail, and 78 percent came via email. About two-thirds of the email responses had the name of the organization—rather than a real person—in the sender line.

"People give to people—not organizations, fundraising programs or email machines," Kachuriak said. "Your fundraising is most effective when you stay focused on building personal relationships with your donors. If we show genuine interest in people we care about – and we should care about our donors – we should stop talking to them as if they're people we're trying to manipulate."

Interestingly, NextAfter conducted an experiment with one organization featuring two kinds of year-end email appeals for donations. The first was a long-form letter with an electronic signature from the organization's president, a well-known retired politician. The second shorter and more personal appeal came from the lesser-known director of membership.  It generated almost four times as much revenue as the email from the organization's president.

"For some reason, we often think that by sounding official, authoritative and wordy, people will be more motivated to give," Kachuriak said. "But donors are smart. They are receiving hundreds, maybe even thousands, of messages every day/week/month, and consequently they've developed a sensor that can detect anything that is trying to convince them to do something they don't want to do. People don't want to be marketed to. They want to be communicated with."

For the complete study, please visit

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