Your mileage may vary: the story of 2020 donors

The Blackbaud 2020 Charitable Giving Report is chockablock with good data on which to benchmark your direct marketing program.  But reading through, there was one statement that brought me up short:

“Analysis of the data shows that, in April, May, and June of 2020, nonprofits of all sizes experienced a significant drop in charitable giving.”

That’s not at all what the nonprofits of my acquaintance found.  In mid-April, for example, among Aegis clients for caging, average gift went up 9% and it’s been that way—between 8-11% increase in average gift—ever since.  And it was accompanied by a significant—7=10% increase in mail volume.  Digital giving, of course, was doing gangbusters.

So who is right?  Did direct marketing giving go up or down in Q2 of 2020?  The answer: it depends on many things:

Sector: for those who don’t know, June is to higher education institutions what December is to most other nonprofits.  It’s the end of the university fiscal year, so there is a significant push for donations at that time.  And usually the giving in June is greater than that in December.  Not so, according to the Blackbaud report:

That’s right — the proportion of month given to universities in June plummeted year-over-year.  Because there’s so much giving to higher ed in June and June is usually a relatively sleepy month for most other nonprofits, a significant hit to the one sector that was relying on the month is a significant drag on the overall average.  It may be that if you took higher education out of the overall average, giving would have been up in Q2, at least among larger nonprofits.  Which brings us to:

Nonprofit size: Blackbaud shows that, consistent with every other piece of data I’ve seen, larger nonprofits are doing better in the Year of Living Pandemically than small ones: small (under $1 million in revenue) nonprofits dropped 7% year-over-year, versus 5% gains for large ($10 million) nonprofits.  And specifically, small nonprofits dropped more than 17% in Q2 year-over-year.

Since most nonprofits I work with tend to be on the larger side of this equation (and not many universities), of course my perception is that nonprofits overall had a good Q2 and direct marketing year.  Of course, size could be partly a proxy for something else:

Communications frequency: Our friends at Bloomerang looked at early digital results and found that in March, revenues were up 30% among those organizations that sent crisis emails, but down 19% among those who sent no crisis emails and down 21% among those who sent no emails.  In April, that was up 27% for those sending crisis emails, up 10% among those who sent non-crisis emails, and down 8% among those who sent no emails.  Conclusion: those organizations who took a break from fundraising in Q2 not shockingly did not raise as many funds.  And it’s likely that those organizations that are smaller tended to send fewer emails or pause other aspects of fundraising.

Since we were one of the organizations to early and often encourage nonprofits to continue communicating with their constituents early and often, very few of the organizations of my acquaintance had the drop in revenue in March and April that came from that non-communication. (It also goes without saying that Moore clients tended to do better than non-Moore clients, but we’re too humble about our clients being awesome to mention that in anything but parentheses.)

Types of donors. Organizations that had more sustaining donors had more reliable revenues.  Duh.  

Channel. Blackbaud makes this point well: at the same time as average income dropped, digital gifts increased 36% in Q2.

So, did overall income drop in Q2?  Well, if you are in a sector that the pandemic shifted giving away from like higher education, are a smaller organization, work on offline giving, and you cut your mailings in Q2, you were probably wondering if the sky was falling in Q2.  If you are a large organization working in a pandemic-affected area, work on digital, and expanded your acquisition program as digital advertising was cheap, you are probably wondering what Blackbaud is talking about as you ride upon your gravy train with biscuit wheels.

The truth is that average benchmarks camouflage that there are no average nonprofits.  Everyone is in its own unique sector, channel, size, and communications schedule.  Your mileage may vary and does.  A communication to all these nonprofits will be colored by whether I do it with my perspective or Blackbaud does it with theirs.

Here’s the hidden truth that only those who stuck with this article for a discussion of Q2 2020 results will hear about:

So too it is for donors.

There is no average donor.  They are colored by whether they are a parent, whether they have a direct connection to your cause, what their financial situation is, how satisfied they were with your acknowledgement and reporting back last time and on and on.

If you are sending a one-size-fits-all communication to them, it’s like hearing how Q2 did from Blackbaud or from me: it addresses some, but not all, of your situation.  And if you were to model your donors, you’d find the same (probably more) variation in their likelihood of giving as there is in nonprofit success and failure during last year.

And that’s why one-size-fits-all doesn’t; every donor’s mileage varies.

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