Charity Begins With Email: Donors Prefer It Over Other Channels

Email reigns as the most popular channel among charitable donors. But it works best when combined with other media, according to The New Best Practices for Connecting with Today’s Charitable Donors, a study by Data Axle.

Among donors surveyed, 47.9% cite email as their channel of preference. Direct mail is second, with 21%, followed by social media (17%), text messaging (8%) and phone calls (2%).

But people don’t always give via the initial communications channel. Of those polled, 43.5% go to a nonprofit group’s website unprompted to donate online.  

Another 29.1% give at a website after being prompted by a message in another channel. And 31.2% send donations by postal mail. 

People age 60 and over are most likely to submit contributions by mail — 45% do so, compared with 34% of those in the 45-60 age bracket and 20% among 18- to-29 year-olds.  



In contrast, only 19.8% click on an email campaign, while 14.7% click on a Facebook ad.  

Oddly, this depends on politics — of donors who vote Republican, 49% prefer donating via direct mail, compared with 31% of those who lean Democratic. 

In contrast, 41% of Democrats will give via unprompted visits to a website and 30% by clicking on an email. Only 24% of Republicans will give unprompted on a charity’s website, and 15% in response to direct email. 

But email is the most popular messaging channel among all age groups — 51.3% of those over age 60 prefer it, as do 47% of people in the 45-60 cohort, 46.7% ages 30-44 and 46.6% ages 18-29.  

Direct mail is second for the 45-60 sector, but younger donors prefer social media. 

In a more general finding, Data Axle found that 48% of donors ages 18-29 have set up monthly contributions to one or more charities. So have 41% in the 30-44 demographic. And 36% overall have done this. 

What makes donors loyal to a nonprofit? On a scale of up to 5, the respondents say:

  • Its mission continues to mean a lot to me — 4.5
  • I like the way the nonprofit communicates with me/tells me how my donation will make an impact — 3.6 
  • Friends and/or family members also support it — 2.9 
  • Supporting it is a habit — 2.4
  • Other — 1.6

The takeaway from all this?

 “Today’s donors want to give on their terms —and those terms are more varied than ever,” concludes Stephanie Ceruolo, president of Data Axle Nonprofit Solutions.

Ceruolo adds that “nonprofits can’t afford to choose one or two channels. They need to get smarter and more data-driven when building their donor acquisition and fundraising initiatives, and leverage the full spectrum of channels according to the preference of each individual.”

Data Axle surveyed 1,215 Americans who had donated to a charity within the last six months. The survey was conducted in August 2020. 



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