More Than Half of Donors Plan to Maintain Giving in 2020, Survey Finds

More Than Half of Donors Plan to Maintain Giving in 2020, Survey Finds

Fewer than a third of donors plan to up their giving in 2020 from what they gave in 2018, while 56 percent plan to give about the same, a report from Cygnus Applied Research finds.

Based on a 2019 online survey of more than 18,500 Americans who made at least one donation in 2017 or 2018, the 2019 edition of the Burk Donor Survey: How to Raise More Money in a Changing Giving Environment (executive summary, 19 pages, PDF) found that 56 percent of respondents expected to give about the same amount by the end of 2019 and into 2020 as they did in 2018, while 29 percent planned to give more and 10 percent planned to give less. Of the 23 percent of respondents who donated at least $10,000 in 2018, a third planned to give more in 2019 and 2020, up from a quarter in the previous survey. In addition, donors under the age of 35 were more likely to say they would give more (49 percent) than those between the ages of 35 and 64 (32 percent) and those over the age of 64 (26 percent). According to the report, a quarter of all respondents who intend to increase their giving cited politics as a factor in their decision, down from 33 percent and 51 percent in the 2018 and 2017 surveys.

Among racial/ethnic groups, African Americans — who accounted for just 4 percent of respondents — were the most likely to say they plan to increase their giving (37 percent). The survey also found that 71 percent of African Americans identify as "actively religious," and that 38 percent of African-American donors in the sample allocated at least 60 percent of their charitable giving dollars in 2018 to a religious institution.

For the first time, survey respondents were equally as likely to give online, via direct mail, or through sustainer giving programs, although donors over the age of 64 were more likely to respond to direct mail than those under the age of 35 (67 percent vs. 22 percent). At the same time, only 15 percent of respondents said all their giving was in response to fundraising appeals, while older donors and those who gave the most were more likely to have made at least one unsolicited gift. In addition, the report found that 69 percent of respondents do research before making a giving decision — up from 57 percent five years ago — and that those who do tend to give more generously.

Cygnus Applied Research president Penelope Burk told the Chronicle of Philanthropy that many current direct marketing fundraising tactics are out of touch with what donors want, making fundraising more challenging for everyone. "This sort of crazy belief that you can get donors to give, especially in this highly, highly competitive environment without telling them why they should," said Burke, "it makes no sense."

"The Burk Donor Survey 2019 Executive Summary." Cygnus Applied Research Report 12/31/2019. Eden Stiffman. "Most Donors of $10,000 or More Don't Plan to Increase Giving." Chronicle of Philanthropy 01/08/2020.