The Data Is In: With Donations Down, Insight into Audience Must Go Up

What many nonprofit organizations across the country already knew at the end of 2018 has been reinforced by recent reports: overall giving is down. With a variety of factors to blame, most point to the redefined tax code. While it’s important to understand data trends and economic realities, no fundraiser or development department has the option of merely throwing their proverbial hands in the air. There is still work to be done, missions to achieve and community needs to be met.

From the perspective of marketing and communications, often the inclination is to look toward tactics. How can we increase our outputs to maximize our outcomes? Should we pump up the volume on solicitations? Do we host another event? Can we blanket social media with additional asks? How can we get more news coverage? However, we advise against knee-jerk reactions that deploy tactics in search of a strategy and instead recommend reexamining PR fundamentals to determine the best way forward.

Before you can begin communicating with any audience, you need to know who they are, how they get their information and what motivates them to action. In an era of personalized playlists, online shopping and newsfeeds, you can’t expect one message will fit all.  A nonprofit may have only a vague concept of who their donors are, instead focusing on the importance of their mission or the urgency of their needs rather than what moves their supporters.

Depending on the size of the nonprofit and donor base, gathering this information can prove challenging, but it is well worth the effort and investment. Cross-tabulating your donation data to identify which donors respond to what types of communications, and with how much, can prove invaluable in creating more targeted and content-specific communications. This way, you’re not sending a dog email to a “cat lady” for your “All Paws In” fundraiser.

Often, it helps to ask. Surveying can help you learn about your existing donors and what makes them tick.  As online giving becomes more popular, you can even ask a few questions of new supporters as they make their donations via forms. In short, do what it takes to get to know those who support you.

Armed with this information, strategy and tactics become clearer. Where and how you disseminate your messages formalizes. Such upfront investments in time and communication can make all the difference in the end-result and bottom line.