Useful Study Reveals Generational Differences in What Engages Donors

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A study released today by software company Abila (formerly Sage Nonprofit Solutions) contrasts the ideas nonprofits have about how to engage donors with what donors say actually makes them feel engaged. Further, it looks at generational differences in the preferences of the donors.

One of the points made in the study is that when nonprofits segment donors for a variety of approaches, it is often around only one data point, and that this is less than fully effective. Of course, the company that commissioned the study helps nonprofits use data to get better fundraising results.

The two foci of the study combine to lead to a finding that makes good sense but perhaps needs more exploration by nonprofits: Different generations have different preferences, and there may be some worth in segmenting donors by age, or at least in offering enough approaches to donor engagement to provide an open and welcoming way in for donors of every age.

For instance, it is only millennials who give higher marks to volunteering than for giving in terms of what makes them feel most engaged. All three other generational groups said they felt most engaged when they gave money. Boomers and “matures” are apparently more interested in updates than in participation in events or advocacy, which attract millennials and Gen Xers more readily.

Not surprisingly, the amounts given per individual go up with age, and reputation matters more with age, reinforcing the need to maintain the integrity of the organization as a major asset to be nurtured by all.

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It is interesting that the least liked methods of fundraising are phone calls and canvassing, followed closely by text/SMS and social media. Of these four channels, social media had, by far the highest marks among millennials with 72 percent expressing approval (against 66 percent for Gen Xers, 38 percent for boomers and 21 percent for matures).

Surprisingly, the highest marks across the board were given to radio or TV ads and direct mail, followed by peer-to-peer fundraising:

Figure 6

There are lots of valuable findings in the study, but one of the most useful may be a chart that contrasts how frequently donors want to be (or are willing to be) contacted through each channel against what nonprofits actually do.

Figure 8

If you find the bar on canvassing a bit unbelievable, I did query that, and was told it is accurate.

The study posed questions to 1,263 donors across all four generations and 206 nonprofit professionals involved in decisions around donor communications and engagement at organizations with annual revenues ranging from $1–$49 million.—Ruth McCambridge

  • Lindsay May – Sydney Australia

    Agree the bar on canvassing (if i understand the term Canvassing as doorknocking or face to face) seems odd.
    But what about the bar on Direct Mail. Is it correct that there was no Donor preference to recive Direct Mail?
    Odd indeed and opposes the findinsg in Fig 6 .

  • Ruth McCambridge

    the bar on that line indicate that preference and practice are aligned

  • Jenna Overbeck – Abila

    Hi Lindsay,

    Hopefully I can help clarify the figures for you. Figure 8 displays the preferences of donors who are ok being contacted in this way at least once in a while, overlaid with the frequency of the nonprofits we surveyed.

    In reference to direct mail both the nonprofit activity and donor preference of those who are at least ok with being contacted through that channel are aligned. That’s why you are seeing the yellow and blue overlap turning to a green. A majority of donors who were okay with receiving direct mail said the right amount was 2X per year or 2X per quarter, which is consistent with what we found in the activities of the nonprofits we surveyed.

    As for canvassing, I can confirm the data we show is what we heard from donors who were at least okay in being contacted through canvassing. The majority of those donors said the right amount of time for canvassing was 2X per year, 2X per quarter or 2 X per month. The shading is representative of where there was donor preference.

    Hope this helps!

  • Roderick Campbell

    This makes me wonder about the sample size and demographics. There’s a mountain of evidence that email drives the bulk of online giving and I find it somewhat hard to believe that millennials are more readily influenced by TV and radio marketing. Doesn’t match up with anything I’m seeing in the field (i.e. mail appeals and traditional media yielding lower numbers and email growing fast).

  • Jennifer

    So how often did donors want to be contacted by direct mail?

  • daniel donovan

    My word, how much passive voice can you use in one short article? This was not pleasant to read.

  • David Goettler

    This article reminds development professionals, once again, that each donor to our organizations is unique. They have unique perspectives and unique needs. This research is helpful in further defining and understanding evolving preferences of broad ranges of constituents.

  • David Goettler

    This article reminds development professionals, once again, that each donor to our organizations is unique. They have unique perspectives and unique needs. This research is helpful in further defining and understanding evolving preferences of broad ranges of constituents. http://www.goettler.com