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Want more donations on Patreon? Cornell University researchers have some marketing advice

The American Marketing Association’s Journal of Marketing looked at giving habits at a nonprofit. The findings are useful for people in the creator economy.

Want more donations on Patreon? Cornell University researchers have some marketing advice
[Photo: Karolina Grabowska/Pexels]
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The American Marketing Association’s Journal of Marketing is usually a disheartening rag, where experts publish their findings on how to further manipulate humanity via ads. But this month’s “prosocial giving” section includes an antidote, with a large-scale study exploring the behavior of donors to a major nonprofit.

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Researchers from Cornell University and the University of Hawaii parsed donor data from a large, animal-related organization with over 100,000 donors. Their findings are incredibly useful for anyone pursuing donors or Patreon contributions:

  • Giving is gendered. Members, who donate at least partially in order to enjoy some benefit provided with membership, are much more likely to be men. Donors, who give simply because it feels good, are more likely to be women.
  • Solicitations don’t increase amount given. It doesn’t matter how many letters and emails are sent; people tend to give the same amounts overall. However, the appeals do increase the likelihood of repeat donations and membership renewals—which are pivotal because 50% of givers only donate once.
  • Creating member-donors is valuable. The sweet spot is people who become both members and donors. They give more per year.
  • Pursuing former members is worthwhile. Even after 2-3 years of silence, lapsed members return and donate; lapsed donors less so.

The study is valuable in providing evidence-based guidelines for engaging supporters. Though this study looked at only one organization, in the absence of broad, evidence-based research on donor comings and goings, it’s reasonable to gander that donors might behave similarly elsewhere.

The special sauce to engage donors, by the way, is to “emphasize participation rather than amount,” write the researchers. At the end of the day, people just want to be invited to the do-gooder party.