It’s a good study, but don’t believe everything it says

There’s a recent study out from Convio that’s worth a look: The Next Generation of American Giving (PDF; registration required).

Basically, it tells us Pay attention to online fundraising. Which is absolutely sound and correct. If you aren’t doing at least some of your fundraising online, you are setting yourself up for a world of hurt within a few short years.

But the study has two very serious flaws that limit its real-life usefulness:

1. It relies on self-reported data.

Anyone who has compared what donors tell us in surveys and focus groups to actual response data is familiar with the gap between what they say and what they do. Self-reported data can give you hints at what’s going on with people, but if you want to know the truth — as opposed to people’s wild guesses — go with solid response data. Nothing else will do.

2. It spends a lot of time looking at the giving behavior of young people.

This data can send you down some very scary garden paths. Looking at people in their 20s and 30s is almost entirely a waste of time that reveals pointless and confusing information. Because young people are not the audience for fundraising. Their habits and opinions pretty much meaningless in our world. Studying young people is like studying newts to understand the behavior of crocodiles; there might be some connections that yield insights, but it’s not the richest area of study.

I still recommend you read the study, there’s good stuff in it. Just take you read with a grain of salt. I’m with The Agitator’s comment on the study:

Hopefully most direct response fundraisers will follow the reality presented by their own hard data. For virtually all nonprofits, their actual giving data will continue to justify strong investment in direct mail programs … even as they begin to see their online giving ramp up.


Comments

10 responses to “It’s a good study, but don’t believe everything it says”

  1. FMischler Avatar
    FMischler

    It seems the harsh approach to considering fundraising among 20s/30s is overdone. If all actions are focused on getting the next dollar in the door, then maybe you have a point, to a limited degree. But development is not just getting the next buck in the door. That devalues the development professional and their work to ethically and properly help donors and organizations find the best place for the donated funds. Solidifying relationships now with younger donors turns them into the major givers of the future. Certainly you know that. “Entirely a waste of time” seems to do your readers a disservice that could actually harm their long term interests in fundraising and relationship building.

  2. FMischler Avatar
    FMischler

    It seems the harsh approach to considering fundraising among 20s/30s is overdone. If all actions are focused on getting the next dollar in the door, then maybe you have a point, to a limited degree. But development is not just getting the next buck in the door. That devalues the development professional and their work to ethically and properly help donors and organizations find the best place for the donated funds. Solidifying relationships now with younger donors turns them into the major givers of the future. Certainly you know that. “Entirely a waste of time” seems to do your readers a disservice that could actually harm their long term interests in fundraising and relationship building.

  3. kjackson Avatar

    I agree with FMischler – your posts are usually much more longsighted than this. You’ve also ignored that young people do have access to more wealth now than may have previously been true, and that the 20-30 year olds are eager to get engaged with organizations and causes.

  4. kjackson Avatar

    I agree with FMischler – your posts are usually much more longsighted than this. You’ve also ignored that young people do have access to more wealth now than may have previously been true, and that the 20-30 year olds are eager to get engaged with organizations and causes.

  5. Tim Weiss Avatar
    Tim Weiss

    As a 20-30 year old and a development professional, I’m offended by the notion that 20-30 we shouldn’t waste our time looking at the behaviors of 20-30 year olds. In fact that attitude from my graduate school has lost them several recent alumni as potential givers. We want to be heard too. Like it or not, we represent the vast giving potential for the next 50 years.

  6. Tim Weiss Avatar
    Tim Weiss

    As a 20-30 year old and a development professional, I’m offended by the notion that 20-30 we shouldn’t waste our time looking at the behaviors of 20-30 year olds. In fact that attitude from my graduate school has lost them several recent alumni as potential givers. We want to be heard too. Like it or not, we represent the vast giving potential for the next 50 years.

  7. Jeff,
    I appreciate you covering the study. I do however want to respond to some of your comments:
    1) Reliance on self-reported data – yes, it’s a survey. I am not sure how else to gather the holistic information about attitudes, how people first connected with their charity etc. without a broad survey. Charities do not generally apply age overlays to their files, so it’s near impossible to get a charity data driven view of these insights. Anecdotally speaking to charities and agencies, the findings have resonated with them.
    2) Focuses on online fundraising. While online fundraising is clearly an increasing part of the mix, our message is actually the world is more multi-channel, and that the dominance of one single channel, mail diminishes with younger cohorts, though still remains relevant. With younger generations, you need to engage and sustain contact through multiple channels including emerging ones like social media.
    3. Over focus on 20s and 30s. The study is a generational study focused on the differences between generations. The number of respondents was balanced to the size of the generational population. Our message is that charity marketers are overly focused on matures 65+, and donor acquisition rates have started to drop off in the last 6 years, because charities need to do a better job of attracting younger cohorts, including boomers and gen x, and to some degree if appropriate gen y. In our presentation that we’ve delivered, are delivering at conferences, we run the math for how much each generation is worth (gross value), but it’s up to the charity as to whether they have a message and campaign style that will resonate with the younger cohorts.
    Vinay

  8. Jeff,
    I appreciate you covering the study. I do however want to respond to some of your comments:
    1) Reliance on self-reported data – yes, it’s a survey. I am not sure how else to gather the holistic information about attitudes, how people first connected with their charity etc. without a broad survey. Charities do not generally apply age overlays to their files, so it’s near impossible to get a charity data driven view of these insights. Anecdotally speaking to charities and agencies, the findings have resonated with them.
    2) Focuses on online fundraising. While online fundraising is clearly an increasing part of the mix, our message is actually the world is more multi-channel, and that the dominance of one single channel, mail diminishes with younger cohorts, though still remains relevant. With younger generations, you need to engage and sustain contact through multiple channels including emerging ones like social media.
    3. Over focus on 20s and 30s. The study is a generational study focused on the differences between generations. The number of respondents was balanced to the size of the generational population. Our message is that charity marketers are overly focused on matures 65+, and donor acquisition rates have started to drop off in the last 6 years, because charities need to do a better job of attracting younger cohorts, including boomers and gen x, and to some degree if appropriate gen y. In our presentation that we’ve delivered, are delivering at conferences, we run the math for how much each generation is worth (gross value), but it’s up to the charity as to whether they have a message and campaign style that will resonate with the younger cohorts.
    Vinay

  9. Different study, similar problems:
    Parents Play Biggest Role in Encouraging Teenagers to Give, Study Finds is from the philanthropy dot com website.
    Here’s the problem: the text below is from the article — the words “study” and “survey” are not synonyms. The word study implies that there was some amount of random sampling and professional polling techniques used in asking the questions. A survey from self-selected people is just a collection of opinions.
    There is a difference.
    TEXT FROM ARTICLE: (NOTE THE SOURCE OF THE DATA)
    Twenty-nine percent of young “givers” held a paying job, compared with 13 percent of other teenagers. Thirty-one percent of “givers” said they had a responsibility to help neighbors, compared with 15 percent of other teenagers.
    The study was conducted earlier this month. Respondents from the survey were selected from among a database of people who have told Harris Interactive that they will participate in such polls.
    Findings from the study, We Give Books Poll on Raising Future Philanthropists
    Regards,
    Bill Huddleston
    The CFC Coach
    BillHuddleston1 at gmail dot com

  10. Different study, similar problems:
    Parents Play Biggest Role in Encouraging Teenagers to Give, Study Finds is from the philanthropy dot com website.
    Here’s the problem: the text below is from the article — the words “study” and “survey” are not synonyms. The word study implies that there was some amount of random sampling and professional polling techniques used in asking the questions. A survey from self-selected people is just a collection of opinions.
    There is a difference.
    TEXT FROM ARTICLE: (NOTE THE SOURCE OF THE DATA)
    Twenty-nine percent of young “givers” held a paying job, compared with 13 percent of other teenagers. Thirty-one percent of “givers” said they had a responsibility to help neighbors, compared with 15 percent of other teenagers.
    The study was conducted earlier this month. Respondents from the survey were selected from among a database of people who have told Harris Interactive that they will participate in such polls.
    Findings from the study, We Give Books Poll on Raising Future Philanthropists
    Regards,
    Bill Huddleston
    The CFC Coach
    BillHuddleston1 at gmail dot com

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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.

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