More donors versus better donors: long-term and external benefits

To review, yesterday, Betty (arguing in favor of better donors over more donors) won a slight victory over Mo (arguing in favor of more donors over better donors) in talking about costs of fundraising.  Today, they will debate again: this time on the topic of external benefits of donors.

Mo: The case here is manifest.  To put a value on a constituent that comes only from what they give through direct marketing is myopic.  Having more donors means having more people that support you and having more people that support you means:

  • More awareness of your mission in the community
  • More volunteers
  • More advocates

Betty: It’s nice to believe that there are something things you can’t put a price on, but you can.  You can get awareness with PSAs and earned media. You can advertise for volunteers (and incidentally, thinking someone who gives $5 at time is dedicated enough to your mission to be your top volunteer is wishful at best.)  And you can get online advocates for $1.50 a pop from Care2 or Change.org.  If you want real change, the high-dollar donors in a congressperson’s district will hold more sway; they are who you get through consciously soliciting for value.

Mo: That works for some districts, but if you are doing the things that you need to do to get high-value only donors like zip selects, you are going to be ignoring a lot of districts that are just plain poor.  And you are going to be ignoring them with your message, mission, awareness, and advocacy.

But if you want to boil it down to dollars and cents, let’s go there.  Some smaller donors make for extremely effective peer-to-peer fundraisers.  You rarely know who is a deacon at the church and can pass the hat at the plant.  And casting your net broadly gives you a greater opportunity to get those types of donors.

Betty: You may have a point on peer-to-peer fundraising, but low-dollar peer-to-peer fundraisers are likely to bring in more low-dollar donors.  Now you have twice the problem.

Someone who gives more money at the outset is also likely to give more outside of a traditional single-channel direct marketing program.  They are the ones who will become the multichannel givers, major donors, and monthly givers.

Mo: Yes, if you go exclusively for the people who eat with multiple forks and pinkies out, you will get more of those high-value upgrades.

But you will rarely get bequests.  There is a great case study from the ASPCA.   Because they had focused on higher-value donors, they were not getting as many bequests.  In fact, they were excluding the 70+-year-old, $10 and under givers that were their best planned giving prospects.  So they made a conscious choice to go back and reacquire these donors, sending them (only) the best house mailings and working to upgrade them to bequest giving.

The verdict: Have to give this one to Mo on points.  A traditional lifetime value calculation ignores the value of donors as volunteers and advocates, which do have their own quasi-monetary value.  And bequest giving often comes from “tippers” on your direct marketing file of a certain age who give to help you in their lifetime, but are saving a nest egg for donation at the end of their lives.

This is certainly not to say that higher-average-gift donors don’t have greater major donor prospects; it’s just saying that a portfolio approach of quantity will have hidden benefits that should be uncovered.

More donors versus better donors: long-term and external benefits

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