Fundraisers ‘leaving money on the table’

Penelope Burk
Penelope Burk

Donors are upbeat about giving to charity this year, but they are not giving as much as they could, and nonprofits need to do a better job keeping their donors and persuading them to make bigger gifts.

Those are some key lessons from a new survey by Cygnus Applied Research, a consulting firm headed by fundraiser Penelope Burk.

Among over 22,000 North American donors who responded to an online questionnaire, including over 17,600 from the U.S., 79 percent expect to give the same or more to charity in 2011 than they did in 2010, while only 7 percent expect to give less.

Donors under age 35 were most likely to say they would give more, says The Cygnus Donor Survey – Where Philanthropy is Headed in 2011.

And while they are giving less than older donors, it says, younger donors are “very willing to give more,” yet are “more likely to be overlooked than stewarded.”

And because nonprofits can spend only the net dollars they get from fundraising, the survey says, they need to improve their retention of donors and get them to give more, rather than increasing the number of donors who support them.

Eighty-give percent of donors responding to the survey have steadily supported at least one cause for five years or more, citing “reputation and trustworthiness” as key reasons they stay loyal.

But 53 percent also said “achieving and communicating measurable results” is an important characteristic of nonprofits that generate long-term support.

And while 69 percent of donors of all ages prefer electronic over print communication, any method of handling a gift will work “once donors have made the decision to contribute,” the survey says.

“It is the job of fundraisers to make the case for how electronic communication provides superior benefits to donors,” it says.

That includes access to more information, to more up-to-date information, and to more timely information, and especially a better return on investment on every gift.

Donors say what influences them more than anything else to give, and to give generously, is “being asked to give by a leadership volunteer.”

Yet among nearly 3,500 donors surveyed who also were current or recent board members, only one in three said their nonprofits required all board members to help raise money, only 39 percent received any kind of fundraising training, only 6 percent said their nonprofits had a budget to train board members, and only 18 percent said their boards evaluate their fundraising performance.

The bottom line is that fundraisers are “leaving money on the table,” the survey says.

Forty-nine percent of donors responding to the survey said they “could have given more to charitable causes last year and that they were holding their philanthropy back.”

That included 60 percent of donors under age 35, 49 percent of donors age 35 to 64, and 42 percent of donors age 65 and older.

“There seemed to be an opportunity to raise more money from every category of donor surveyed,” including the most generous givers in 2010.

And 40 percent of the most generous donors responding to the survey said they did not give as much as they could have given.

The opinions and advice of donors, or development’s “silent partners”, should be part of the discussion about fundraising, the survey says.

“It is their money, after all,” it says, “and it appears that they are willing to give even more under the right circumstances.”

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