Digital giving explodes, donors fickle as economy shudders

publication date: Oct 17, 2011
author/source: Janet Gadeski
You must get digital, says Steve Levy of Ipsos Reid. By "get," he means both "understand" and "implement." And he proved his point at ArtezInteraction, a Toronto event in September dedicated to social and mobile fundraising strategies.

Did you know, for example, that almost a third of Canadian donors now give online? Or that Canada is one of the most connected nations in the world, with Internet access for 80% of its population and wireless access for 30%?

These statistics come from Charitable Giving - the Evolution of the Canadian Charitable Landscape, a survey report Ipsos has just released that compares responses of 840 adult Canadians in August 2011 to the answers of 1,055 (2009) and 1,823 (2008) in previous years.

Digital supports donor preferences

You might expect the spotlight to focus on donors' online behaviour, given the emphasis of the Artez conference. But even the answers to questions that seemed unconnected with technology, suggest a trend that will grow more powerful each year.

Consider these other Ipsos findings about Canadian donors' preferences. The numbers come from Ipsos; the parenthetical comments are this writer's.

  • Forty-seven percent of donors participated in a run, walk or ride, and 69% sponsored someone in a fundraising event, the top giving channel among respondents. (Software enabling participants to raise funds online through their networks is becoming commonplace.)
  • Thirty-one percent of donors give online, well behind giving in person or by mail, but twice the proportion who respond to telephone canvassers. (Even as it becomes harder and harder to speak to someone in person, online appeals and channels are available to donors 24/7.)
  • The most common reason that donors give (22%) is that someone asked them personally. (Individuals who passionately support a cause can personally ask many more people to give, either through sponsoring them in a 'thon or making a direct donation. Of course, this only applies to demographics that consider electronic contact to be "personal.")
  • Trust in the online environment is growing - just 14% told researchers they "didn't feel safe" or "didn't trust the Internet" in 2011, compared to 22% in 2009.
An audience member identified the fly in the digital ointment. Retention rates for online donors, he pointed out, are below the retention rates of donors acquired through any other channel. Levy readily acknowledged that we still have much to learn about developing electronic donor relationships.

Who are the donors of 2011?

While the surge in online giving moves us towards new channels and strategies, the fundamentals remain - scan the environment and know your donors. The Ipsos survey offers plenty of guidance on these points as well.

Some things haven't changed. More women than men give (74%/64%). Those with more education are more likely to give (84% of post-secondary graduates, 71% of those with high school or less). Propensity to give rises with income (54% of those earning $50K or less, 82% over $75K), and giving rises with age (55% in the 18-34 age group, 78% of those 55 and over) - these last statistics probably inter-related.

Canada's top seven fundraising events are all long-standing, national events now powered by electronic fundraising, personal Web pages and all the trappings of the digital world: the Cancer Society Relay for Life, the Terry Fox Run, the MS Society Walk, the Ride for Heart, the Weekend to End Breast Cancer, Bowl for Kids Sake (benefitting Big Brothers/Big Sisters) and the Run for the Cure.

Disaster giving up, disease donations down

Canadians' cause preferences have shifted in the past two years, perhaps reflecting a spike in giving to the Haiti earthquake. Giving to disaster relief rose 18%, and giving to food banks (another kind of disaster relief) climbed 6%. Giving to other essential causes declined, with support for disease charities and poverty-related issues (except food banks) both down 7%.

Mixed news for the future

The brightest light of the Ipsos report is the revelation that participation in giving has rebounded almost to the pre-recession level. The August 2008 Ipsos survey found that 71% of Canadians supported charitable causes; the number declined to 65% in 2009 but climbed to 69% in 2011. That rebound, though, is largely limited to Ontario and Quebec.

Levy pointed out some serious concerns about the future. Canada's economic outlook for 2012 is not positive, and public sentiment is less optimistic. More Canadians are donating, but their gifts are smaller and they're supporting more charities. Nevertheless, he says, the "heavy donor" segment still exists - ready to give, to be engaged as volunteers, and to support for the long term once they become engaged.

For more information, contact Steve Levy.

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