The Cygnus donor survey - philanthropy in 2011

publication date: May 12, 2011
author/source: Janet Gadeski
What did 22,000 Canadian and American donors reveal to Penelope Burk during her annual survey of donor behaviour, intentions and attitudes? Change is brewing, she told delegates to the annual conference of the Canadian Association of Gift Planners, held in Toronto in April. Here are some emerging trends from her latest study.

Rigorous expectations 

Though most donors plan to continue or even expand their generosity in 2011, they're more upset than ever before with things they once viewed as minor annoyances, Burk warns.

"Before 2009, the cost of fundraising wasn't an issue," she elaborates. "It appeared in my surveys for the first time in 2009, topped the list of donor concerns in 2010, and stayed at the top in 2011. The attitude seems to be, ‘If I have to make sacrifices to give, I expect to see it on the other side too.'"

What do donors pinpoint as the primary sign of spending too much on fundraising? Despite the profession's concern with salary transparency legislation, despite media reports of the occasional high executive salary or exceptional fundraising scam, Burk's donors told her that over-solicitation by mail and online led to their perceptions of waste.

And last year's top concern, the lack of adequate impact reports, remains a powerful second motivation to reduce giving. Burk reports that 65% of current donors never make a second gift. "Every time that number goes up," she points out, "your list of good prospects goes down."

Win friends, gifts by getting it right
There is a positive spinoff, though, from these rising expectations. Meet or exceed them, and your donors will respond with gratitude and gifts. Burk notes that when charities cultivate their donors carefully and avoid over-solicitation, they're able to close major gifts in half the time they used to require. 

Direct mail remains important, though its role is changing. Once it was easy to track the outcomes of a direct mail campaign - respondents simply mailed in the reply card with a cheque or credit card details. Now, one-third of donors who responded to such solicitations in 2010 told Burk that they went online to make the gift.

Don't assume, though, that the converse is true. Some of your direct mail donors may prefer to respond online but that doesn't mean that your dedicated online donors will be equally responsive to direct mail. They value the convenience of online giving and they know it's more cost-effective for you. These sophisticated donors will simply stop giving if you try to move them to the direct mail channel.

Generosity begging to be tapped

For every age group, Burk reports an upswing in their accounts of what they did in 2010 and what they intend to do this year. Seventy-nine percent said they intended to give the same or even more in 2011, compared to 74% in 2010. They know you need it, she concludes, and they know that no matter how bad their situation is, it's worse for someone else.

"What would unleash people's giving at a whole new level?" Burk asked. In overwhelming numbers, donors responded that they wanted more concrete information on what was happening with their last gift. And they want that information even before you make the second ask.

So treat them like major donors after their first gift, she advises, no matter how small it may be. Between 4% and 13% will be ready to jump to a major gift level (which Burk defines as giving "with significant generosity within their own means") the second time they give.

Planned giving a second choice but good for career path

On both sides of the border, Burk identified a dearth of fundraisers with solid planned giving skills. That's not surprising, she says, when you consider her other research that shows 44% of fundraisers stumbled into the profession by accident.

Two-thirds of the fundraisers Burk surveyed have not pursued planned giving expertise because they see themselves as too busy or lacking the technical knowledge. Others aren't interested, preferring other career options in fundraising, even though planned giving experience is a key element of progress to senior roles. One in three of the leaders and managers Burk interviewed reported some planned giving experience.

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