Currently, there is no universally accepted numerical index that captures donor sentiment, that is, the enthusiasm potential donors feel about their own financial situation and thus their expected willingness to make generous contributions to their preferred charities and non-profits. Donor sentiment is tricky because there is no guarantee that prospects will donate even if they feel optimistic about their purchasing power and there is no rule stating that people refuse to give when economic conditions sour.
However, a consumer sentiment index is a relevant metric that comes to mind when trying to find a proxy for a measure of how donors might behave in the near future. Looking at the University of Michigan’s well known consumer confidence index, we see that the figure rose 4.7 points from a month earlier to register a reading of 98.2 in December. This is great news because it is the highest reading since January of ‘04 and implies that consumers feel very optimistic about the economy at the present moment.
This positive sentiment is expected to translate into healthy consumer spending and consumers who spend more are more likely to further contribute to nonprofits if presented with the right opportunity. It is exactly the type of economic environment that fundraisers hope for as expectations of future growth also rose more quickly than they did last month. Organization directors should keep in mind, however, that the index may misrepresent economic reality and may become volatile.
A separate consumer confidence indicator, released by the Conference Board also rose in December to 113.7 from a revised 109.4 in November with the surge in optimism most pronounced among older consumers, according to Lynn Franco, Director of Economic indicators at the Conference Board. Older donors tend to give in greater volume to charitable causes ; according to a 2013 study on generational giving habits commissioned by the software firm Blackbaud,? Those born in 1945 or earlier give an average of $1,367 a year compared to millennials who average $481 in annual gifts.
Crucially, the older generation prefers direct mail communications which, according to Jen Love (Co-founder of Fund-raising consultancy Agents of Good) and Tom Ahern (an industry expert in writing fund-raising communications) is still the most effective medium through which to reach donors.
See article: ‘Flattery Will Get You Everywhere’ by John Hanc, The New York Times – 11/6/16