Matching the Message to the Platform: Best Practices in Donor Communication

By Avrum Lapin and Andrea Sachs Otto

One of the most successful fundraising movements in recent history has been #GivingTuesday, the call to insert philanthropy into the holiday season. According to the program founders, “#GivingTuesday is a global day of giving fueled by the power of social media and collaboration.” It is through social media that donors encourage their friends and family to join them in supporting the work that, hopefully, improves the lives of people and communities.

Yet, despite its obvious success, growing to $116.7M raised by mostly online donations (700,000), #GivingTuesday has largely targeted a younger demographic and has found its greatest success with online donations. According to Blackbaud, 29% of online donors are between the ages of 41 and 45. Though #GivingTuesday does not track donors’ ages, it stands to reason that these donations were made by those under 50.

While many organizations have smartly leapt onto the #GivingTuesday platform, development directors and fundraisers need to take a multi-generational approach when speaking to their donors, because different generations communicate and digest information differently. Older people are more likely to give philanthropically than younger generations. In fact, Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964) make up 34% of the pool of donors, but give 43% of all money contributed by individuals, according to a study by Blackbaud.

The key to successful communication is matching the vehicle with the target audience. This means quite simply, the goal is to make sure that the message is being delivered in a way that is most accessible, most easily understood, and most comfortable for the intended consumer/reader.

Social Media:

Social media is not just for the young. In fact, according to Pew Research, by 2014, 65% of adults ages 50-64 used social networking sites. In fact, the average age of a Facebook user in 2016 was 40.5 years old. According to this study, 72% of adult internet users and 62% of entire adult population used Facebook. Sites like Pinterest and Instagram skew younger and are less widely used. LinkedIn is the only major social media platform for which usage rates are higher among 30-49 year-olds than among 18-29 year-olds. Fully 46% of online adults who have graduated from college are LinkedIn users.

Social media can be an effective platform for communicating with donors and potential donors, though is not a great venue for obtaining major gifts. The key … to match the platform with the intended audience. For instance, having content for 18-34 year-olds on LinkedIn might not be as effective as the same message on Instagram.

Digital Newsletters via email:

Last year, the average nonprofit had an open rate of 25.25% and a click through from the newsletter to the nonprofit’s website rate of 2.84%, according to Constant Contact. This makes digital newsletters a relatively inexpensive way to target existing and potential donors. And, in a study by McKinsey, email is 40 times more effective at capturing the attention and for acquiring new customers than Facebook or Twitter.

Yet, according to a report from App Annie, email is effectively dying among younger people. Those aged 13-24 now spend more than 3.5 times overall usage time in messaging apps than those over 45 years old; while the older users still default to apps that replicate desktop functions, like email and web browsers. This means that email is most effective when used to speak to older users, exactly the type of people who tend to be more prominent organizational supporters and are the best prospects. However, it is important to stay on top of these trends as messaging becomes an increasingly more popular path for communication.

Text Alerts:

Text messages with links to videos are the best way to communicate with donors in real-time. The average text is read within three minutes of being sent, according to Text donors are mostly likely to be 49 to 59 years old, female, married and a college graduate. This demographic is appealing, but keep in mind that most text donations range from $5-$10 and are almost always cause-related and are not effective in pursuing major gifts. As younger generations dismiss email, this might be the next frontier of marketing and communications. For the bulk of donors, like other electronic media, this is not the most effective platform of for donations, but can be part of the mix.

Printed materials such a direct mail and newsletters:

Printed materials are costly to produce and take time to create. In this digital age, it can seem like a throwback to have a printed newsletter mailed out quarterly, or a personalized letter. Direct mail in general has a 3.5% response rate. Yet, 35% of all donors say that they prefer to give via mail than online. Older generations are more comfortable writing checks than making online donations. Knowing that these donors account for more and larger gifts, it is important to consider direct mail in the outreach mix as part of the path to a longer term giving relationship. The cost might seem large upfront, but the increased donations will more than make up for the investment.

Personal Outreach:

Successful fundraising, especially as it relates to major gifts, is based in personal connections. A relationship and shared commitment to the mission of an organization is the key to advancing philanthropy. Analytics and data cannot quantify or measure personal relationships. However, face to face interactions are still the key to strong connections and communications.

And when looking at approaches to grassroots level fundraising, even when studying all of the ROIs of marketing platforms, telephone campaigns were the highest at 9-10%, according to the Direct Marketing Association. “At the end of the day,” real connections are made face to face and result in deeper understanding of the donor’s need and creates lifetime partnerships.

Donors are 50% more likely to give if they are touched by multiple methods. With technology today, it is possible to connect with donors using a variety of methods. The strongest programs are those that use many platforms concurrently and effectively.

It is important to keep track of the different platforms and vehicles that are used to reach donors and prospective donors. Keeping a database of these outreaches will help formulate a plan of what the best mix is for a particular organization and an individual donor.

Our colleagues welcome your comments and emails. Let us know what you think. Please feel free to contact us at The Lapin Group at 215-885-1550 or Avrum Lapin at to discuss this further.

Avrum Lapin is President and Andrea Sachs Otto is Marketing Coordinator at The Lapin Group, LLC, based in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania, a full-service fundraising and management consulting firm for nonprofits. The Lapin Group inspires and leads US-based and international nonprofits seeking fund, organizational, leadership, and business development solutions, offering contemporary and leading-edge approaches and strategies. A Board member of the Giving Institute and a member of the Editorial Review Board of Giving USA, Avrum is a frequent contributor to and speaker in the US and in Israel on opportunities and challenges in today’s nonprofit marketplace.

Visit our website:
All rights reserved.