Sifting through fundraising research reports is an important step in staying up-to-date on new trends and best practices to make sure that your nonprofit doesn’t fall behind the times. But it’s so easy to save a report to your website as you find it and never go back to actually read through the data and compare it to your nonprofit’s fundraising. Where’s the tl;dr (too long; didn’t read) version of all these reports?

We’ve got you covered with takeaways you can use to assess your nonprofit’s fundraising efforts.

Takeaways From Fundraising Research Reports

I read four recent fundraising research reports, pulling out key findings and suggesting potential strategy adjustments and takeaways based on those findings. We figured we’d save you some reading and head scratching. Let’s dive into the research.

The Next Generation of American Giving

The report by Blackbaud Institute looks at giving trends by generation, breaking down the habits and preferences of Generation Z, Millennials, Generation X, Baby Boomers and Matures.

Appeal to Older Generations

It’s a general rule of thumb that older generations have more money to spare. They’re long settled in their careers (or even retired!) and are no longer financially supporting children. The study also found that older generations were more likely to prioritize donations as having the highest impact, whereas younger supporters may prioritize actions like volunteering.

The Baby Boomers are a fundraiser’s bread and butter. In 2017, Baby Boomers gave 41% of all donations. They’re primed for your appeals in the coming giving seasons. However, the research shows that older donors prefer to plan ahead rather than give spontaneously. And you’ll need to adjust your strategy to plan ahead and account for that. Those last-minute New Year’s Eve pleas may not be the best approach for this crowd.

Build Relationships With Younger Ones

All of that is not to say that you should be ignoring younger generations. To ensure that you’re in good standing with Millennials as they get older and grow into financial stability, start building relationships now. Gifts may be smaller, but they should slowly increase over the years. In 2017, Millennial giving represented 14% of donated funds.

The study also found that relationship building techniques like thank you notes have a larger effect on younger donors and that they tend to value that recognition more than their older counterparts. So the uptick in donations may come sooner than expected with a little relationship building.

Improve Mobile Experiences

Mobile donations are on the rise and expected to continue to gain momentum. 21% of all online donations in 2017 were made through a mobile device. This means mobile-friendly forms and responsive websites. Keeping your donation form on a responsive website (one that adapts to the size of the screen it’s viewed upon) vastly improves the experience. Mobile giving is especially important if millennials are your target audience, as they gravitate toward mobile and online options. They’ll appreciate the effort you put into a nice mobile experience.

Consider New Donation Options

As you’ve most likely noticed, donations through direct mail have been rapidly declining over the past few years, and email is still holding its own. Although, there are a plethora of new options vying for your attention. Check out some of the options that the study calls out as being especially promising:

  • Social media fundraising is especially popular with younger donors and is expected to grow with the rollout of Facebook Fundraisers.
  • Giving through crowdfunding has shot up since 2013 for all generations with people typically giving through friends, family or coworkers.
  • Substantial percentages of donors say they have participated in (or are at least interested in) workplace giving.

As always, consider your specific target audience and what they’d appreciate before jumping head first into new giving strategies. What works for the masses may not be best for your particular niche, but these options are most certainly something to keep an eye on moving forward.

The Future of Philanthropy

The report by Fidelity Charitable assesses how fundraising trends affect individual donors, as well as general feelings toward nonprofits and the role they play.

Sharing Impact Matters

So it turns out that when people give nonprofits money, they really care about how that money translates to impact. The study shows that donors are becoming more and more results-focused and more likely to check services like Guidestar and Charity Navigator to review financial transparency. 41% reported changing their giving due to new knowledge of a nonprofit’s effectiveness.

Create Impact and Financials pages on your nonprofit’s website and make sure that you’re keeping them up to date. Use data as well as stories that demonstrate impact in your fundraising appeals and other communications. Donors don’t expect you to fix everything, but they do hold nonprofits to higher standards than businesses and want to see how their money is making an impact. Follow up with them to fill them in on what you’re accomplishing with donated funds.

Planned Giving

Do you have a strategy for planned giving or bequests? These days, more people are open to planned giving rather than passing their wealth onto the next generation as was previously the status quo. If you don’t already offer planned giving, it could be time to consider it. And if you do, make sure your donors know about it by including it on the Ways to Give page on your website.

Giving Through Financial Planning

What about giving through financial planning? Gifts of investments, like stocks, dividends or funds, can be more complicated than the straightforward dollar gift. But access to and awareness of financial planning and giving strategies can help supporters give more to charity in the long term, as those gifts accumulate value in the market.

The study showed that, though the overall adoption was relatively small, 18% say having this option impacted their giving. Before blindly adopting a new giving trend, try floating the idea past a group of your current donors to gauge their reaction. If you receive a positive response, you can start a conversation with a financial advisor and look into what your program should entail.

2018 Fundraising Effectiveness Survey Report

The report by the Association of Fundraising Professionals looks at data from five donor software companies to pull out overall trends in giving.

Prioritize Donor Retention

When it comes to fundraising, we’ve known for a while that relationship building matters. Taking positive steps to reduce both gift and donor losses is the least expensive strategy for increasing your fundraising gains across the board. Last year, the average donor retention rate was 45.5%, meaning more than half of all donors jumped ship. New donors are awesome, but more effort should be placed on making current donors happy and encouraging them to not only continue giving but to give more.

It’s all about the long game, and creating a process to follow up with and thank donors is a huge part of that. But how do you begin the relationship building process? To start, thank every donor and make an effort to keep them updated on the impact of their donations. This could be through email, on social media, in person or wherever you communicate with your donors. To take it a step further, reach out to lapsed donors through a re-engagement campaign.

Review Internal Fundraising Data

Are you collecting the data you need to make strategic fundraising decisions? At the very least, you should be able to track how much you’re spending on fundraising, how much you’re raising and the gains or losses that result from the difference between those two numbers. According to the report, the greatest losses in gift dollars came from lapsed new gifts, and the greatest losses in donors came from lapsed new donors.

Donor management software can help nonprofits better target donor retention efforts to new (or recently lapsed) donors they’re at the greatest risk of losing. It’s pretty tough to put in the extra communication effort if you can’t easily pull information about (at the very least) who’s new, who’s lapsed and who your steady donors are.

Women Give 2018

The report by the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy looks at how parents pass on giving habits to their children.

Family Friendly

Does your nonprofit have the potential to be more family friendly? This study showed that adult children whose parents give are more likely to be donors themselves. Parents want to instill generosity in their children, and giving to nonprofits can be a big part of that. Many families have traditions around philanthropy, sharing specific causes (and the nonprofits with related missions) with their kids. If there are appropriate opportunities available, they may even get involved with volunteer work and take their children along to nonprofit events.

To help your nonprofit appeal to family philanthropy, tune into parental instincts for fundraising appeals. Consider hosting events for parents and children to attend as a family and creating family-friendly volunteer opportunities to capture new donors through their parents at a young age.


So what have we learned from all of this research? Donor relationships matter more than ever and your nonprofit should be working actively to build these along with your donor retention numbers. Whether it’s by sharing your nonprofit’s impact on a more regular basis, considering new donation options, improving mobile experiences or creating a more family-friendly environment, you can use the takeaways from fundraising research to review your current efforts and make strategic adjustments that work for your target audience.

Have you read a fundraising research report that was helpful in focusing your nonprofit’s strategy? Recently updated your fundraising strategy in light of internal data analysis? What were your takeaways? We’d love to hear from you in the comments.