The Cell Phone Challenge

The Cellphone Challenge Chris Dann, Marketing & Media

How do you feel about getting cold-called on your cellphone? Exactly.

One of things we love about our cellphones is that no service provider has created a directory… yet. So unless you volunteer your number, the only way you can be contacted is through ‘random digit dialing,’ the same technology that has been used for many years to get around unlisted numbers.

The rise of cellphone-only households is deepening a particularly vexing problem for fundraisers. A research methodology that engenders volunteer response that cannot be randomized does not produce statistically reliable information; and the best way to randomize sampling is to control selection at the outset. Landline phones have been the principal means of random sampling. Loss of ability to control sampling has been the main cause of unreliability of political polling in recent years. Inability to reach increasing proportions of the population has been the main cause. It’s a serious problem.

A recent study from the National Center for Health Statistics finds that, as of December 2014, cellphone-only households are now the norm at 45.4% of U.S. households. 42.7% have both cellphones and landlines, 8.4% landline only, and 3.2% no phone.

The study goes on to report each of these categories by age of head of household. These data are not only significant for their imposition on randomized research but also for those organizations depending on the telephone for supplementary fundraising, since cell phone users are reluctant to give out their numbers except to friends and business colleagues.


Cellphone-Only Households

By Age of Head of Household

July-December, 2014


                                                                Age range                                           Percent


                                                                18 – 24                                                     58.0%

                                                                25 – 29                                                     69.2%

                                                                30 – 34                                                     67.4%

                                                                35 – 44                                                     53.7%

                                                                45 – 64                                                     36.8%

                                                                     65+                                                       17.1%


There has always been a clear distinction in communications technologies between those we might call welcoming and those we might call do-not-disturb.  This is a distinction that marketers – especially fundraisers – ignore at their expense. It’s pretty clear that while consumers are quite tolerant of such welcoming technologies as television and radio (albeit within commercial limits), the evidence is we have been pretty intolerant of do-not-disturb technologies, principally among them the telephone. Expressing increasing dismay, we have insisted on the privacy of unlisted numbers, then regulated do-not-call protocols, then blocking and filtering technologies like caller ID.


People may not – probably are not – thinking about the greater privacy cellphones offer when they line up for the newest iPhone or Samsung. But development of wireless telephone directories is as inevitable as the old phonebook was, and the challenges posed by increasing penetration of wireless telephones serve to remind us that the telephone is a do-not-disturb medium.


Religious Decline: A Cautionary Tale

Have you attended a religious service in the past 12 months? You’ll find some form of this question in every donor base survey I’ve conducted for our clients, and I have consistently found that religious people are more generous than non-religious people. As a group, they give more and support more organizations.

So should we be alarmed by the Pew Foundation’s Research Center report, America’s Changing Religious Landscape? They discovered a decline in American religiosity through a more wholesome method than my question, asking people whether or not they are affiliated with any religion, what religion they are affiliated with, and whether or not that is a change from the past. The survey went on to ask the unaffiliated whether they regard themselves as atheist, agnostic, or “nothing in particular.”

Looking closer at the findings, it seems that religious non-affiliation rose across all generation cohorts from 2007 to 2014, but in inverse correlation to age, with 35% of Millennials (1981—1996) declaring themselves unaffiliated in 2014 contrasting with 8% of the Greatest Generation (pre-1928).

Seems pretty alarming to me when you consider the ample evidence that declining religiosity is a key indicator of what the future of American giving has in store for the nonprofit sector. But the foundation’s findings beg further research specific to fundraising. We can’t just wring our hands.

First, are we seeing correlation or causation here? While I feel confident there is a causal relationship between religious experience – a term chosen carefully – and altruism, it hasn’t been proved.

Second, we should listen to Peter Manseau[1] who cautioned in the New York Times, “…we are not necessarily seeing a period of religious decline. Rather this may be the latest in a series of moments when more Americans are intent on custom-tailoring their religious identities.” In other words, the causal relationship between religiosity and giving is alive and well and maybe even stronger; we just lack the language to define it.

Third, there is the perennial question of whether generations change with age or ages change with generations. We think the question has been answered in favor of generations, but it’s worth keeping on the table in this context. The Pew researchers seem to think so.

[1] Author of One Nation, Under God: A New American History

6 Reasons Why Donor Advised Funds Need Your Attention

  1. They’re the fastest growing nonprofit sub-sector

Donor advised accounts increased 34% from 2007 to 2013. That’s a phenomenal rate during a period of stagnating or declining donor bases. Will their popularity continue? Trends in both income and wealth strongly suggest more growth, particularly among those in the highest three deciles of household income and among those working past conventional retirement age.

  1. They’re a new form of planned giving

Of all the reasons people choose donor advised funds, the most common is the tax benefit. You can take tax deductions in years of high earning while spreading contributions to your charities over many years. It’s partly why Fidelity Charitable are seeing the average age of a donor opening an account is 54 while the average age of current account holders (including new account holders) is 64. But it also explains why donor advised funds are especially attractive to people employed in situations where initial public offerings affect income windfalls. Which undoubtedly explains why the Silicon Valley Community Foundation has soared to #5 on the 2015 Philanthropy 400 charity income charts, receiving over 3 times the contributions of the next largest community foundation.

  1. They put donors at arm’s length from the organizations they are supporting

Donor advised funds encourage their donors to distribute their funds to the charities they want to support. But the sponsoring entities are the ultimate distributors and stand – albeit politely – between donors and organizations. There are three kinds of donor advised funds: national charities like Fidelity Charitable and National Philanthropic Trust, community foundations like Silicon Valley Community Foundation and Boston Foundation, and what are called single-use charities that include, for example, United Jewish Appeals and many universities such as Stanford.

  1. Conventional donor base administrative practices can sever the arm

Bureaucratic practices such as overly slavish attention to who gets tax deductibility can lead to donor data cold storage where a carefully cultivated relationship is abandoned, forgotten, and lost. The donors who set up those donor advised fund accounts are simply employing a facility for personally planned giving. It is a grave mistake to presume they want to be anonymous if they haven’t specifically said so, or that their employment of donor advised funds means they are less disposed to engagement with the organizations they support.

  1. Donors don’t give exclusively via donor advised funds

Donor advised funds do, indeed, offer good reasons for employing them in planning philanthropy. Planning philanthropy usually means mixing current and deferred giving and neither precludes the other. So unless a donor says she only gives through her donor advised fund, it is a mistake – arguably an expensive mistake – to assume she does.

  1. Donor advised funds are coming under reformer fire

Critics say that donor advised funds work against charity because they remove substantial funds from current giving, allow their sponsoring entities to make money on management fees, and allow moneyed elite to game the culture of beneficence de Tocqueville so admired in young America. One reformer is calling on the government to enforce a rule much like President Nixon proposed and got from Congress in the ‘70s, mandating that private foundations dispose annually at least 5% of their financial assets. Because he finds donor advised funds a more egregious imposition on philanthropy than private foundations, he proposes a mandate that 10% of account funds be given annually.

Actually, according to National Philanthropic Trust, which while being a donor advised fund sponsor also keeps tabs on all donor advised giving, the average pay-out in 2013 – the latest year of their reporting – was 20%. Given the number of ways donor advised funds facilitate individual gift planning, it is more likely that imposing a pay-out higher than has been the norm would result in wasteful, not more effective individual philanthropy.