Pop Art Myths

2 Fundraising Myths You Can Easily Avoid

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Don’t believe everything you hear.

I realize I hardly need to tell you such an obvious piece of advice. But there are a lot of beliefs about fundraising that can really hurt your program. These things keep getting repeated, year after year, despite the harm they do.

They are myths. The spread because they often seem true. They confirm people’s hunches, or they feed into wishful thinking about fundraising. Often, they contain a little bit of actual truth.

But they aren’t correct.

Here are two of the most common myths that can cause deep and lasting harm, along with some ways you can work around them…

Myth #1: Donors need a “rest” from asks after they give

This seems intuitively correct for many. And it would be, if charitable giving were a limited resource, like old-growth forests: Chop down a tree, and a new one will grow, but it will take a long time.

Giving isn’t like that. It’s more like cultivating flowers: Pick a bloom, and you stimulate the growth of more blooms.

We know this, because by far the top predictor of likelihood to give: Recency of giving!

That’s right – the more recently a donor gave, the more likely they are to give now. You can check this for yourself: Look at your results from a direct mail or email appeal by time since previous donation. You’ll see that the highest response rate will be from people whose previous donation was one to 30 days before this donation. Then, month by month, response rate drops as the previous donations get farther away.

A huge percentage of total giving comes from donors who gave within the previous six months. Donors whose previous gift was 11-12 months before give at a very low rate. And it gets lower and lower at a year and more since their previous gift.

So if you have a practice of not asking donors to give again for three to six months after they donate, you are foregoing the majority of the funds you could be raising.

Worse, you are deciding for donors that they will not give during the time they most likely want to give!

So while your donors are “resting” from the rigors of donating to you, other organizations are getting in touch with them and getting the revenue you should have got!

More frequent asking leads to more frequent giving … Increased net revenue … and Improved donor retention.

Because giving feels good! Donors want to give.

If your organization has a practice of not asking recent donors, you could raise dramatically more by switching into the real world that donors live in – the world where giving is good, not something you need to rest from.

Myth #2: We need to get young donors

There’s an important grain of truth behind this myth: Your donors are dying. A large study of why donors stopped giving to organizations they’d supported found that 16% of those who stopped giving stopped because they died.

Your donors are older. That means they have a higher-than-average death rate.

But that shouldn’t be cause for general panic. (It doesn’t mean 16% of donors in the study passed away that year.) Donors are living longer than ever. And more people are entering old age through the front door (surviving to old age) than leaving through the back (dying).

There’s a reason donors on average are much older than the population on average. It’s partly cultural and partly biological:

  • Older people (especially the “newly old”) are often at or near the peak of their earning power.
  • With children out of the home and other responsibilities ramping down, they have more time to consider your messaging.
  • Wisdom and experience acquired over time shows them the value and joy of charitable giving.
  • Changes in brain chemistry make older people more empathetic.

Everything is aligned for older people to be great donors. Effective fundraisers embrace this fundamental realistically.

Some fundraisers buy into the idea they need to pivot to a whole new, much-younger audience for donors.

Fundraisers sometimes take their cue from commercial advertising, which is obsessed by young people. And maybe they hope to connect with people closer to their own age, because they understand them better.

It seldom goes well. People in their 20s to 40s are much less responsive to fundraising than older generations. Even when you tailor your messaging to them, it remains a steep uphill climb to motivate them to give. Worse yet, their retention rate is a fraction of that of older donors. So even when you do manage to get some of them on board, they just don’t stick around.

Many organizations have wasted lots of money, time, and opportunity cost on futile efforts to replace donors in their 70s and 80s with donors in their 20s and 30s.

But we do need to think about our futures. Which means we need to think about younger donors.

The effective way to do that is to target “almost old” people: Those in their 50s and 60s. in some cases, even those in their 40s.

They are transitioning toward being committed givers. Some get there sooner than others. But you can be there for them at the start of their journey as donors. They’ll have decades to give to your organization.

These new-old people are different from older donors in some important ways:

  • They give higher average gifts.
  • They are more digitally connected.
  • They are more demanding, needing clear feedback that you are putting their donations to good use.

They are the “young” donors we should focus on now. Doing so sets you up for a promising future.

(Coming soon: four more fundraising myths to avoid.)

We all run into fundraising myths at some time or another. Join The Fundraisingology Lab by Moceanic to become part of a supportive community that can help you see the facts from the myths. You’ll also get loads of fundraising courses, access to the experts, and more that will take you to new places in your fundraising career. Join the waiting list now and you’ll be the first to hear when the doors open again!

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