What Do People Want When They Give to Nonprofits?

Oh my, what an enticing title!  This article from FastCompany certainly caught our eye, as we suspect it would for most development and fundraising professionals.  Despite being a little put-off by the author’s recounting of  a few recent and high profile bad apples in the third sector, we worked through the article and the actual report.  Both make a strong case for the use of social media and a strong online presence to raise money.  We also conclude that this research is mostly geared toward direct response fundraising.  And that’s okay.  As fundraising consultants we mostly work toward securing major gifts and winning capital campaigns and thought the author was on to the golden nugget when stating, “organizations that encourage off-screen activities like volunteerism appears to be forging a physical connection that rewards them. . . “

Despite our clear major gift and “direct contact” bias, there is a great deal of worthwhile and interesting information in this report, and we encourage our colleagues to consider it.   Unfortunately, some may still wonder about “what people want when they give to nonprofits!

You can download the report here by verifying your email


What Do People Want When They Give to Nonprofits?

By Ben Paynter

3 minute Read

In June 2017, the New York Yankee’s New Yankee Stadium Community Benefits Fund got called out for not really benefiting those it was set up to serve. The fund, created to offset the fact that the stadium gobbled up 25 acres of public parkland, should eventually give out $40 million in grants and sports equipment, plus over a half-million game day tickets to community groups in the South Bronx. But, as the New York Times reported, many early gifts have been channeled to neighborhoods that had less need for improvement or inspiration than those now in the shadow of the stadium. In some cases, distributions ended up at groups that share board members with the fund.

That’s just the latest in a long stretch of charitable malfeasance, which in recent years has included the Wounded Warrior Project’s reportedly “lavish spending” on its on own staff instead of programs to reduce combat stress among veterans, and four major cancer charities, all with ties James Reynolds Sr., allegedly diverting a combined $187 million in fundraising to cover the “lucrative employment” of those who worked there, instead of putting the money toward cancer patients.

The philanthropy sector has historically faced a trust problem. In 2015, about one-third of Americans reported that they thought charities were spending funds unwisely. Globally, that trend held true, too. Trust in groups to operate effectively reaching a historic low of 63% in 2015.

[Illustration: Vanzyst/iStock]All of which makes the results the inaugural 2017 Global Trends in Giving Report, an online sector survey put out by the Public Interest Registry, a nonprofit the manages often philanthropic domain extensions like .org and .ngo, and Nonprofit Tech For Good, an online resource for nonprofit professionals, pretty surprising.

In a survey of over 4,000 people who had given within the last year, which spanned 95 countries, 92% still “believe that NPOs and NGOs are ethical and can be trusted” with 96% saying that these groups are “essential for creating social change.” Among those, 45% were giving across borders, most commonly to developing world spots in abject poverty or forcing refugee crises like India, Syria, and Kenya.

Trust issues or no, some groups are obviously doing a great job inspiring people to give. While the distribution of overall donation amounts fell along a predictable path with baby boomers topping gen-Xers, followed by millennials (those who have the most money and security can often afford to give the most away) the rest of the data offers some instructive lessons about what exactly makes current donors feel generous.

The answer: a mix of tactics, but those with a digital arsenal are prospering. While nonprofit groups may be slow to adopt a social media strategy, 75% of those giving say they rely on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to feel connected. Another 25% say such posts directly inspire them to give, a process that’s become ever easier as Facebook has added donation tabs and Facebook and Twitter can easily embed calls for crowdsourcing from groups like GoFundMe.

The surveyors had a little fun with that idea, asking whether respondents might be open to gamifying their engagement with “a mobile app that allows two-tap giving that earns badges and redeemable points.” The majority said yes. In some ways that’s where the industry is already heading with micro-donation apps like Spotfund, which encourages giving and campaign sharing to boost user “impact score,” and Bill Gates’s topic-based philanthropy quizzes on Gates Notes that activate donations and badges for the participant’s profile page.

Does paying toward moving the little goal progress bar at the top of crowdfunding pages count? Maybe. A total of 44% of donors reported giving on that style platform. At the same time, organizations that encourage off-screen activities like volunteerism appears to be forging a physical connection that rewards them: 66% of the surveyed donors had volunteered for an NGO or NPO within the last year, with 85% also making a donation.

For better or worse, charitable contributors historically like to see their money directed toward making an impact, not supporting operations, but 94% of individual donors now support groups spending more on digital communications to stay relevant. Women make up the biggest share of donors, representing 73% of the pool. Most are liberal, 37 or older, and prefer to give online.

About the author
Ben Paynter is a senior writer at Fast Company covering social impact, the future of philanthropy, and innovative food companies. His work has appeared in Wired, Bloomberg Businessweek, and the New York Times, among other places.