New Study Monitors Transforming Donor Behavior | npENGAGE

New Study Monitors Dramatically Transforming Donor Behavior

By on Oct 24, 2017


It has long been believed that the health of the philanthropic sector is directly linked to the passion people have for organizations and their missions. To that end, there has been a great focus on communication and stewardship of donors to further increase giving. And, while we can certainly see the outpouring of support during moments of heightened awareness, such as after natural disasters, there may be more at play to the sector’s current state of affairs.

Over the last 10 years, there have been several factors that have dramatically affected the sector’s overall endurance. These things have forced our awareness, not only of the external factors at play but the value of retaining an organization’s best donors. At the Blackbaud Institute for Philanthropic Impact, we set out to better understand what influences sector growth and how organizations can respond to the ever-changing market. Our latest report, Vital Signs: Monitoring Giving Patterns in the Donor Marketplace, shares our findings. Some of the most significant disruptors to the sector over the last decade include:

  • While the value of individual giving in the United States increased about 3.4% (adjusted for inflation) in the decade from 2003 to 2013, the number of public nonprofits increased 23.4% or almost 5 times the rate at which individual giving increased
  • The impact of the Great Recession of 2007–2009 on the ever-expanding nonprofit sector still challenges recovery of giving to pre-recession levels
  • Baby boomers, infamous disrupters of all commerce, have been dominating the prime age range of giving (45 to 64) for more than a decade

However, for many years, the nonprofit sector in the United States has been focused on what can be done to expand giving. There has been plenty of evidence that there are tactical answers to the question, answers that deal with how we go about raising money from individuals, how we deploy the expanded choices of media, how we frame our communications to better nudge response, how we mine vastly expanded lodes of data, and more. But the evidence in Vital Signs strongly suggests that American donors are more valuable to American nonprofit organizations than the organizations are to donors. And this means we have strategic problems.

In this study, we specifically looked for giving behavior that might be affected by the factors listed above. We did not aim to document their influence on giving behavior; we aimed instead to document the behavior itself, providing a solid data foundation for follow-up research and development of practices that can result in better returns on fundraising investments. To better understand giving behavior, we looked at the massive base of household giving data from two angles:

  1. What are the most significant characteristics of recent giving?
  2. What are the behavior and consequence of new gift giving?

There are three fundamental objectives in raising money from individuals: keep the donors you have, increase their value to your organization over time, and recruit more donors than you lose to attrition. To see how organizations are performing against these fundamental objectives, download the full report at

Donor Marketplace Study


Chuck Longfield became Blackbaud’s chief scientist in January 2007 and is the founder of Target Software, Inc. and Target Analysis Group, Inc., both now Blackbaud companies. Chuck has extensive experience designing and implementing national as well as international constituency databases that address the fundraising information needs at many of the world’s largest nonprofit organizations. In recognition of his accomplishments, Chuck is the recipient of the DMA 2012 Max Hart Nonprofit Achievement Award. Prior to founding the Target companies in 1992, he taught math to middle and high school students. He was honored by FundRaising Success in 2007 with a lifetime achievement award for his contribution to the nonprofit sector. He holds a BA in mathematics and a MEd from Harvard University and has more than 30 years of experience helping nonprofits automate their fundraising operations.

Comments (4)

  • Annette says:


    I have created an event to raise funds for arthritis research and care NI in memory of my mum.
    I have observed recently what people tend to do when deciding whether or not to donate.
    I have been an avid fundraiser for years particularly for Mencap and other charities…in my opinion it comes back to the basics of whether a person has a connection with a particular charity through their own experience and have been assisted by that charity.
    I am very keen to learn more on the subject of giving…whether that be time or money to particular charities…my own expertise is with disaffected young people over tge political and class divide.
    I would certainly be open to establishing links with the Princes Trust in this area.

    Look forward to hearing from you.

    Best wishes


  • Patricia Clarkeson says:

    I find your blog very well written and quite impressive. Your research about the change in behavior of donor is very good. I want to know something about nonprofit fundraising techniques. Please suggest me some good ideas.
    Nonprofit fundraising

  • Leann says:

    This research sparks great questions in regards to the future of non profit fundraising and understanding donors. What I find particularly interesting is the identification of baby boomers being the donors that are mainly supporting the majority of donations over the last decade. This leads me to question how much longer that pattern can sustain and what sort of hole or gap in funding that will leave for non profits once that generation is no longer donating. In addition, it adds some level of urgency to non profits to try to better understand other generations and what influences them to donate the first time, as well as, repeatedly.

  • Jennifer Armstrong says:

    NCAR’s findings show that annually, individuals (non-trustees) provide the most funding to the arts and corporations provide the least. The comparatively small set of individuals who serve as trustees of arts and cultural organizations provide more resources than do corporations, on average.

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