I just read O’Brien Garrett’s new study on the pandemic and donor behavior and wanted to share some insights with the Sea Change crew.

Published on May 1st and based on a survey fielded in April to a sample of 600 non profit direct response donors, the study is cautiously optimistic about donor behavior. A few highlights:

  • The cautious news: The authors underscore  a tension in significant portions of the donor community between people’s strong motivation to support the causes they believe in and their capacity to act on that impulse.
  • The bad news: People are more pessimistic about the overall economy than they have been seen since the 2009 financial crisis. The optimism/pessimism balance is 47% to 53%
  • The good news: Still, people’s assessment of their own finances is more positive, with 61% expressing optimism about their personal finances, compared to the 47% relaying optimism about the overall economy.
  • More bad news: But it is still true that nearly four out of 10 donors express pessimism about their own financial outlook — a pretty significant portion of the donor audience. 
  • More good news: There are, however, signs that many regard their financial setbacks to be temporary. When the authors looked specifically at how people who have experienced an income reduction feel about their financial outlook, 48% express optimism.
  • And even better news: Almost 70% of respondents say that the economy will have no impact on their giving or that they plan to give even more.
  • More good news: When looking at overall economic behavior, survey respondents express a broad sense of caution when it comes to delaying major purchases and commitments. But compared to other financial commitments, respondents express more willingness to keep supporting existing causes — and, to a lesser extent, engaging with new ones.

So what does this mean for you and your fundraising efforts:

Don’t be shy about asking for money right now. Your work is still important — and maybe even more so given the current crisis. But thread the needle — recognizing that some donors are in the position to give while others want to give, but can’t right now due to economic uncertainty.

Focus on stewarding and upgrading your house file. Now is the time to keep the donors you already have engaged and giving.

Be creative. Think of interesting ways to keep donors engaged in your work. Mark wrote a great post about that last week.

Times are tough. But you got this. We’ll get through it together.