Many organisations have invested heavily in digital channels to reach those audiences, relying on other established fundraising channels such as face-to-face (F2F) and direct response TV (DRTV) to target their equally traditional older donors. However, performance is declining for these more traditional marketing mediums across the sector, leaving many in a tricky situation.
But by limiting digital fundraising to ‘younger donors’, fundraisers are building their programmes based on an outdated notion of who they think the audience is, or where they are.
Those assumptions are rapidly changing. In the UK, according to Global Web Index 2019, 70.5% of over-55s use instant messaging apps like WhatsApp. That might not be the 97% seen in the 16-24 age bracket, but it’s quickly catching up.
Similarly, 9 out of 10 over-55s have used a social media network, and 7 out of 10 said they’d watched videos online in the last month. When you also factor in that, like everyone, 98.4% of over-55s use search engines to find information and products, it suggests that charities using digital methods to reach only younger audiences are missing a trick. It also means many organisations have to work hard to adapt their messaging and content to the needs of younger supporters who have higher expectations of controlling where their money goes.
Traditional channels still work for many older donors, but not all. And even for those who still respond to TV and print, using digital as well can help to make those efforts work harder and increase retention for donors acquired offline.
Overly focusing on millennials comes at a cost
If you put aside any preconceptions, social media advertising can be a secret weapon for charities. According to the Global Trends in Giving Report, 29% of online donors say that social media is the communication tool that most inspires them to give – but we regularly meet organisations who do not consider older audiences as part of social media fundraising strategies, and do not create strategies specifically for them.
This is despite the fact that older prospective donors are less likely to be targeted by other advertisers, while many focus instead on millennials. This means that they’re often cheaper to reach and more responsive to appeals, leading to lower costs per acquisition.
In particular, Instagram is starting to gain traction as a fundraising platform, with older and more affluent users flocking to it for more visual content. Yes, older audiences still like their Facebook content, and the average gift tends to be higher there, but evidence is starting to suggest fundraising audiences are moving towards the image-driven platform.
Who’s watching your long-format content?
Older audiences have a higher attention span and propensity to watch longer-format content, read your landing page or take your action. And this is an area where charities are usually strong, with detailed explanations of the mission and work, the challenges and solutions. If anything, cutting content down to 10- or 20-second chunks to appeal to millennial and Gen-Z attention spans is the tricky bit.
But direct response digital fundraising content is also changing. We’ve seen charity clients invest more into rich content production and storytelling in order to acquire as well as engage and retain their donors through digital channels – and it’s working.
Video, in particular, which used to be solely a tool for awareness, is now leading to more direct donations. Older audiences in particular are prepared to watch longer, more compelling stories online and follow the call to action at the end.
And if you’re focusing on what works for older donors, paid search continues to perform well – but has limited scale
While many charities find positive returns in paid search with older audiences, this channel is often limited by search volume. There are only so many people searching and once you saturate it, you need to diversify.
As many organisations turn to digital channels to supplement their diminishing offline performance, it might make sense for them to think more holistically about not only the conversation channels for digital acquisition such as search, but what drives individuals to search and engage with their content in the first place.
Increasingly, these journeys start on social media or engagement mechanisms tied to the news agenda. Paid search has to fit into the larger digital mix.
Don’t discount older online users
In short, the shift to digital isn’t showing signs of slowing down, and we’re here to advocate for all users, whatever their age. If you’re looking to step change or supplement your fundraising programme, think about how the channels your audiences use can support traditional activities.
If charities are prepared to put aside their preconceptions – something they might ask their donors to do every day – they can use digital and social media channels to add an entirely new level of value to their fundraising efforts.
Lizi Zipser is director of strategy and insights at values-led campaign and creative agency Blue State.
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