New donors are the lifeblood of nonprofit organizations. However, the challenge of finding, engaging and retaining them has only increased. Consider the following:
- In 2001, there were 855,095 registered 501(c)3 organizations. In 2005, that number was up to 1,045,979 — a 22 percent increase in five years (Giving USA 2005).
- The traditional post-World War II donor is aging out, and younger donors give differently than their parents and grandparents did. At best, 30 percent to 40 percent of new donors give again the following year.
- Direct mail, the most predictable method of acquiring large volumes of new donors, has seen cost increases — primarily in postage and paper, but also in higher list costs due to more overlap between lists.
Given all of this, we need to be thinking carefully about how we acquire donors and what we do to get them excited about our missions in order to retain them. This holds true for both traditional older donors and the younger ones who all organizations have been tasked with finding, but it’s particularly true with younger donors.
Where to find them
Different organizations have different definitions of “younger.” Is it anyone under 70? Is it boomer age and younger? Is it Gen X or Gen Y? Establishing your definition is the first step.
As we look for new markets of donors, we don’t want to forget the basics. List is still the most important element of an acquisition campaign. There are several list areas and other strategies we should be exploring:
- Expand out of fundraising lists. While response rate is lower, the prospects on commercial lists tend to be a little bit younger, give larger initial gifts and have strong retention.
- Don’t forget your own backyard. Many nonprofits have internal “stakeholders” who often are overlooked — advocates, volunteers, special-event attendees, book buyers, course participants, service recipients, etc. Not only will these stakeholders give, but their initial response rate and overall retention rate often are twice that of a cold prospect. They’ve heard of you, and they probably already like you.
- Response models can help. Response models can be very effective in identifying which stakeholders are more likely to convert to donors by identifying those who already are giving to other organizations.
- Special events attract a different type of donor. Hosting a special event is a great way to get people involved with your organization. Depending on the event, fundraising or friend-raising may be an important compon-ent. Younger donors like to get involved in an organization and want to spend time with their families. By involving them in an event where families can participate, you’re meeting their needs and helping to educate the next generation about philanthropy — which is very important for our organizations’ collective futures.
- Emergencies have their place. We all saw the outpouring of generosity after the tsunami and Hurricane Katrina in terms of financial contributions, goods collections and increased volunteer efforts. This kind of involvement is a result of news reports and the accessibility of information — and it engages people in philanthropy in many different ways.
- We can’t ignore the Web. Internet donors don’t behave the way traditional direct-response donors behave; they search for information before giving, and they tend to make fewer but larger gifts. They’re younger, they’re busy, and they’ll decide how and when they want to be engaged. Having a Web presence and drive-to-Web strategies will become increasingly important.
Regardless of the media, the organization’s message and relevance are important. Younger donors are interested in making a difference and in supporting an organization that makes a difference. They want substantive information — either online or in printed materials. They want to get involved — on their terms. They’re busy, and they safeguard the time they spend with their families and friends.
How to keep them …
Many of the tried-and-true strategies for keeping donors still are elevant for keeping younger donors. Particularly:
- Acknowledge gifts quickly. This is particularly important for new donors as the acknowledgment serves as reinforcement. A new-donor acknowledgment is a wonderful opportunity to provide additional information about the organization and to begin learning more about the donor and his or her interests.
- Honor donor requests. This is particularly true for online donors, who might opt out of receiving mail pieces, further e-mails, etc., in the future. Communicate to donors the way they want to be communicated to.
- Educate. This should take place in mail pieces and on the Web. While donors might give that initial gift for a specific reason, as they learn more they might find different reasons to give.
- Involve donors. Invite them to local events, ask them to volunteer (if appropriate), or ask them to advocate for you. Provide different opportunities for support. Introduce a monthly giving program or a donor-recognition program. Involve them in a “friend-get-a-friend” program.
- Be fully accountable. Have your financial statements readily available both on- and off line. In addition, communicate to donors how their gifts have made a difference — and be honest.
- Be sensitive to underlying events. This is particularly true of emergency-generated fundraising. This group of donors requires even more education in order to engage them, and there needs to be a strategy for when and how to “back off.”
The important thing to remember is that younger donors do exist, but they need to be engaged differently and are looking for a more meaningful relationship with nonprofit organizations. They may give differently than their parents and grandparents do, but they do want to give.
Maura Szendey is a senior account director of client services at SCA Direct in Fairfax, Va.