What You Need to Know About Your Donors

  • by Shala Graham
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Could you pick your average donor out of a police lineup? That question isn't literal, of course, but it's not as far off the mark as you might think, either.

The more you know about your average donor—that is, the types of men and women who give money to your cause most often—the better job you can do reaching them with effective fundraising messages… not to mention finding more people just like them. There are a number of different ways to get the kinds of data you're looking for, such as keeping track of event registrations, giving gifts for filling out surveys, or even renting marketing lists and following the results.

No matter how you are compiling them, though, there are a handful of things you'll want to know:

Basic profiles.

In the most general sense, you'll want to know how old your donors are, what kind of income and education they have, what sort of neighborhoods they live in, and so on. In the commercial world, marketing companies use this type of data all the time to maximize the return on investment for their advertising campaigns. Although you may not have products to move on store shelves, you do probably have a specific budget to work within, and fundraising goals for the coming months and years. Getting to know about your donors is the best way to make the most of both.

Their biggest reasons for donating.

Why do people want to give money to your organization? That's a basic question, but the real answers could surprise you. Although certain types of nonprofits might be able to identify their biggest individual donor groups by some specific criteria (a disease research center that receives gifts from the families of those affected, for example), it's not always that easy. It could be that people give to you because of a certain gift you give to donors, that they feel compelled by a friend or family member, or because of some other personal connection that isn't related to your cause at all. That's probably not the case, but it is something that's worth examining.

How they prefer to be contacted.

In the same way, it's a bad idea to simply assume that your donors prefer to hear from you over the phone, through the mail, or online if they haven't expressed some strong opinion in the past. Traditionally, older donors liked to be reached through the mail, while younger givers are more open to e-mail and other forms of communication. There are signs that those trends are changing, however, and the more convenient it is for people to respond and give to you, the more likely they are to do so.

As you start to gather this information, you'll probably begin to capture a picture in your mind of what your best donors look like. Unfortunately, they probably won't be as straightforward as you might think; there could be the case where you have two or three donor profiles, each with their own average age, reason for giving, and so on.

What do you do then? You’ll usually have two choices: If your list (or resources) are limited, then you'll have to do your best to find common ground between them and develop fundraising messages that appeal equally well to all your most important donors. Obviously, you have to sacrifice a bit here in terms of what you can expect from this approach—since no one can be everything to everyone—but you should be able to find some common traits even across highly diverse groups.

The second thing you can do is to develop separate campaigns aimed at different target audiences. Although this can be costlier and more time-consuming, it's almost always going to be more effective over the long run. That's because, the more tightly you can define a certain type of donor, the better chance you stand of getting them to make a gift and reach others who are close to them (both literally and metaphorically).

Either way, knowing as much as you can about your donors is always a good idea. After all, these are your best friends who support your cause with their time and money. If you want to keep up your good work, then get to know them as well as possible.