Changing Channels: Easier on your TV than in Fundraising | npENGAGE

Changing Channels: Easier on Your TV Than in Fundraising

By on Jul 2, 2018


In a sea of channels, the best way to stand out is to ensure you’re showing up where your audience is most likely to be. But navigating information channels is trickier than navigating TV channels, especially if you don’t have the right information.

With the rise of technology has come a proliferation of giving channels nonprofits can, and arguably should, utilize to fundraise. In days long past, the only channels an organization had to concern itself with were in-person and direct mail giving opportunities.

Now, people can also make donations through text messages, emails, websites and social media. With all these avenues opening, navigating the ever-changing landscape of giving can be challenging, and being in the dark can make it almost impossible to get the most out of fundraising efforts.

The Blackbaud Institute of Philanthropic Impact’s 2018 report, Next Generation of American Giving, gives insight into how people are using these channels to give now, how they may be using them in the future and what nonprofits can do to best engage with their audience.

Here are a few key takeaways:

  • Direct mail still brings in the most money.

Direct mail still brings in eight to nine times more money than email each year. Because Baby Boomers (ages 54-72) and Matures (ages 73 and above) are responsible for most of the giving, it is not all that surprising that direct mail still has this kind of pull. However, it is important to consider that the current philanthropic landscape is structured towards these age groups and their preferred giving methods. Effectively utilizing new channels of giving is a skill many have not mastered yet but is one that will become increasingly important as Generation X (ages 38-53) approaches prime giving years.

  • But direct mail has also experienced the sharpest decline in donors.

When the Next Generation of American Giving report was published in 2010, 49% of donors reported using direct mail. Now, it is only responsible for 23% of donors. Because new channels have arrived on the scene since 2010, it makes sense that giving would be spread across them. However, while email giving has stayed consistent and online giving as a whole is making steady gains, these channels are not fully compensating for this drop in direct mail giving. Though dollars donated is growing, less people are donating. Not only does this make keeping existing donors more important, but it means that nonprofits may need to try new things to attract more potential donors.

  • Online giving is kind of like cable TV.

In 2010, giving online meant donating money through a website or email. Now, online-giving includes social media as well. But it isn’t as simple as adding one more option. With social media comes a plethora of platforms, including, but not limited to, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest, Twitter and YouTube. The Next Generation of American Giving report compares it to TV before and after the introduction of cable. What started out as a few, broad channels has now morphed into a multitude of niche channels.

  • Email could represent a good middle ground between direct mail and newer digital channels.

Since 2013, email has been responsible for 14% of donors. And while it does not account for a majority of dollars, email newsletters appear to be the only channel of giving with which Matures and Baby Boomers are willing to engage. Though all generations say that direct mail is an appropriate channel nonprofits can use to ask for money, the youngest generations imply they won’t respond to direct mail donation requests, instead preferring digital methods.

  • ‘Choice anxiety’ could be to blame for a decrease in donors.

‘Choice anxiety’ occurs when a person chooses to do nothing when faced with too many options. This could be why there has been a decline in the number of people donating to nonprofits. Donors may be overwhelmed with too many ways to give. Or it could just be that we do not yet know how to effectively harness the potential of new channels. Just because online avenues aren’t showing optimal results yet does not mean that they won’t in the future, as we better learn to work with these channels and as the landscape of giving changes.

For more insights on the multichannel preferences and charitable habits of Millennials through Matures, and a look into the charitable perspective of up-and-coming Generation Z, download the Next Generation of American Giving report for free:


Marissa Luckie is an intern working with external affairs on Blackbaud’s corporate marketing team. She attends Auburn University where she studies Journalism and English in the Honors College. During her time at Auburn, Marissa spent a year writing for the lauded university newspaper, The Plainsman. Throughout her academic career, Marissa has taken classes on design, photojournalism and broadcast journalism, all of which have given her foundational knowledge of visual storytelling that she plans to continue developing.

Comments (25)

  • Karen says:

    I have a large group of baby boomers as my donor base. I do not see the shift from direct mail to email/ text donations. Any tips to guide me in moving our donors that way??

  • R.S. says:

    Enlightening statistics. I would be curious to see a comparison of what is communicated and how it drives donors by generation, i.e. direct mail tells a story with a picture, email tells it through text, and online allows for videos and social interactions. Does the right method reduce the ‘anxiety’ of choice?

  • Jennifer Lange says:

    In just the five years I’ve been doing DBA, I’ve already seen a HUGE change in the way donations are coming in.

  • Cathy Spencer says:

    We are beginning an e-mail newsletter with the opportunity to give and will be watching to see response. Encouraging article as the majority of our donor base is Baby Boomers and Matures.

  • Tim says:

    Great info – thanks!

  • Tammi Burkhardt says:

    We allow for multiple channels of communication to fit our various donor segments.

  • Jayme says:

    Making the donor feel like their gift is making a difference is key. We use a variety of channels at my employer. My alma mater does primarily online giving, using challenges to quickly show the difference each person is making in the competition. It is satisfying to watch and is probably lower-cost to run.

  • Daniel Yu says:

    Giving donors the option to give online or return it in the mail is important. We can’t pigeon hole how people will send the funds no matter the generation.

  • Heather says:

    We still have many donors that give through our direct mail, but we also have started segmenting more with some critical thinking and response analysis.

  • b says:

    I couldn’t agree more with “Online giving is kind of like cable TV” – great point! Nice job Marissa!

  • Amy says:

    Thanks for the shout-out for direct mail! So many places want to get rid of it because it costs more than email or social media but even though it’s declining, it still brings in the $$$.

  • Kerry Ayres-Smith says:

    Very interesting points. I am curious to learn more about the various social media ways to solicit donors and to engage with donors!

  • MK says:

    Most of our online gifts come from people making one time gifts (usually (memorials) or they are event related. Our longtime supporters continue to give via direct mail.

  • Barb says:

    Great information and statistics, thank you!

  • Kaitlin says:

    Really interesting info, thanks!

  • Jenny Stephens says:

    Thank you, very informative and helpful.

  • Karen Stuhlfeier says:

    Some really good things to think about. Thanks!

  • Angie Stumpo says:

    Good points. I base a lot of our strategy on these concepts- direct mail is still king, with email and other digital channels available but not the primary focus.

  • Magdalena Sarnas says:

    Good points, but the clear distinction is to know your audience. Are they online, are they at home, or do they live on their phones. Your strategy needs to be based on the mere fact how does your constituent base want to be connected and how do they communicate.

  • Lauren Short says:

    I would add text to give & text for stewardship as another important channel. While open rates on e-mails are trending down, open rates on texts are nearly 100%!

  • Lori says:

    Interesting statistics! Thank you

  • Sunshine Watson says:

    “Choice anxiety,” is an interesting concept to think about. Thanks!

  • Joanne Felci says:

    This is great – and scary: Donors may be overwhelmed with too many ways to give. Or it could just be that we do not yet know how to effectively harness the potential of new channels. Just because online avenues aren’t showing optimal results yet does not mean that they won’t in the future, as we better learn to work with these channels and as the landscape of giving changes.

  • Lauren Fardella says:

    Great info, sharing with my VP of Development!

  • Claudia says:

    Really appreciate the direct mail shout out, in a very digital world direct mail is still a great way to engage and I feel like it often isn’t looked at for how successful it is.

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