Purchase Power: Translating Buying Behaviors into Potential Donor Dollars

Communication managers for non-profit organizations often find themselves struggling with one inherent problem of fundraising: determining what avenues and channels best attract the different elements of a varied demographic base. Whereas older generations still respond well to direct mailers, slightly younger people prefer email campaigns, and still younger individuals react to strong and engaging social media efforts. And if said communications manager puts too much emphases on one channel—and not enough on another—they risk losing parts of their demographic that may be vital to raising donations.


According to Nathan Hand—a professional fundraiser and nonprofit blogger—and the research team at ExactTarget, there are distinct ways non-profit groups can single out those communication channels that result in the most donations from different ages, and it lies in examining how the different groups shop and spend.

  • For ages 55 and older, direct mail—in the form of ad flyers, brochures, pamphlets etc.—still dominates buying choices. So if your organization identifies with this demographic as a major donor base, it’s important to maintain physical materials that keep them apprised of what’s happening. However, avoid making strong pitches for money with each mailer: this age group, while certainly generous, does tend to have a frugal side. So save your hard calls for money for a quarterly or year-end appeal basis.
  • E-commerce via email is shown to be strong with the 30- to 40-year-old age group—just consider all the travel deals and discount coupons that arrive in the average person’s inbox. And it’s important to keep in mind that as that age group, well, ages, they’ll likely maintain their attachment to this mode of advertising and engagement. So always keep an e-newsletter or weekly or monthly check-in a part of your communications strategy.
  • For the over-45 crowd, social media channels don’t seem to be translating to purchases or donations: ExactTarget goes as far to say that, “if you’re doing a Facebook fundraiser, don’t expect much from those over 45.” But of course this is the ideal avenue in which to attract and engage the Millenials and Gen-Xers, as current trends, peer attentions and the like greatly influence how they spend their time and money. Therefore keep your Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc. sites current, informative and fun. Use them as the basis to launch specific campaigns and advertise events and opportunities and you’ll see results from the younger generations.

What are the practical applications and take-away lessons of these insights? As Nathan and the gurus at ExactTarget stress over and over, any successful non-profit must utilize multi-channel marketing. Keep the direct mailers moving to seniors and soon-to-become seniors; launch a Facebook donation campaign that zeroes in on high school and college kids; and take a two- or three-pronged approach to the 30-somethings by engaging across all modes of communication including social media and email blasts. Taking this tact will ensure that your cause doesn’t miss—or worse, alienate—any specific demographic when it comes to soliciting time, talent and money.

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