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Technology is making donating easier and more Americans are opening their wallets to campaigns and groups, but fundraisers are worried about a stubborn trend.
While the number of U.S. citizens who say they’ve donated to a candidate for public office went from 6 percent in 1992 to 12 percent last presidential cycle, it’s still mostly seniors who are giving.
A recent survey found only 9 percent of those aged 18-29 had donated to candidate, party or group, while 14 percent of those 50-64 had given. Moreover, 32 percent of those 65-plus reported donating, according to a Pew report from May.
Fundraisers backup that research with anecdotes from their own experience.
“For most of my clients, the average donation age is 60-65 years old,” said Cheryl Hori, founder of Pacific Campaign House. “So clearly with that there is a very finite amount of people out there who are giving.”
That has fundraising consultants asking what Hori calls a “multi-million dollar question.”
“How do you get young people to give money online?”
The practice has never been easier thanks to new tech. Fundraisers or staffers can now take donations in the field with mobile payment on smartphones, and one-touch contributions are an increasingly common feature of donation platforms.
To help get young people into the habit, Hori said she’s seen some groups start cultivating young donors on Snapchat. “They’re taking ads out at pride events, taking out ads at music festivals, things that they know young folks will be at,” she said at an event hosted earlier this month by C&E. “Getting those impressions on the ground is laying the ground work for future donations.”
Others are working on gamifying campaign giving to help accelerate the Millennial on-boarding process. John Phillips, head of Aristotle, described this as finding ways to create “compulsion loops” for young donors.
“There’s a lot of experimentation being done in this,” he said.
Damien Shirley, a senior associate at Bully Pulpit Interactive, has been following that experimentation – and the hype around it – closely. But warned consultants not to get too excited.
“It’s always been one of those things that everyone wants to do it, but it’s very challenging to do well,” he said of gamifying campaign giving. “Or to do so in a way that is truly engaging and not just kind of pandering like, ‘Hey young people, we’ve put the ‘fun’ in fundraising.’”
Phillips countered that gamification of fundraising could be as simple as pitting different department heads in a campaign against each other to get them to drum up the most online donations, or offering prizes to supporters for hitting different milestones.
While gamification is still being worked out, the different types of payment campaigns can receive continues to expand.
For instance, Hori said that Apple Pay is now up to 30 percent of the online donations she sees being processed. “For the people who don’t think [they need to have] a mobile optimizing donation form, think again.”
Looking ahead, Chris Stewart, who runs the GOP donation processor Raise the Money, said it’s only a matter of time before the FEC expands campaigns’ ability to accept crypto-currency payments like Bitcoin. “If candidates are going to take payments online, they’re g going to have to take crypto-currency,” he said, noting its blockchain security feature.
Of course making it easier to donate online means campaigns are left with the growing challenge of having illegal foreign donors or even registered sex offenders give online, creating an additional headache.
“On the technological side, and also on just the human intelligence side,” said Shirley, “we need to be more vigilant about reviewing the gifts we’re getting and finding ways to prevent unwanted gifts from coming in, and resolve those issues when they come up.”