Every direct response fundraiser will be quick to admit that the last four years have been challenging and tumultuous, so it should come as no surprise that our donors feel the same way. We knew Donald Trump would be like no president ever, yet the constant state of crises defied predictions and here we all are in 2021 trying to find some equilibrium.
Now seemed like an important time take the pulse of the donor community to see how things stand. That is why, for the fourth time in 26 years, ABD Direct and Democratic pollster Mark Mellman have teamed up to conduct the National Progressive Donor Survey to get answers to a series of questions that would help progressive causes and organizations more effectively make their case for donor support.
Our last survey was only four years ago. And, in the aftermath of the Trump election, we discovered a galvanized donor community, re-energized and a bit terrified of what lay ahead but committed to supporting new and old causes threatened by Donald Trump.
These donors kept their word. Even after the initial “Trump Bump” the organizations saw investments in new donor acquisition pay increased dividends through 2020. In the political realm—party committees, candidates, and PACS—the growth was record-setting. The progressive donor universe grew in leaps and bounds across all channels.
Today we have a new President and a closely divided but decidedly Blue House and Senate. We’ve also come off a year of fighting the effects of a crippling worldwide pandemic; murders of Black men and women that forced the nation to confront institutionalized racism; and numerous weather events and wildfires that announced we’ve moved into a more frightening phase of the climate crisis.
All of this raises a whole new set of questions on where progressive donors stand on the issues and how motivated are they to stay in the arena and continue fighting after an exhausting four years.
While the 2021 National Progressive Donor Survey produced a trove of data and insights, here are three key takeaways that we hope help the progressive nonprofit community navigate the terrain ahead.
There are some clear warning signs that the road ahead may get rough and bumpy from time to time. More donors are looking to give less than those who are looking to give more. A healthy 20% of the sample are planning to give to fewer organizations – four times more than those who said they plan to give to more.
The good news is the dramatic expansion of the progressive donor community in the last four years will help to mitigate this. Lots of new donors—both in the mail or online—joined or rejoined the fight for progressive values, issues and candidates.
Our advice to progressive organizations in 2017 was that it was time to grow. Folks that took that advice hopefully participated in added new donors to the donor universe and those that didn’t probably regret that decision. Now, with the perception of looming crisis having waned, at least for the near-term, the focus won’t be on a body count but on building a communications plan that will retain and grow and build a much larger core of committed, high value, long term donors.
The survey data provides clear direction here. The first is to treat your donors like partners, not like potted plants. Donors say they are interested in how and where their money is going and see how organization’s programs are effecting real change. They want to see specific accomplishments.
In addition, what is really exciting and amazing and ought to be a key and critical component within every donor communication strategy: 40% of donors said a strong and clear commitment to diversity and inclusion is absolutely essential to their support of an organization or cause. It is the top measurement for effectiveness across all giving levels and amongst both mail and online donors.
Fundraisers can’t be scared or intimidated by these demands. Embrace them and consider it an engagement opportunity on their donor journey and make a central argument for their continued and increased help and support. And take encouragement from the growing positive feeling from donors directed to progressive causes and organizations—79% of mail donors and 91% of online donors have a favorable view of progressive groups.
Integration has been the buzzword in direct response fundraising for almost two decades and yet fundraising strategies can still perpetuate the “mine v. yours” approach to donors. The data, however, gave real encouragement to emphasizing integration across fundraising channels. While it is absolutely true that donors are still picking their lanes and have a preferred giving channel, the boundaries and silos between the online and offline worlds have become more permeable.
In particular, the movement of mail donors online is a “wow moment.” In 2007, 12% of mail donors said they also gave online, four years ago, the number had doubled to 24% and today, it doubled again 48% of all mail donors are now multi-channel contributors. While they say they are still most likely to send a check in response to a mailing from a candidate or organization, a growing segment is willing to move across channels. And 15% of the online donor community say they also give through the mail.
This year, we also asked a question we never asked before about what prompted a contribution. A full 35% of mail donors and 47% of online donors say they often make a donation on the internet in response to receiving a piece of mail. This is another in a long list of reasons to break down fundraising silos and worry less about who gets the credit and just the get the money.
To review the entire presentation of the 2021 National Progressive Donor Survey, you can access it here.