Precisely not how to figure out young-donor fundraising

Don’t you wish donors could just tell us exactly how to reach them and motivate them to give? What they take seriously and what they ignore? What images touch their hearts? What offers quicken their compassion? What colors make them feel like saying yes?

Then we’d just do those things and get astounding response all the time.

Thing is, donors can’t do that. Even if they want to. They have no access to that information. They can have opinions about those things, but those opinions have no connection with reality. If you’ve ever experienced donor focus groups, you’ve seen this in action. They hate and utterly reject the stuff that works in real life. They loooooove speculative shiny new stuff that never works.

That’s a fact of life in fundraising, or any kind of marketing. Everyone’s opinions of what they’d respond to have no connection to what they really respond to.

So it’s something like hilarious when The Chronicle of Philanthropy publishes a piece titled 5 Things Charities Do That Turn Off Young Donors Like Me, where the author not only tells us what she would respond to, but what an entire generation of people will respond to.

You cannot take seriously the pontifications of a self-appointed Spokesperson of a Generation. It’s not trustworthy or even meaningful information. It can’t be.

As always in cases like this, it covers a spectrum between obvious Fundraising 101 truisms like “have an offer” and over-the-top howlers like “Don’t ask for $25; ask for $1,000.” (I’m not making that up!)

I’ve written elsewhere about millennial fundraising. It is at best an uncertain enterprise. But if you want to know how raise money from millennials, there’s only one way to learn: Raise money from millennials, and discover what does and doesn’t work. Test things. Refine your tests.

Then you’ll know what really works. And I can guarantee that won’t be what they (or their Spokesperson) tell you.

I don’t know exactly what you’ll uncover, but I can tell you this:


  • It will surprise you. Donors always do.
  • It will probably disappoint you — you’ll find they aren’t paying as much attention as you thought they were.
  • You’ll find that millennial donors aren’t a monolithic group with one set of tastes, habits, and expectations. No generation is. What works for someone else may or may not work for you.


Comments

10 responses to “Precisely not how to figure out young-donor fundraising”

  1. SF Fundraising Avatar
    SF Fundraising

    Hi Jeff, I read your site religiously but I think you may be wrong on this one.
    I think her biggest flaw is that she assumes she knows why fundraisers do certain things like ask fir small amounts. On these points i believe her lack of experience shows.
    However, some of her points are strong : twitter offers to raise awareness; twittering three times a day and asking for a larger amount with an auto-draft.
    I think those points are insightful –

  2. SF Fundraising Avatar
    SF Fundraising

    Hi Jeff, I read your site religiously but I think you may be wrong on this one.
    I think her biggest flaw is that she assumes she knows why fundraisers do certain things like ask fir small amounts. On these points i believe her lack of experience shows.
    However, some of her points are strong : twitter offers to raise awareness; twittering three times a day and asking for a larger amount with an auto-draft.
    I think those points are insightful –

  3. It’s an interesting read, but it does seem that the author has fallen into the trap of assuming she’s like everyone. I’d love to know how many people ‘just like her’ she has on her books. in my (limited) experience, fundraisers have a different view of giving than everyone else…
    Quite simply, if I were to ask some of our younger donors for $1000, they’d laugh, and make sure I don’t find out where they live for a decade.
    (Having said that, the UK does view giving slightly differently from the US)

  4. It’s an interesting read, but it does seem that the author has fallen into the trap of assuming she’s like everyone. I’d love to know how many people ‘just like her’ she has on her books. in my (limited) experience, fundraisers have a different view of giving than everyone else…
    Quite simply, if I were to ask some of our younger donors for $1000, they’d laugh, and make sure I don’t find out where they live for a decade.
    (Having said that, the UK does view giving slightly differently from the US)

  5. Peter Gorbert Avatar
    Peter Gorbert

    As a young donor myself I was ready to read that post and have a good little chuckle especially at the mention of asking for $1000 rather than $25.
    Now that I’ve read it though I think it’s a pretty solid reflection on how I feel about my giving. I engage with charities on twitter. I like charities with a clear business model where I can see what the money does. I rarely look at any mail that comes through my door.
    As for the $1000 instead of $25 thing, I think she’s got a pretty valid point. It’s not about only asking for a big donation though, I think it’s more around how “phrase” that donation. There’s nothing amazing about that $1k club, it’s just a group of people who sign up to a $40 a month donation, but they’ve made it seem bigger. Now that it looks bigger you feel that it can have more of an impact.
    If you ask me £15 doesn’t seem like it’ll make much of a difference, but £180 sounds like it could do some good. sounds like an interesting thing to trail if you ask me 😉

  6. Peter Gorbert Avatar
    Peter Gorbert

    As a young donor myself I was ready to read that post and have a good little chuckle especially at the mention of asking for $1000 rather than $25.
    Now that I’ve read it though I think it’s a pretty solid reflection on how I feel about my giving. I engage with charities on twitter. I like charities with a clear business model where I can see what the money does. I rarely look at any mail that comes through my door.
    As for the $1000 instead of $25 thing, I think she’s got a pretty valid point. It’s not about only asking for a big donation though, I think it’s more around how “phrase” that donation. There’s nothing amazing about that $1k club, it’s just a group of people who sign up to a $40 a month donation, but they’ve made it seem bigger. Now that it looks bigger you feel that it can have more of an impact.
    If you ask me £15 doesn’t seem like it’ll make much of a difference, but £180 sounds like it could do some good. sounds like an interesting thing to trail if you ask me 😉

  7. Jeff’s point is an important one – Alicia may or may not be correct in her observations of what works for millenial fundraising. The only way that we can know for sure is to test those observations and analyze the results to see what really works.
    It is easy to believe a fundraising success story that resonates, but how well does that story or piece of advice reflect reality? To know, we have to test them: identify hypotheses about what works, gather data (run the campaign, examine response rates from previous campaigns, etc.), analyze the data and interpret the results. Then, of course – use what we learn to shape our fundraising practice.
    My organization wrote a series of articles all about this, using data to drive decisions instead of anecdotes. I invite you to check it out – bit.ly/Tx9OiB.

  8. Jeff’s point is an important one – Alicia may or may not be correct in her observations of what works for millenial fundraising. The only way that we can know for sure is to test those observations and analyze the results to see what really works.
    It is easy to believe a fundraising success story that resonates, but how well does that story or piece of advice reflect reality? To know, we have to test them: identify hypotheses about what works, gather data (run the campaign, examine response rates from previous campaigns, etc.), analyze the data and interpret the results. Then, of course – use what we learn to shape our fundraising practice.
    My organization wrote a series of articles all about this, using data to drive decisions instead of anecdotes. I invite you to check it out – bit.ly/Tx9OiB.

  9. As a millenial fundraiser that works with millenials as one of my core affinity group of donors, I can tell validate that Alicia is on to something though of course her argument has flaws (as does this and every other post or article I’ve ever read. In life, nothing is 100% black or white). My young professionals (as we prefer to be called), are an engaged group of donors who want LOTS of engagement opportunities and what’s in it for them besides the feel good nature of giving (they all care enough to be involved, but for many the giving back is truthfully the second or third or maybe even fourth or fifth reason they get involved). Though they only bring in between $75,000 and $85,000 each year, they take up 35-40% of mine and my assistant’s time. Our board of directors has bought into the fact that they are good acquisition prospects that deserve to be cultivated and stewarded. We ask our donors under 30 to give $125 each year (just $10 a month) and those over 30 to give $250 each year. When you get more involved and are involved in our Leadership Committee, you are asked to give $500. Young professionals are savvy and know that with installment giving, they can afford to give $125 or $250 (heck I work on a fundraiser’s salary and give at my age’s amount), and that there collective gifts will go a long way and make a big impact.

  10. As a millenial fundraiser that works with millenials as one of my core affinity group of donors, I can tell validate that Alicia is on to something though of course her argument has flaws (as does this and every other post or article I’ve ever read. In life, nothing is 100% black or white). My young professionals (as we prefer to be called), are an engaged group of donors who want LOTS of engagement opportunities and what’s in it for them besides the feel good nature of giving (they all care enough to be involved, but for many the giving back is truthfully the second or third or maybe even fourth or fifth reason they get involved). Though they only bring in between $75,000 and $85,000 each year, they take up 35-40% of mine and my assistant’s time. Our board of directors has bought into the fact that they are good acquisition prospects that deserve to be cultivated and stewarded. We ask our donors under 30 to give $125 each year (just $10 a month) and those over 30 to give $250 each year. When you get more involved and are involved in our Leadership Committee, you are asked to give $500. Young professionals are savvy and know that with installment giving, they can afford to give $125 or $250 (heck I work on a fundraiser’s salary and give at my age’s amount), and that there collective gifts will go a long way and make a big impact.

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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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