Study Shows First-Time Online Donors Often Do Not Return
March 18, 2009, The New York Times — People who go online to donate to charity for the first time often do not return to the Internet to make later gifts, according to a new study examining the experience of 24 nonprofit groups.
The findings suggest that while the Internet can be a valuable fund-raising tool for charities, particularly in soliciting gifts after disasters like Hurricane Katrina, it is not a replacement for direct mail or other forms of fund-raising.
“Online giving is higher than offline giving, and the demographics of online givers are more attractive — better educated, higher income,” said Tobias Smith, director of online communications at CARE, which took part in the study and works on issues faced by poor women. “But how you get people to routinely give online is a nut no one has yet cracked.”
The study was done by Target Analytics, a unit of Blackbaud Inc., which provides software and services to nonprofit groups.
Of those who did make additional gifts after an initial online donation in 2006, according to 12 organizations offering data in January, 37 percent never gave another gift via the Internet, while 18 percent gave electronically in one year and through other channels in another.
Charities have been using the Internet for fund-raising for more than a decade with mixed results.
“People are asking us all the time why we don’t reduce mailing costs and save paper with online fund-raising, but the simple fact is that people come online to give a gift once and don’t repeat,” said Jennifer Tierney, development director at Doctors Without Borders in New York, which took part in the study.
The 24 nonprofit organizations had 9.5 million donors and total revenues of $747 million.
Charity fund-raisers offered several possible explanations for the study’s findings. Many donors using the Internet to make their first gift to an organization are responding to a disaster like the Asian tsunami or Hurricane Katrina, and those givers may not be interested in supporting a group’s continuing work.