Clara gives more than Maria – nonprofit research makes fundraisers clever (6/2014)

This article first appeared on the website of the Fundraiser Magazin.

Two twin sisters, Clara and Maria, are raised together at the same place, go to the same school, remain both in the same neighborhood. Yet, Clara is donating five times as much as Maria. Why is that? It’s probably because Clara is attending church service almost every week, whereas Maria, by contrast, makes a big circle around Lord’s house.

Rene Bekkers, researcher at the Institute “Philanthropy Studies” at the Vrije University of Amsterdam was able to show in the first twin study of donor research: Each church service, that one twin is attending more often than her sibling, correlates with 20 Euro higher amount of annual donation. Nice, but do we need to know?

Clara and Maria differ in another respect: Maria attended a college, Clara applied for a job right after school. Although Maria is now earning more than Clara, she is donating much less. Actually, the twin study by Rene Bekker reveals: The mere level of education has no effect on the donor behavior. Correlations in other studies are thus rather based on the parental home (which in turn affects the level of education of the children).

What does that mean for us fundraisers? Religiosity is a very important factor for the inclination to donate. We knew that already. And the level of education does not matter. This is a surprise! Apparently, the educational degree is influenced by the parental home. This means for fundraising: A segmentation by socio-cultural milieus is probably more promising than a differentiation solely based on the level of education.

The example is taken from a workshop of the 11th International Conference on Third Sector Research, held in late July in the German city of Münster – a bi-annual conference of the most prominent nonprofit researchers worldwide. For four days they discussed about donor motives, types of volunteers, benchmarks in nonprofit management and trends of civil society – and remained among themselves. Practitioners from non-profit organizations, professional fundraiser even, were not present.

They could have learnt a lot. For example, that the famous U-curve theory (explaining the proportion of donations depending on the donor’s income), is not true, according to a recent study by the Center on Philanthropy at the University of Indianapolis (USA). Or that the highly vaunted heirs are not such good donors – in comparison to the people who have earned their wealth themselves.

There may be research with little practical relevance. The donor and non-profit research is certainly not one of them. Worldwide, a small but fine research community exists on this issue – with centers in Indianapolis, Amsterdam, Birmingham, but as well in Heidelberg, Münster and Vienna.

Scientists have something to say to us practitioners – particularly to us fundraisers. We should talk with them. Even though, we do not always easily understand their vocabulary. But after a cheerful evening in an traditional German pub I can assure: They are really quite nice, the NPO researchers!