Communications and Courtesy Key to Donor Relations

Eighty-five percent (85%) of American households contribute to charity each year, with average giving levels at 2.1% of personal income. Even upon death, Americans give to their favorite causes, with 2002 bequest gifts estimated at an all-time high $18.10 billion.

A recent study, "Determinants of U.S. Donor Behaviours: The Case of Bequests," conducted by Brits Adrian Sargeant and Elaine Jay, explores the factors that lead to a bequest gift, the best prospects for bequest "asks" and how bequest communications are perceived by prospective donors. The 1,290 study participants were selected from among supporters of five nonprofit organizations that are actively involved in seeking bequest gifts. The participants were typically married (60%), 66 years old with two children, three grandchildren and median annual charitable giving of $3,500. Income levels varied widely, with the bulk (74%) making less than $100,000 per year. Slightly more women than men participated in the study.

Respondents provided the following insights for those of us involved in fund raising, particularly the development of longer term gifts –

Donors' top methods for selecting organizations for support:
1. I look for nonprofits that spend a high percentage of their income on the cause.
2. I give to nonprofits that have good professional reputations.
3. I compare between nonprofits to find the one most likely to have an impact on the cause.
4. I support nonprofits that approach me in a professional manner. (lowest ranking: benefit to me, personal recognition, organization has helped me in the past)

Most important components of the nonprofits' relationship with the donor:

1 and 2 - Courtesy in both employee interaction and communications. Next - prompt and timely communications/responses to questions; being informed of how money is being used.

Overall attitudinal priorities in giving among donors:
1. Altruism.
2. Communications.
3. Performance.

85% of all supporters surveyed report having a will, with a total 35.9% leaving some money to charity. 88.7% feel that it is appropriate for a nonprofit to ask for a legacy gift (only .4% said such a solicitation would negatively impact their future giving). For those who choose to make legacy gifts, two-thirds say they would/will/have notify(ied) the nonprofit of their intentions and one-third would/will/have not.

Preferential methods for communicating information about bequests:

1 and 2 - Mail; advertisement in organization's literature.

3 - Presentation to a group of supporters.

(lowest ranking: telephone; promotion via lawyer, accountant or financial planner)

Greatest perceived barriers to making a will: visiting a lawyer, complexity.

Greatest perceived barriers to naming a nonprofit as a beneficiary: family need, not having enough money to make such a gift worthwhile.

The full report, "Determinants of U.S. Donor Behaviours: The Case of Bequests," may be viewed on the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) website, with Part 2.

The Sargeant-Jay collaborative has conducted numerous studies, publishing many articles and books on nonprofit marketing and donor relations, including "Building Donor Loyalty: The Fundraiser's Guide to Increasing Lifetime Value," published by John Wiley and Sons, Inc.

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