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ASU Lodestar Center Blog

How nonprofits can adapt to a changing donor landscape

giving trends

Giving trends across the United States have evolved rapidly over the past two to three years. Global events from Covid-19 responses to the effects of the Great Resignation have upended traditional fundraising strategies employed by nonprofits. The emergence of these drivers of change along with major shifts in donor demographics presents a unique challenge that many nonprofits are not fully prepared for. We live in an increasingly diverse world, the current direct marketing model utilized by most nonprofits is not only antiquated, but ineffective at reaching the diverse donor landscape of the 21st century.

To be successful in the future, nonprofits will need to craft communication strategies that account for an increasingly diverse donor landscape. Each group of donors, whether separated by ethnic group or generation, has unique challenges and opportunities that must be considered as well as preferred methods of communication. Continuing to employ the same strategies that were effective on older generations, will gradually become less effective at attracting and retaining donors.

So, what can organizations do to embrace the changing demographics of the donor landscape? There are a number of recommendations that organization can employ that will help ensure long term success in their donor retention strategy.

Social media has become essential

Social media often falls by the wayside for nonprofits, but its role in online fundraising will only continue to gain significance. Without engagement on popular social media sites, nonprofits rob themselves of a direct communication channel with their donors that lets them engage in real time. Too often, nonprofits only make static posts that promote an event or serve as a call to donate. Nonprofits should view social media as a story telling device that allows direct engagement and the ability to gather feedback. Engage in the comments and promote conversation with your constituents. Younger generations are becoming involved with philanthropy earlier than ever before, and they had a tendency to seek direct engagement online.

Build the capacity for online / mobile giving

Another area that often gets neglected is a robust website with online / mobile giving functionality. Nonprofits often have horribly designed websites that are difficult to navigate on mobile devices. Younger generations tend to give almost exclusively through their mobile device, so ignoring that functionality will cost the organization future donations. Asian American donors in particular, indicated that a well-maintained website that is easy to navigate is a primary driver for their philanthropic giving. Nonprofits should view a well-functioning website and mobile giving as a future investment. Navigation and functionality are the two most critical pieces. If donors are unable to quickly navigate to the donation page, then they will simply move on.

Leverage personalized content

While older generations still prefer to receive mailings that are more fact based, young donors (millennials, Generation X, Generation Z) all indicate that they prefer personalized messages and mailing. Younger donors want to see the impact of their gifts / efforts, so taking the time to tailor their communication will help increase their response rate. How they receive the message is equally important. While older generations still prefer a hard mailing, younger donors are more open to direct outreach through social media or other online forums.

The donor landscape is rapidly evolving. Nonprofits must be conscious of the generational and societal changes that are occurring if they want to craft effective communication strategies. For too long, nonprofits have kept to the direct marketing system that was designed decades ago. This system is ineffective in reaching demographics such as Hispanic donors, African American donors, and donors in younger generations. Nonprofits will need to develop more personalized messages moving forward and be willing to engage directly with their constituents both in person and online. Social media and mobile giving are excellent tools that any nonprofit can leverage to help drive further engagement. While the vast majority of charitable donations come from older generations, it’s important to realize that more donor groups and generations are getting involved in philanthropic giving, especially at younger ages. To ensure a steady donor pipeline, nonprofits will need to start working now to attract new generations of donors to gain their loyalty and trust now. Nonprofits should start to evaluate their own communication strategies to make sure it applies to the diverse landscape of 2023, not the America of last century.

Zack Cockerham is a 2022 graduate of the Master of Nonprofit Leadership and Management Program at Arizona State University. He studied at Northwestern State University of Louisiana and holds a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts. Zack currently works at Elevate IMS, a fundraising firm that specializes in fraternity and sorority capital campaigns and alumni communication programs.


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Illustration by Lillian Finley, ASU Lodestar Center.

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