Your direct marketing colleagues take a big-picture look at things


Study: Progressive Nonprofits in Strong Position for Fundraising Growth

What issues are important to grassroots progressive nonprofit donors? How did the 2016 elections impact their opinions, priorities and commitment to the progressive institutions, candidates and causes they support? How might those changes impact their giving decisions and patterns in 2017 and beyond? How has the progressive donor community changed over the last 10 years? Are there differences between those who give online and those who give via direct mail — and are those differences narrowing or widening over the years?

Reprising a national survey of online and direct mail grassroots donors last conducted 10 years ago, the Mellman Group and ABO Direct conducted the 2017 National Progressive Donor Survey — a study of 600 grassroots direct mail donors and 1,142 online donors from five sectors within the progressive donor community: political, international aid & relief, civil rights, environmental and women’s issues.

What we found

We discovered a galvanized community, re-energized in its commitment to previously chosen causes and candidates and potentially ready to support new causes it now sees as especially threatened by the  election of Donald Trump.

In reporting on the study, The Chronicle of Philanthropy saw the following as “hot topics” emerging from the survey:

“Online donors were most likely to say that blocking President Trump’s policy agenda was their top priority, with 39 percent picking that course of action. Thirty percent of direct mail donors were focused on giving the Senate a Democratic majority. Among individual issues that alarmed all donors, the most concerning, cited by 60 percent

of respondent s, was the potential loss of health insurance for millions under President Trump and the GOP Congress.  Following closely behind: government budget cuts to education, health care and environmental programs (59 percent), the weakening of environmental protections (58 percent), neglecting to protect the environment (56 percent) and the effect of global warming on future generations (54 percent).”

Both online and offline donors reported that they had already increased their giving to progressive causes in the  first half of 2017 and, perhaps even more remarkably, 29 percent of mail donors and 40 percent of online donors are planning to contribute more going forward in 2017 and 2018.

The survey also revealed some interesting changes over the last decade (since the last National Progressive Donor Survey was done in 2007) in the online and mail grassroots donor universe. Ten years ago, there was an emerging cadre of online donors who inhabited a distinctly different universe than their direct mail counterparts. They were younger, somewhat more educated and considerably more liberal.

While many of these differences remain, the age gap between online and offline donors has narrowed significantly.  Ten years ago, the mean age for online donors was 52 years old. Today it is 66. Direct mail donors averaged 68 years in 2007, while today the mean age is 71. More than half of mail donors are now older than 70, compared to one-third for online.  Both direct and online donors skew female and are highly educated.

Donor migration between channels is becoming more commonplace, especially among direct mail donors, as 24 percent now give online as well as offline — more than twice as many as 10 years ago. Donors are interested in accountability from the groups and organizations they support. They want to hear about the relative percent­ age of their dollars which are going to overhead versus programs and how their money is being used to advance the causes they care about.

Longer term implications for fundraising

The findings from the 2017 National Progressive Donors Survey have wide­ ranging implications for all those in and outside the progressive fund raising world.  For example, as more money is directed to these causes, other, non-progressive causes may suffer as their share of a donor’s fundraising pie shrinks. We also learned a lot about messaging within individual market sectors and how issues are framed can have significant impact on fundraising effectiveness.

We’d also identify at least three other significant implications for, at least, the near-term future of progressive grassroots fundraising:

  1. It’s time to grow. Since the 2008 recession, the progressive universe has shrunk, and only in the last couple years have signs of stabilization emerged. More than 30 percent of this sample universe intends to give more to progressive groups and is open to giving to new causes in the year ahead. But it is critical that organizations grow smartly. Roger Craver has labeled some of the donors acquired in times like these “flash philanthropists”-donors who are almost immediately at risk, not unlike those who give to international relief groups after a tsunami or earthquake. It’s essential to attract the right donors-those genuinely committed to the broader mission- and have in place a strategy for retention prior to acquisition. Success should not be measured by a donor count, but by the number of committed, high value donors you attract and retain.
  2. It’s time for a renewed emphasis on integration across fundraising channels. Integration has lost some of its luster in recent years and fundraising silos seem, in many places, to have hardened. The increasing movement especially of mail donors to give some of their money online suggests new opportunities and a new need to think seriously about messaging and treatment integration across channels.
  3. Online fundraising needs some disruption. Twenty years after the first online donation, according to Blackbaud, online giving accounts for just 10 percent of total fundraising. The public and society benefit sector — the one we studied with this survey-is the highest, but still stands at just 10.2 percent. That is not nearly good enough and growing at only 6 percent or 7 percent a year will mean online fundraising will simply not meet the very real needs of organizations in the years ahead. And the rapid aging of the online donor universe in the last decade offers new urgency to this challenge. For online fundraising, it’s time to think differently and do things differently.

The progressive donor community has indeed changed over the past 10 years, but it is clear it represents a highly energized  and engaged community ready to rally to support causes it feel s are particularly threatened. Organizations must continue to utilize this opportunity to grow smartly in order to be the leaders of the change they strive to see in this world.


Mark Mellman is president and CEO of The Mellman Group, a political consulting firm that has been providing sophisticated opinion research and strategic advice to political leaders, government agencies, corporations and the nation ‘s leading public interest groups for nearly 25 years. Chuck Pruitt is co-managing director of ABD Direct, a full-service fundraising consulting agency with more than 30 years of experience helping nonprofit charitable and progressive advocacy organizations push the boundaries of direct response fundraising. For more information on the 2017 National Progressive Donor Study, visit… https://goo.gl/4Pi2Qh.

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