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 (57)

  • 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.

  • Maggi says:

    We use email almost exlusively. We only direct mail once a year. We have online giving and have recently experimented with Text to donate.

  • April says:

    Our org has mostly always worked on the ask for a pledge in person route. It is still our largest campaign however we are realizing we need to branch out and are starting more direct mail and online strategies.

  • Gillian Armstrong says:

    I, myself, definitely feel “choice anxiety”. I definitely pay more attention when I receive direct mailings, but I do receive a lot! I keep them in my mail pile for a while, but in the end, my husband and I have chosen two nonprofits for monthly donations, and once in a while if it’s an urgent request (seemingly urgent), I do an additional donation to another org. Also, I am a millennial 🙂

  • Lindsay D. says:

    Our online donations are consistent, but direct mail still brings in the most for our appeals. We’re planning on doing an email engagement campaign to clean up our email lists, so those we do send to are our engaged donors.

    As far as peer-to-peer goes, we have a few large events throughout the year that bring in a combined total or about $200,000 with online & offline pledges. This is something we’re looking to increase, but the more that’s out there the more fatigued people get with giving. It’s a balancing act, for sure.

  • Courtney says:

    Great info. Thanks!

  • Sage says:

    Long live direct mail! 🙂

  • Joe says:

    I will post some points to consider about my persepective (as a millennial):

    – Most of my friends chose not to purchase a home. They would rather rent, therefore constant changing of addresses.

    – Most of my peers tend to frequently change jobs. Another factor why most will not purchase a home, but rather rent.

    – Most mail, unless it is a bill of some sort or something very important often gets tossed aside. Direct mail is often geared towards Baby Boomers.

    – It’s pretty difficult to reach out to someone from my generation. The thing is, if your cause is something worthwhile, we’ll most likely seek you and give you our support. I would say that the best way to receive support is to communicate your cause (facebook, twitter, instagram, etc), and provide ways for people to donate to you online.

    I brought these points as the Millennials will be the next generation who will make up the majority of your donor base. The culture between the Millennials and Baby Boomers are drastically different, so connecting with them will require a different approach.

  • LaDonna says:

    Great thoughts to consider. We have an older donor base. But, we do utilize facebook, twitter and instagram to reach out. Our Communications team has been great with messaging.

  • Alicia says:

    As a millennial, it’s hard for me to relate with the donors, and understand how direct mail is still that successful!

  • Laura Salfen says:

    “Choice anxiety” is an interesting concept, and I don’t know that we have given it much thought at my org (perhaps we should!). I haven’t seen a sharp decrease in direct mail giving, but I have seen an increase in online giving over the last few years.

  • Alice Black says:

    Interesting information.Thank you! Those of us in the nonprofit sector also have to be ready to test our channels and adapt if necessary.

  • Susan Chomsky says:

    Our largest donor base is boomers and more and more of them are adopting online giving. Email tends to get lost in the sea of inbox requests, but personal phone calls to recurring donors and major donors has lasting impact. Finding active phones, though, is getting more difficult. We are contacting our donors every way we can and are launching a survey to find out HOW they want us to communicate with them.

  • Chris F. says:

    In the past year it was most evident that our direct mail is declining and our online giving and recurring giving options are increasing dramatically. We need to figure out how to harness that knowledge to appeal to our younger donor base.

  • Meagan says:

    Interesting stats.

  • Julie Ann says:

    So true! Trying to leverage these online giving platforms and not lose money by trying too many things is a big challenge.

  • Carlene says:

    As a former direct mail maven, I was interested to learn that Direct Mail still brings in the money!!!

  • Sasha Russell says:

    We are constantly trying to figure out how to engage our younger alumni to give – not just money but also time. We’ve stopped sending direct mail to alumni that are 5 years out and younger. It’s just a waste of postage. Direct mail still brings in the most for us, but better results combined with digital follow-ups.

  • Andy Schroeder says:

    We have relied heavily on direct mail and found that the only way to generate new donors in through social media channels. We have also found that to generate new/younger donors we have to meet them where they are and that again is on social channels.

  • Patti Hommes says:

    Very insightful, thanks! Downloaded The Next Generation of American Giving for my next read!

  • B.R. says:

    We need to do a better job of asking our donors and prospects in the manner in which they prefer. Our dependence on direct mail isn’t showing great returns from younger supporters. Lots to take away. Thanks for providing this resource!

  • Lisa Rizzo says:

    This was exactly some of the same marketing/sales issues (omichannels/switching technology/priority) that for-profit companies are also dealing with. It was a large topic at the national ecommerce convention, and we can obviously see it affect large scale stores.

    I still think that there is a great disparity between the software tools of nonprofits and the tools of for profits companies are using. Why is that? In a rapidly changing digital world that we’re on the cusp of, I think nonprofits which are heart-oriented are not at the table to guide some of these innovations that may radically change society AND we are not prepared to utilize it for good.

  • George Buss says:

    Choice Anxiety is fascinating as a potential reason for a decrease in donors.
    It seems that would make a case not that there is a wide range of opportunites to give, but that we have not made a case for giving that rises above the din of the crowd. I’d like to see this report compared to the increase in non-profits and causes. Would a shrinking of the # of non-profits increase the number of donors? Choice Anxiety makes a case that would be the effect.

  • Brent Troth says:

    Always helpful to be reminded that giving multiple options for support like most things can be a two edged sword. Being available where people are versus choice anxiety. It all comes down to knowing your donors and being strategic in choosing the right channels.

  • Veronica says:

    Our demographic is older people so direct mail is still the way to go for us. We are slowly seeing more people use online giving though and are slowly utilizing it more and more.

  • jennifer says:

    I agree that direct mail still seems to bring in a good return. We have had facebook fundraisers, however I didn’t get any donor data from those fundraisers, so I’m not sure how valuable they really are.

  • Tracey Sirles says:

    Direct mail is such a challenge. I feel like you need to mix messages through all the different channels with our constituents so as to not oversaturate appeals and invitations and newsletters. Looking forward to reading this Next Generation report though!

  • Brittany I. says:

    I’m quite surprised at the 14% email result. I am starting to believe that email engagement is going to decline, as so many people are bombarded and services such as allow people to choose what they want to see – unless they choose to see your newsletter, which would be awesome!

  • Stephanie Boyce says:

    These are some really great facts!

  • Mary Sommer says:

    We have shifted to more email; in support of direct mail campaigns.

  • Maya says:

    I find it very interesting the differences in responses per medium as I change sectors. When I worked at a museum, email giving (especially that giving linked to membership renewals) was a much more reliable channel than mailed renewals/donations. As I moved into conservation organizations and higher ed, direct mail seems to generate a larger portion of the giving.

  • Markella says:

    My organization 100% tracks with these trends, which is helpful to know moving forward, as it gives us insight into where we should be focusing our efforts.

  • Ann Nischke says:

    Very helpful comments about direct mail. Thanks for highlighting the ups & downs of the method.

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