What Makes Donors Tick—and Donate?

Nonprofit organizations lose 57% of donors—or more than $25 billion in donations—each year, according to new data from Abila. But it’s not just dollars that marketers are letting slip down the drain—it’s also data. The nonprofit software provider found that 74% of nonprofits can’t or don’t use donor data to make program decisions. The reason? Engagement.

What makes donors tick? What channels do donors like best? How differently do donors behave depending upon their generation? These are just some of the questions Abila’s “Donor Engagement Study—Aligning Nonprofit Strategy with Donor Preferences” report looks at. The study, which polled 1,263 U.S. donors and 206 nonprofit professionals, looks at how donors actually engage with organizations versus how nonprofits think donors engage with them. It also compares the attitudes, values, and practices of donors and the nonprofit community to ascertain where they align and where differences and gaps emerge.

“In many ways, donors and organizations are on the same page,” said Rich Dietz, director of fundraising strategy for the software and services provider and the study’s co-author. “However, we’re seeing a number of areas where donors and nonprofit organizations are misaligned, especially around communication frequency. Donors want the organizations they support to execute well on the fundamentals, and they want organizations to better understand them as individuals: their specific interests, communication preferences, and even the time and way they prefer to give.”

Key findings include:

Fundamentals are essential for nonprofit organizations. If fundamentals aren’t being executed by organizations, there’s no strategy that will make a difference. Fundamentals can be seen by clicking on the image below.

Donors and organizations are misaligned on communication frequency. More often than not, organizations believe that they’re not communicating enough with donors; contrastingly, donors believe the top organizations they support are communicating adequately. As seen in the figure below, nonprofits are 10 times more likely than donors to feel they lack in the communications department.

Critical content is more important than frequency or channel. Monetary contribution is the main thing that makes donors feel involved with an organization, but it’s not the only thing. Rich content is essential to keep donors engaged. Hearing personal stories, getting updates on accomplishments, and being thanked make donors feel far more involved than the actual channel through which they were engaged.

Age/generational engagement is a missed opportunity. Few respondents are actually targeting donors by age. The study indicates that there are big differences in communication and engagement preferences by generation, which, when used strategically, can improve relationships and drive greater engagement.

About half of the organizations surveyed fail to leverage donor preferences. Just slightly more than half (52%) of donors surveyed feel that the organizations they support take their preferences into account when communicating or lobbying for donations. Most nonprofits only use a single data point—donation amount—to drive communications with donors. Nonprofits are missing the opportunity to connect beyond the amount donors give by using other information donors willingly provide to develop deeper relationships.

“We do many studies looking at donor attitudes, values, and behaviors, but never before have we been able to do an apples-to-apples comparison with nonprofit perspectives,” said Pam Loeb, principal at Edge Research, the firm that conducted the study on behalf of Abila. “The good news is that nonprofit professionals generally have a good grasp on the donor mindset, but there is a disconnect around frequency and other key points that can make a significant difference in their ability to put resources to their mission. Conventional wisdom is the more you ask the more you get—but at what cost?”

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