I was reading an article about the 2011 Multichannel Fundraising Report from Blackbaud; the report shows that online-acquired donors are more valuable in the long-term than traditional mail-acquired donors. BUT they have a big caveat – the statement is only true if the online donor has been converted to offline giving and that “online donors tend to be one-hit wonders that leave the nonprofits in the unenviable position of having to constantly find new supporters to replace them.” I read all this through an article by Joanne Fritz (Online Fundraising Dazzling, but Nonprofits Need to Stay Balanced) who was reminding us all that we should never ignore direct mail or multi-channel giving.
One HIt Wonders
I absolutely agree that focusing on multi-channel giving is the way to go – and I think direct mail is very important and should not be removed from anyone’s fundraising toolkit for a long time. But I’m wondering if the real issue with online donors being one-hit-wonders isn’t that the donations are made online, but that many nonprofits don’t have a great process in place to retain donors that are NOT obtained through direct mail campaigns.
Something is Fishy
The study results seem really odd to me – was each online-acquired, first-time donor given an option to either renew their gift by direct mail OR by email/online? I don’t even carry a checkbook anymore and I’m certainly not going to put my credit card information on a piece of paper that goes in the mail, so I’m really surprised that online donors aren’t donating online again, but will do so in a direct mail campaign.
And I’m even more surprised by this statement from the Netwits blog author (The Surprising Truth About Online Donors and Offline Fundraising):
“year after year, large percentages of online-acquired donors switch from online giving to offline giving — primarily to direct mail. The reverse is not true, however – only a tiny percentage of mail-acquired donors give online in later years. Whatever the reasons behind this behavior, the conclusions are clear. It is imperative to move online donors to offline giving as quickly as possible.”
The only conclusion I can draw from this report is that something is wrong somewhere. It just doesn’t seem likely that people who prefer to donate online will switch so easily. And the only imperative I can see is the need to find out exactly why those donors switched to an offline channel. There could be any number of problems along the online sales channel that are keeping donors from donating online after the initial donation.
The report was based on data from only 28 nonprofits and stated that those nonprofits had “robust direct mail programs” in place with the typical organization “receiving more than ¾ of their gifts through direct mail”; I’d be very curious to know whether or not they had an equally robust ONLINE program or if they just chose to focus more of their attention on their lucrative direct mail programs. Those could be plausible explanations for the results that would NOT require nonprofits to immediately move their online donors offline, but rather build UP, and focus on, online processes to make sure those donors stay online and happy. In other words, focusing more on offline acquisition could DRIVE YOUR ONLINE DONORS OFFLINE. No one addresses this possibility, which to me makes a LOT more sense.
Building Is Better
Building up your online acquisition process rather than purposely driving online donors offline seems like a much better proposition and is actually supported by the results of the report. The report states: “When online-acquired donors move offline in subsequent years of giving it does have some negative effect on their value in the renewal year.” So you lose money if you move them offline.