To Be or Not To Be- Donor Loyalty

Is donor loyalty changing? It would appear to me that older generations were more consistent about their giving. An organization could count on a monthly gift from their regular supporters and these individuals would give for years and years. Is that different today? Younger generations seem to respond more to a one-time appeal than give to an organization for several years. I think of Haiti as a perfect example. It is great to see how much people are giving to Haiti, but they are mainly one-time gifts. Almost all of the individuals who are giving to Haiti will not continue an ongoing investment in rebuilding and changing the lives of people in Haiti. They are giving in response to an appeal, to a horrible disaster that happened.

When I look at Haiti as an example of the new kind of donor loyalty I’m not sure if I should be encouraged or discouraged. On the one hand it seems that people today are more aware of what is happening in the world and want to help to make a difference. However, sometimes it appears that people give according to the biggest giving fad. Whether it’s Save Darfur, the (RED) Campaign, LIVESTRONG, or many other names, donations seem to go in phases to these groups. How should we respond to this developing trend? Does the decline in donor loyalty impact they way that we thank one-time annual fund donors? Should we invest less in cultivating repeat donor gifts? It sometimes feels like every campaign appeal I send out is written to sound more and more urgent. Does there come a time when we will need to differentiate between urgent needs and operational needs?

I’d love to hear back from you as to whether you have observed this as a trend or if it is just me. Is your organization experiencing a decline in donor loyalty? Do you have a hard time holding onto your monthly or regular donors?

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3 Responses to To Be or Not To Be- Donor Loyalty

  1. Kerry Burke says:

    Hello, interesting observation you make on fundraising. And I agree with you on some points. Technology is making it much easier for us to donate one-time gifts (ie, texting to donate to Haiti Red Cross fund.) On the other hand, as technology becomes more prevalent and user-friendly, the competition for support becomes more fierce. What makes a particular cause resemble a ‘fad’ is it’s marketing appeal. Livestrong has Lance Armstrong’s money to support it, (RED) is endorsed by Gap, etc. We are a country with terminable ADD. We give without thought – if a Brad Pitt fan has a chance to make a call to a telethon and have him answer the phone, you bet they’re going to make that call. Ask that person the next week what their donation went to; I bet they can’t articulate it. But how much does that matter?

    This is why I believe there is a stronger need for major and planned giving now more than ever. Gifts that come from real relationships, long-term cultivation, and shared vision for the future of a particular organization can be transformational. Does that mean that we don’t need the one-time donor motivated by Brad Pitt’s pretty face to give their $10? Absolutely not — we still need those dollars, too, but those aren’t the donors we should be spending our time on.

    what our organization does is much more stewardship of the annual donor. So, for instance, if we send an appeal on a particular subject, we send a follow-up, information-only, letter to those donors to keep them informed of what they’re money did for the cause. Perhaps it’s more segmenting that’s needed in annual giving; if your letters are more urgent with every draft, maybe you should analyze your list closer to see where you can stop wasting time and money. Perhaps the donors with less loyalty will come back if you specifically target them with stewardship. If the Brad Pitt fan got a letter telling her what specifically her money did for the cause, do you think she would feel a sense of pride? I bet she would.

    thanks for the discussion.

    Kerry

  2. I think it’s often a reflection of how nonprofits didn’t previously have to be as responsive to external events or their donors’ shifting priorities. E.g., the Red Cross used to be able to say “we’re the Red Cross” and that was that; now, they have to prove they’re on top of the latest disaster, the best-qualified charity to address it, and continually update their supporters. The hard part, I think, is that when the media’s hyping an event or cause, charities involved don’t have to invest as much effort in communications. After the media moves on, the real cost of engaging supporters becomes clear, because charities aren’t benefiting from free publicity and they have to work harder to maintain supporters’ interest.

  3. I would expect the trend with the older generation being more consistent as donors is because of many conservative backgrounds. It’s no surprise that our society is becoming increasingly liberal in its views, and I bring this up because many conservatives were raised in the church by giving a tithe each month. I don’t mean to say this in a political sense, but it’s a well known statistic that church attendance is down in the past two decades.

    Another though with Haiti donations is that events that receive a great deal of publicity will always receive more. Maybe the younger generation is just looking for the next big thing they can support. This is a great way to promote giving, but I do think it’s important to remember the small charities, organizations and movements that are really struggling for funds.

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