Qgiv recently released a very important study which was based on data they received from both fundraisers AND donors. Both sides of the table!

A few weeks ago I posted some lessons and insights from the data obtained from fundraisers. Today we’re going to learn how donors view our sector and what we can learn from that.

The Giving Tree

  • Data point: Over half of donor respondents give less than $500 per year.
  • Data point: Almost half of donors had to cut giving.

My take: Unfortunately too many nonprofits ignore their “small” donors. After all, there are greater returns in getting million dollar checks than a check of $250.

Let’s say that’s so. Please look at your donor database. How many small donors do you have vs. million dollar donors? My guess, you have many of the former and none of the latter. Does it still make sense to ignore small donors?

We as a sector need to work on retaining as many donors as possible year after year. That includes small donors, especially since in a recession they’ll continue to give whereas midsize and large donors may pull back.

The fact that almost 50% of donors have cut their personal giving is no shock. We’re in a recession right now. Here’s the challenge for you:

Will you cut ties with those donors who can’t give as much or at all this year? Or will you show empathy and understanding for those donors’ financial situations and stay connected and continue to develop the relationship?

I have a feeling that many nonprofits will simply cut ties. Hey, they didn’t donate this year. Forget about em!

Sigh. Wrong answer.

As year-end campaigns approach, know that some people who used to give may not be able to give this year. Let them know that you appreciate their past gifts, you understand their current situation and you will continue to update them about the work your organization is doing.

I guarantee you’ll be at the top of their gift list when they’re financially able to do so.

Be Open

  • Data point: Over half of donors have seen organizations mention inflation/tough economic times in their fundraising and marketing materials.

My take: Excellent!

Just like everyone else, your operation costs have gone up. Supplies cost more, rent is up and more.

Your job? Explain the greater need to your supporters. Tell them that rising costs for programs and more are cutting into your overall budget.

They’ll understand and come through.

The Revolving Door

  • Data point: Of those who noticed it, 60% of donors are concerned about turnover.
  • Data point: 27% believe NPO staff should receive no or below average compensation. 56% believe they should receive average compensation.

My take: The above two points may not seem connected but holy heck they are.

As a sector we like to keep salaries low. Ridiculously low. And if you’re a female fundraiser (70% of all fundraisers are) you’re making 22% less than your male counterparts.

The result: Fundraisers are always looking for a new job to try and make a few thousand dollars more. Fundraisers are moving jobs every 18 months on average and a large part of that is due to low salaries.

We’re our own worst enemy.

Know what happens when your organization has a revolving door of fundraisers? It’s hard to build relationships with donors. No wonder 60% of donors are worried about this issue!

Donors don’t like meeting a new fundraiser every 18 months. They will go elsewhere which hurts retention which means lost revenue which means panicked ED’s and Boards which means more stress for fundraisers which means more fundraisers looking for a new job which means donors have to start dealing with a new fundraiser which means… and the revolving door continues.

Part of the problem is how we frame overhead to donors. We’re so worried about keeping it as low as possible that we advertise how low we keep overhead.

Does your organization publicize something like “100% of every dollar donated goes to programs” or “only 1% of our budget goes to management and general?” You’re basically letting supporters know you keep overhead as low as possible.

That overhead includes salaries.

We’ve so conditioned donors to look for nonprofits with low overhead that 27% of donors believe NPO staff should receive no or below average compensation.

That’s madness!

And what is “average compensation?” Average to what? The salaries in the for-profit world or the salaries in the nonprofit world?

This is another self-inflicted wound. We keep telling donors how low we keep overhead and they’ve become used to the fact that NPO staff should be underpaid (in comparison to for profit biz).

Good job sector- we turn our staff into beneficiaries of our organizations!

The time has come to reframe the overhead discussion. As one CEO of a large umbrella organization told me, “the only overhead I have is the ceiling above my head.”

The time has come to let donors know that staff are not overhead. They are integral to your nonprofit being able to run programs, help people in the community, impact those who need it most.

You can’t fundraise without them. Can’t post on social media without them. You can’t run events without them.

The time has come to start asking donors to help contribute to salary costs. Your staff are experiencing the same higher prices at the supermarket and gas station as your supporters. Your staff needs to pay their bills!

If that sounds like something that would make some donors cringe, then stop talking about overhead. Talk about the cost to keep the lights on in the office, to fundraise, to market, to run programs.

Reframe the conversation so instead of this negative term “overhead” we are now focusing on the positives.

Building Trust
  • Data point: Over 80% of donors think the organizations they donate to are trustworthy.
  • Data point: 58% of donors believe the overall sector is trustworthy.

My take: The 58% data point matches the latest data on whether people trust nonprofits or not.

But if it’s only 58% we have a LOT of work to do!

At the same time the overwhelming majority of donors believe that the ones they support are trustworthy.

Which says to me there’s a little cognitive dissonance on the part of donors: “The ones I donate to? Of course they’re trustworthy! Those other organizations? I don’t trust them as much.” Donors want to think they know who they give to and can trust them. Because if they didn’t, they’d feel they’re wasting their donor dollars.

Your organization plays a large part in making donors feel comfortable supporting your mission. Consistent and constant communications. Sharing with them the impact of their gifts. Sharing stories. Educating them. Providing value for supporting your organization.

Do that and you will have built trust. The more trust they have in you and your ability to carry out your mission, the longer they’ll remain a supporter.

Pretty sure that’s what we’re after!

Download and learn from the full Qgiv Sustainability Giving Report