Alongside ministry development partner Campbell Rinker, we conduct qualitative research in the form of focus groups and interviews to identify trends within ministries.

Current Research

The Missing Keys – A New Donor Survey Effort Building on The Disappearing Donor Research

According to the Giving USA Foundation, individual donations in America peaked at $311 billion in 2007. In the grueling years since, the recession has erased about 10% of household income and reduced America’s giving capacity in equal measure. Donors are much less likely now than in 2007 to consider supporting a charity that is new to them. Despite these harsh realities, some ministries keep growing. And many organizations continue to see half or more of their incomes flow from donors who give more than twice, and give year over year.

What more can nonprofit ministries do to retain donors who give two or more times? What giving barrier issues are within nonprofit control? What barrier issues are outside of their control, and how should these issues be addressed?

These questions are at the heart of a new shared-cost donor research survey from BBS and donor research firm Campbell Rinker. The object of the Missing Keys study, as we’ve come to call it, is to isolate the key controllable facts that drive retention among multi-year donors and identify the key controllable factors that drive similar donors to stop giving. Specifically, the study seeks to determine:

  • Which vital service factors and mission messages are the highest priorities to multi-year donors?
  • Which factors have the greatest potential to recapture lapsed multi-year donors?
  • What impacts do donors feel from competing charitable priorities, shrinking budgets, the economy, and other factors?
  • What contact strategies and messages will best ensure future giving and address the pressures which might limit giving?

BBS clients may sign up to include their donors in the study sample and receive a customized report of the findings.

Historical Research
The “Second Gift” Study

BBS & Associates commissioned research firm Campbell Rinker to conduct a study of the similarities and differences between donors who give a single gift within a certain time of being introduced to a new ministry (single-gift givers) compared to those who give multiple gifts during the same timeframe (multi-gift givers).

The main objective of this research was to identify key observable and changeable traits among donors who renew. Learning of and capitalizing on these traits could lead to unique ways of communicating with and motivating donors to pursue a stronger giving relationship with a new nonprofit. Eight individual ministries contributed donor names to this study, with specific guidelines as to the selection criteria for these names. RESULTS: A total of 2,593 individual interviews were eventually included in the study.

The Disappearing Donor

BBS & Associates selected Campbell Rinker to conduct qualitative research in the form of focus groups and depth interviews among lapsed donors followed by a phone survey of 3,000 lapsed and active donors to charitable causes. Donor names were contributed by 10 nonprofits representing different sectors and mission statements. All donors were selected using the same criteria.

The goal of this research was to identify the chief causes of lapsing, and classify donors in a way that allows nonprofit marketers to understand the mindset of a lapsed donor and communicate more effectively to them.

The qualitative research was instrumental in shaping the scope, sequence, and areas of inquiry for the survey questionnaire. Several methods of exploratory analysis were used to evaluate the resulting study data and support the conclusions delivered in the final report.

Chief among the outcomes of this study were the discovery of three essential categories of lapsed donors: Idles, Intentionals, and “In-betweeners.” Furthermore, the study identifies the specific traits that comprise the traits, attitudes, and motivations of each of these donor segments. Finally, the study yielded tremendous insight into the universal traits donors consider important in an organization, the initial causes for their lapsing, and their likelihood to renew their giving behavior if they can be convinced that the organization still embodies the traits they hold to be important.

This study is the topic of a book entitled The Disappearing Donor, published by BBS & Associates. Study highlights were presented at the 2006 AFP International Fundraising Conference and have been cited in the Chronicle of Philanthropy (April 20, 2006). An article regarding the study was published in the July-August 2006 issue of Advancing Philanthropy and in Contributions magazine during Fall 2006.


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