Committed Donors Are From Mars, Non-Committed Donors Are From Venus
“There are only two creatures of value on the face of the earth: Those with the commitment, and those who require the commitment of others.” — John Adams
There may be as many ways to segment and customize your file as there are ways to leave your lover, but the evidence mounts that the level of commitment a donor has for your organization may be the most important. Yes, ahead of R, F and especially M.
The reason is that commitment levels not only influence whether or not someone gets a communication, but also what you ask for and how you display the ask.
Surely you can't be serious, you say. Well, here's what we've seen so far (and don't call me Shirley):
Non-committed donors benefit from cultivation communications, but they hurt retention among committed donors. A nonprofit that will remain anonymous to protect the awesome randomized their new donors to one of three conditions:
- No additional no-ask cultivation touches
- Six additional no-ask cultivation touches
- 12 additional no-ask cultivation touches
First, the obvious result—no one really wanted 12 additional cultivation touches. And looking at the aggregated data, it looked like there was no difference between no cultivation and six cultivation pieces.
But wait! When you broke these data down by commitment level, those donors who were highly committed to the organization had their retention go down by nine points when they got six additional communications versus none. They said things like, “Stop convincing me; I’m already convinced.”
When you looked at low-commitment donors, the six additional communications corresponded to a 12-point increase in retention. They said things like, “I believe you do important work, but I actually don’t know you well.” The study is discussed in more detail here.
If a donor knows more about your nonprofit, they are less likely to donate to awareness efforts. Robert Smith and Nobert Schwartz asked subjects questions about what they had read about a charity, but there were two sets of questions: An easy one and a hard one. Thus, the people who got the easy set of questions thought they knew more about the nonprofit, and the people who got hard questions thought they were clueless.
Not surprisingly, people who “knew more” about the nonprofit were more likely to donate to its works. However, this result reversed when the charity was engaging in awareness activities; if a person thought they knew more about a nonprofit, they were less likely to donate to awareness.
Thus, your more committed knowledgeable donors want to donate to your direct mission activities, while your less knowledgeable donors are willing to support awareness efforts. The full study is here.
Sad faces work better in acquisition, and happy faces work better with committed donors. Xiaoxia Cao and Lei Jia tested what types of faces worked best in charity ads. They found that people who were highly psychologically involved with a nonprofit wanted to see happy faces, whereas those who weren’t as involved donated more if they saw sad faces. The study is here.
They believe this is because of how people think about their donation. If someone is a committed donor, the happy face indicates that their gift(s) have been effective; if someone is a non-committed donor, they need to see the need they are helping to solve.
These three studies, when taken together, indicate that not only do we not have all the answers to what is effective in fundraising, but that we don’t have all the right questions. Trying to answer, “Should I have a welcome series? Should I ask for awareness or mission activities? What type of picture should I use?” used to have a one- or two-word answer.
Instead, we would benefit from asking, “What communications will work for my committed donors? What communications will work for my non-committed donors?” Because all the evidence says that these two groups that we usually treat the same are very different.
Nick Ellinger joined the Moore, where he works to increase the automation and customization of fundraising as chief brand officer, in January 2020. Before that, he was DonorVoice’s vice president of marketing strategy, working with organizations like Catholic Relief Services, Share our Strength | No Kid Hungry, and the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Foundation to look at their fundraising with a different lens. He developed his direct fundraising muscle running Mothers Against Drunk Driving’s direct marketing program for a decade. He’s also the author of "The New Nonprofit" to challenge fundraising norms.