Addressing the Donor Digital Divide: The Wired Wealthy vs The Dinosaur Donors

by Autumn Walden

With the rise of philanthro-technocrats like Bill Gates, Pierre Omidyar, and Jeff Skoll, it’s easy for many of us in the philanthropic and nonprofit sector to get caught up in the digital wave of web 2.0 technologies. The explosion of web 2.0 tools such as blogs, videos, mobile messaging, and social networks has forced many nonprofits and foundations to improve the way they appear to and interact with supporters online.

However, we can’t assume that all donors fall into the category of the “wired wealthy” (Convio, Sea Change Strategies, Edge Research, 2008), who donate an average of $10,896 online each year, spend an average of 18 hours per week on the web, and pay bills/do banking online. Let’s not forget about those practicing what Renata Rafferty refers to as “Dinosaur Philanthropy,” composed of donors who have never heard of web forums and limit their giving activities to galas and family foundation transactions.

While this divide exists, there are two emerging web 2.0 tools that have enhanced the way people interact with causes and issues they care about in a mainstream way: mobile technologies (e.g. apps and text messaging) and video storytelling.

Mobile for Good

Text donations surged after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, giving rise to services such as mGive. Mobile technologies are used to not only support causes, but also to bridge education and training gaps in developing countries, such as mHealthEd. Donor advised funds are starting to offer mobile solutions for the iPad and smartphone devices such as DonorFirst, while private banks and wealth management firms such as JP Morgan and Merrill Lynch have mobile apps for their clients.

Video Engagement

In a white paper titled The Digital Future of Philanthropy, videographer Jessica Kizorek shares tips on how nonprofits and others in the social sector can use high-quality video to improve the online experience, create relationships and emotional connections to causes, and satisfy the need for instant gratification in the information age. Video campaigns and organizations such as The Nike Foundation and NoVo’s Girl Effect, ABC News Journalists’ 10×10, Ashoka, and Rethink Impact, showcase the real stories of women, children, and other vulnerable populations to viewers with the click of a mouse or swipe of a touchscreen.

Linking the “Wired Wealthy” and the “Dinosaur Donors” for Impact

At the Center, we focus on a specific segment of the philanthropic marketplace: individual donors and their advisors who care about social impact. While conducting our research on the giving approaches of high net worth individuals, we learned that donors are not a homogeneous group. It is important to try to meet them where they are, through a variety of formats, both new and traditional. Many of these donors care deeply about the impact of their gifts, and want to be engaged with the causes they care about and to share what they learn with others. While the web provides a wealth of meaningful information on high performing nonprofits and high impact models, it is still challenging to make sure that the available evidence of outcomes and impact is communicated effectively to encourage donor action.

We must be mindful of those still “left-behind” in the traditional world of the face-to-face, family office, and word-of-mouth-over-dinner crowd. For example, a survey by the Foundation Center found that only 29% of the 11,000 foundations in the U.S. had a website. Glasspockets, a recent project of the Foundation Center, shows how foundations are now using technology in the world of institutional philanthropy. Yet the Hope Consulting and GuideStar study, Money for Good II, revealed that many foundations and individuals are not yet using these tools, and that many of these tools do not answer donor’s key questions.

So how can web 2.0 technology get adopted, not only by nonprofits and philanthropic institutions, but also by individuals who aren’t technologically inclined and/or who have concerns about privacy? One example is The G9 (formerly the Family Office Channel), an invitation-only online network for wealth managers for families with a history of intergenerational giving. Sure, it’s not YouTube, but links to YouTube videos can be shared and discussed. It’s not Facebook, but profiles can be created and you can “like” a member-submitted article on next generation philanthropy. There are also networking resources such as the Family Office Exchange and the Institute for Private Investors. They are places to share information, learn about best practices, and build a sense of community, both online and offline. It’s not the only solution, but it’s a start.

Autumn Walden is Program Manager, Linking for learning at the Center for High Impact Philanthropy, University of Pennsylvania, School of Social Policy & Practice.

This post first appeared on the Center for High Impact Philanthropy blog; reprinted with permission.