Study: Donors’ sense of the power of their gift varies by age

File this under so that’s why it is the way it is.

It’s widely noted that there’s a strong inverse correlation between donor age and their average gift: The older the donors, the lower the average gift.

The Analytical Ones reports a study that throws interesting light on this phenomenon at Granny’s $5 birthday surprise won’t cut it any longer.

Donors were asked, “What is the minimum gift you could make to an organization and actually make a difference?”

Here are their answers, by age group:

  • 70+: $35
  • 55-70: $68
  • under 55: $171

That the numbers fall that way isn’t surprising. We form our sense of the proper cost of things in our early adulthood. When people older than 70 were at that formative stage, $35 was a lot of money.

But the question of “making a difference” adds real value to the observation. It tells us that it could be counter-productive to ask too little when talking to younger donors. Asking a 50-year-old to give $35 might get a “why bother?” response.

Part of the challenge this poses is handled by the media we use:. Direct mail is dominated by older donors, thus it gets lower average gifts — and asking lower is more appropriate. Online and broadcast mainly reach younger donors, which is why the average gifts are higher — and asking higher is the right thing.

But perhaps we should also be looking at the actual age of individual donors and basing ask amounts on that, not on the overall average.

Because the main reason donors give is to make a difference. We owe it to them to give them the sense (and reality) that they can make a difference. More of them will give if we do that.


Comments

4 responses to “Study: Donors’ sense of the power of their gift varies by age”

  1. This really makes sense in two ways! First, $35 went much further in the good ole days and in the good ole days, interest rates were much higher so the Silent Generation had more disposable income!
    Seems to me like talking to this generation of 70+ about leaving a legacy gift makes super sense and certainly worth a letter!
    Love your stuff and the way you write, Joy Olson

  2. This really makes sense in two ways! First, $35 went much further in the good ole days and in the good ole days, interest rates were much higher so the Silent Generation had more disposable income!
    Seems to me like talking to this generation of 70+ about leaving a legacy gift makes super sense and certainly worth a letter!
    Love your stuff and the way you write, Joy Olson

  3. Goood piece. All this said, those 70+ are often on fixed incomes and tend, as Penelope Burk’s research shows, to give to many nonprofits (whereas younger people may give to fewer). While the gifts may be smaller, long term giving is one of best predictors of the potential for a planned gift.

  4. Goood piece. All this said, those 70+ are often on fixed incomes and tend, as Penelope Burk’s research shows, to give to many nonprofits (whereas younger people may give to fewer). While the gifts may be smaller, long term giving is one of best predictors of the potential for a planned gift.

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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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