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The New Proactive Donor

Resource Center - Foundation

(Aug. 10, 2010) The days when donors would give unconditionally to every charity that knocked on their door are gone for good, says fundraising veteran Penelope Burk. Her firm's recent research offers some clues into the mind of the modern donor.

The latest donor survey by Cygnus Research finds that in the age of information overload, there has been a marked shift in giving, paving the way for a new, independent donor. "They do their research online and make confident choices," Burk says.  "Fundraising needs to adapt to this proactive donor who won't be told when and how to give."

The following information and advice by Cygnus Research is adapted from a press release.

Younger Donors Support Fewer Charities

Three out of four donors said they could be inspired to give even more to charitable causes this year. While this is very good news for fundraisers, Burk says, she cautions that this dedication to philanthropy is not unconditional. Young and middle-aged donors referenced their growing preference for supporting fewer nonprofits. In fact, donors over 65 support twice the number of charities as donors between 35 and 64 and forty times the number of charities that donors under 35 years of age support. Nonprofits that rely heavily on high volume of donors rather than on high gift value will find it increasingly difficult to run profitable fundraising operations, Burk says.

Many Older Donors Giving Online

One out of every two donors will transact at least one gift online in 2010.  That figure rises to three out of four among donors under the age of 35.  Interestingly, among donors over the age of 65, one out of three will also give online this year, challenging the assumption that older donors still confine their giving transactions to older technologies.   

Young Donors Could Give More

Of all donors in the Cygnus Study, young donors (under 35) are the most optimistic about the future and the most willing to increase their giving over the next year. Furthermore, the amount of money they currently give is well below what their demographic profile and their own comments suggest it could be if fundraisers paid more attention to this younger demographic, Burk suggests.

Sixty-nine percent of young donors are academics, managers or entrepreneurs; 52 percent of those between 25 and 34 years of age (those less likely to still be in college) have household incomes over $70,000; and 70 percent are not supporting dependents. "Young donors are also willing but under-utilized volunteers at a decision-making level," says Burk. Only 17 percent have experience on boards of directors, versus 46 percent of survey respondents 35 years of age or older.  "Boards need a strong voice from younger donors and volunteers in order to bring new ideas to the table, to help nonprofits adapt to new technologies and to communicate in ways that resonate with this generation."

Over-Solicitation and Cost of Fundraising Are Big Concerns

According to survey respondents, nonprofits could raise more money by asking less often. This may seem like a contradiction, but 72 percent of donors said they now drop charities or give less than they could to those that over-solicit. This can be a dilemma for fundraisers who wrestle with the question, "How often is too often?" According to Burk, "Ensuring that meaningful information on their past contributions is always provided to donors before asking again, improves donor retention and gift value (i.e., increases profit) while limiting the number of solicitations (reducing cost.) This is a win/win for both charities and donors."

And, what is that "meaningful information" that donors want?  According to the survey, 73 percent of respondents are more likely to favor giving to nonprofits that provide them with "measurable results on what has been or is being achieved with donors' contributions." Donors have been citing this issue as a primary concern for several years, says Burk. "Failure to receive measurable results on their gifts-at-work" remains the number one reason why they stop giving or give less than they could.  "Nothing is more important than getting this right," she says. "It's the key that unlocks the door to sustainable fundraising, regardless of the economy."

The 2010 Cygnus Donor Survey surveyed 8,000 Americans and 7,000 Canadians of various ages and giving levels. The Executive Summary of the survey (U.S. edition) is available as a free download until this Friday, Aug. 13 by clicking here.

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