While compassion and generosity are – as far as we know – universal human traits, the objects of either and the means by which both are expressed appear very much to be influenced by culture, all other demographic determinants like age, education, and income being equal.
Although we have done dozens of studies of organizations’ donors over the years, we have rarely asked questions about race and ethnicity because except in rare instances the answers were not going to make any difference to the organizations funding the research. But whenever we did ask, we found non-hispanic whites substantially over-represented and all other racial or ethnic groups substantially under-represented.
For a great many organizations it is clear that the racial and ethnic make-up of donor bases must mostly have to do with the missions and programs of the organizations. But for those and for organizations whose programs have no apparent cultural bias, we strongly suspect that the ways and means of fundraising and fund-giving, as cultural phenomena, explain the under-representation of certain races and ethnicities.
We’re again indebted to Cheryl Russell of New Strategist Publications (www.newstrategist.com) for data mining that seems always to find veins of gold, this time in the 2010 U.S. Census.
Quoting Cheryl, “The nation is no longer about to transform into a multicultural melting pot, it already has.” And she goes on to point out in her American Consumers Newsletter that the big surprise was the Census finding fewer non-Hispanic whites in the country than had been estimated. While that population increased a mere 1.2 percent between 2000 and 2010, the growths of Asian and Hispanic populations were both 43%, and the multi-racial population grew by 32 percent.
Fundraisers – and, just as importantly, those who depend on fundraising – need to study and think carefully about the multitude of questions the changing cultural character of our society raises. We have a lot of work to do.
There’s a lot being said and written now about donor relationship and donor experience management. There’s a strong case to be made for volunteer relationship and experience management, even for those organizations that have been very smart and resourceful about volunteer human resource management.
Consider these facts:
- Ultimate – call it “lifetime” if you will – donor value comes from engagement between donors and the mission and program of an organization.
Volunteers are arguably more deeply engaged in the work of an organization than most donors, often more than a lot of staff people, especially when they are given program-substantive work to do.
- Research continually shows volunteers are more active and more valuable donors.
We’ve seen this in the cross-tabulations of every donor research study we have done: strong correlations between volunteering and higher levels of household giving both in terms of numbers of organizations and amounts given in the past year.
- Donors and volunteers look alike.
Both have higher incidence than the general population of college education. In both volunteering and giving, households with committed couples give and volunteer substantially more than those of single adults.
But the most important thing to consider in paying close attention to the volunteer experience is what it means for future financial support, not just current support. That’s because the peak age of volunteer engagement, according to the Urban Institute’s The Nonprofit Almanac, is between the ages of 35 and 54, the range just ahead of the peak years of discretionary income and giving, 55 to 64.
We’ve heard many development people say with sighs that their volunteers don’t support them well with contributions. That may be because they give time instead of money. But it may also be because they haven’t had the experience with the organization that would cultivate their financial support or simply because they aren’t ready.
There’s a far better prospect for value from donors who’ve begun their relationship as volunteers than among those who haven’t. But realizing that value requires investment and vision beyond the current fiscal year.