Donors Say They Have More to Give

In her fourth annual Cygnus Donor Survey, author, researcher and fundraising expert, Penelope Burk has found a lot to get excited about. 44% of Americans and Canadians she surveyed said they could have given more last year — and they offered clear advice about what it will take to unleash their philanthropy at a whole new level.

Young Donors Are Ready to Soar but Are Largely Overlooked

Donors are optimistic about their plans for giving in the next year, with 79% intending to donate the same or more to charity while only 7% plan to give less. But young donors are even more confident, it seems, and they are ready and willing to step up to the plate now. 46% of donors under the age of 35 intend to give more this year than last, compared with 29% of middle-age donors and only 15% of donors over the age of 65. But Burk cautions, “Attracting that untapped reserve means crafting solicitations and communications that appeal to the unique preferences of younger and older donors.”

The 2012 Cygnus Donor Survey confirmed what Burk has been noticing for several years – that young donors have a higher capacity to give and are very serious about being philanthropic, but that fundraising strategies designed for older donors are not resonating with young people. As well, fundraisers may be assuming that donors under 35 cannot give at higher levels instead of asking themselves if their own fundraising tactics are causing younger donors to hold back.

Young donors who are employed enjoy household incomes averaging over $74,000. They are open to giving to more causes, whereas middle-age and older donors are reducing the volume of not-for-profits they support. Young donors are also interested in giving to charities that work in areas under-funded by older donors, such as environmental causes. And, young donors are very willing to volunteer but are seldom asked to sit on Boards or volunteer in other esponsible ways. Since young people are more likely to give to organizations with which they are closely involved, voluntarism is an important door-opener to their untapped philanthropy.

American and Canadian Fundraisers Can Learn From Each Other

76% of Americans surveyed said they had been asked to join a monthly giving (sustainer) program and 29% indicated they were currently active monthly donors. (As members of a monthly giving program, donors agree to have their gifts automatically deducted from their account or charged to their credit card on a regular basis, usually monthly.) However, 94% of respondents in the Canadian edition of the Cygnus Donor Survey said they had been asked to give monthly and 49% are active monthly donors now. A higher comfort level with paying household and bills via automatic deduction accounts for some of the success that Canadian fundraisers enjoy with monthly giving, but they also invest time and effort in the program and approach its growth creatively. In order to convert as many young donors as possible, Canadian fundraisers have expanded their acquisition strategies to include “street fundraising” where young, energetic and well-informed solicitors engage their peers “on the street”, building support and finding new donors.

While monthly donors give far more generously and stay loyal longer than donors who make single gifts, the program may have one inherent weakness. Monthly donors are no more likely than single gift donors to consider moving their philanthropy up into the major gifts arena. Burk explains that the program’s design, which is a boon to charities’ immediate revenue, may be at the root of the problem. “It is easy to see the practical benefits of giving monthly, but the emotional, joyful sensation is simply not there when gifts are quietly deducted from a donor’s account or charged to his credit card. That thrill donors feel when they make the decision to give also motivates them to give as generously as possible.” She suggests that not-for-profits compensate by communicating results of what donors’ monthly gifts are achieving in measurable terms and inspiring them to want to give more by showing them what they have already accomplished.

Cygnus Survey Finds Hidden Potential in Fundraising Events

The Cygnus Donor Survey investigated donors’ views about participating in or sponsoring someone in athletic-type fundraising events such as walk-a-thons. Satisfaction with their most recent experience is very high with four out of five participants reporting that they would definitely or probably take part in the event the next time it is scheduled.

Burk was especially interested in learning whether event sponsors (the people who donate to help participants cover the event registration fee or fundraising goal) are good future prospects as direct donors themselves. “I am very excited about the potential for converting sponsors into donors,” she said, “especially when we compare this potential with more traditional ways in which new donors are acquired.”

On this subject, Canadian fundraisers could take a lesson from their American colleagues. 32% of event sponsors Cygnus surveyed in the US study had been asked to give directly to the not-for-profit that hosted the event, almost double the percentage of Canadian sponsors who had been asked. It appears that event sponsors are a worthwhile prospect group for more traditional fundraising appeals. Among event sponsors who have never been asked to give directly, 17% would definitely or likely make a gift if asked and another 14% might consider doing so. This compares very favourably with the 1% or 2% of prospects who give when purchased lists are used to acquire donors through direct marketing appeals.

About the Cygnus Donor Survey

The 2012 Cygnus Donor Survey solicited the views of more than 26,000 active American and Canadian donors. The full 74-page, downloadable report contains over forty recommendations for how not-for-profits can improve their fundraising this year. Separate reports highlighting the American and Canadian results are available directly from Cygnus at here.


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