Young Donors are Different: What the Latest Research Means for Fundraisers

Young donors differ from other donors in many ways, and new research on their interests, preferences, and behaviors suggests several ways you can engage them more effectively. Penelope Burk, president of Cygnus Applied Research and the “Burk” in the annual Burk Donor Survey, talked to me about findings in her 2013 research that relate to young donors.

What Young Donors Support
Burk’s research shows that many young donors support human services (54%) and arts/culture (47%). Many people think of the environment as a favored cause for young people, but research doesn’t back that up. Only 21% of donors under the age of 35 supported environmental organizations, compared with 34% of middle-age donors and 45% of donors 65 and older.

What Appeals are Appealing
Young donors are far less likely to respond to direct mail appeals (31%) than donors age 35-64 (50%) and donors 65 and older (68%). They are much more likely to respond to online appeals and give electronically (49%) than middle-age donors (37%) or older donors (32%). Events are appealing to all age groups, Burk said. “Young donors are as interested in giving through fundraising events as older donors in the study. Events in which they can actively participate, rather than simply being guests, tend to be more popular with younger donors.”

Implications for Communications
Burk says the biggest difference between older and younger donors is their preferences for communications. “The youngest donors (under 35) appear to be less patient and they make decisions about what they will and will not read more quickly,” she said. “Young donors are more sensitive to getting too many emails and they are less forgiving of charities that send communications that appear to be uninteresting.”

Burk’s advice for fundraising appeals to young people: Get to the point. They say they are too busy to read a lot of text, so “make communications content (especially the first sentence) compelling enough to persuade young donors to take the time.”

Young donors have a decided preference for electronic over print communication. Only 3% of those receiving information online would have preferred to get a print piece in the mail, but 45% of those getting print currently say they would much prefer electronic communication. “Not-for-profits should make every effort offer their donors the opportunity to transition into electronic communication with every communication they send,” Burk said.

The Giving Potential of Young Donors
While some organizations overlook younger donors because of they currently give less than other donors, Burk’s research shows that young people can give more. In fact, 58% said they definitely or probably could have given more to charitable causes last year, a figure considerably higher than for older donors (42%).

“While the average gift value of young donors is much less than their middle-age or older counterparts,” Burk said, “it appears that either the tactics fundraisers use to acquire donors and renew their support are not reaching people under 35, or fundraisers are under-asking, assuming that young people cannot give more generously.”

Do these findings match up with what you’re seeing in your organization? How do you tailor your communications to younger donors?

Download a free executive summary of the 2013 Burk Donor Survey or purchase the full survey.

 

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