Who’s your donor? Part 1

Do you want to understand your donor, so you can communicate effectively with her?

Here’s what we’ve found out about donors after years and years of studying them:

  • She is far more typical of all donors to Christian ministries than you want to believe.

When we define the typical donor, the hair stands up on the necks of many ministry marketers.

  • “Our donors aren’t like that.”
  • “Our donors are younger —
  • more educated —
  • less emotional” —
  • whatever.

But then we run a test, a survey, or a study — and we find that the donor file is by and large very similar to the average Christian ministry donor file in many important ways.

Of course each ministry cultivates a family of donors unique to itself in key ways — an India evangelism ministry cultivates donors interested in India evangelism, for example — but these are not major distinctives which affect marketing strategy.

  • She’s a “she.”

The overwhelming majority of donors to Christian organizations are female. They are mothers, grandmothers, and widows. They are single and married.

Even when a donor appears in your records as “Mr. and Mrs. Douglas Brendel,” chances are that Mrs. Brendel is reading your content and making the donations.

Yet how many women sit at the table in your ministry’s marketing meetings? Probably a minority.

A few generations ago, ministry might have been conducted effectively according to the sexist stereotype, with men dictating strategies in order to impact an audience of men. But no more. The donors are women, and the ministries need to learn to think like women.

  • She is probably older than you would prefer.

We want to believe our ministries are attracting young donors who will carry our work into the future. If we’re Generation Xers, we tend to think of our donors as tech-savvy “movers and shakers” like ourselves!

But the truth is, older donors tend to have more income which they consider disposable, and they tend to be freer to give.

The longtime Christian fundraiser Dan Scalf observes that many older donors have lived during very tough times, which leads them both to appreciate what God has given them and to relate more easily to the needs of others.

“They are also reaching the point in their life,” Dan says, “where they begin to look back over the years gone by and ask, ‘What have I done with my life that is worthwhile?’ That makes a significant impact on their giving decisions.”

Yes, a few ministries have deliberately pursued younger donors, but in the great majority of cases we have found ministry marketing personnel to be surprised by the relatively advanced age of their donors.

Our propositions, then, need to be presented in ways that appeal to women who were born in 1970 or earlier. An appeal letter package or email written and designed with the values and suppositions of the 1970s in mind is a very different package from one that springs from the 2020s.

If you want to cultivate younger donors, you will probably have to segment them into a separate file — or sacrifice some (maybe many) older donors who are providing a major portion of the ministry’s revenues. (The age of your donors should also particularly affect the size of type you use when you present your need in print!)

In fact, it is extremely difficult to make the case for cultivating younger donors simply because of the enormous financial risks involved.

Some believe in only a few ways to get younger donors to give consistently:

(1) Get them physically involved in the work.

(2) Attach their giving to self-help resources.

(3) Get them to sign up for easy monthly/recurring credit card or EFT giving.

So — it may be the better part of wisdom for your ministry to continue cultivating donors who are moving into the middle-aged category.

Want to know more about your donor? Keep an eye out for our next blog post!