The Donor Mindset Study V: How Donors See Large VS. Small Organizations

Posted by Madeline Warren on December 6, 2017
Madeline Warren

A new national Op4G study shows nearly nine out of ten charitable donors form perceptions of non-profits partly by how big (or small) they are.  For a majority of donors, it impacts how they view an organization’s effectiveness, trustworthiness, efficiency, and dollar-for-dollar impact.


In the mind of the typical American donor, larger charitable organizations are more effective in their work than smaller ones.  They’re also better at communicating with donors, and have greater dollar-for-dollar impact. 

At the same time, smaller charities are perceived as spending a lower proportion on overhead and administration, as well as needing donations more than larger organizations.

Online research panel Opinions 4 Good (Op4G)  and consumer insights company Grey Matter Research partnered on The Donor Mindset Study, a series of research reports about American charitable donors.  The fifth study in the series explores how an organization’s size impacts donor perceptions in seven different areas.

The research demonstrates that size does influence perceptions for most donors.  Just 12% see no differences between smaller and larger charities on any of the seven attributes tested in the study. 

But how size affects perceptions varies.  Larger charities have the perceptual advantage in three areas:

  • Which tend to be better at communicating with you as a donor? (Larger charities, 38% to 25%)
  • Which tend to be more effective in their work? (Larger charities, 37% to 25%)
  • Which tend to have more impact dollar-for-dollar? (Larger charities, 37% to 29%)

 Smaller charities have the edge in two of the seven areas:

  • Which tend to spend a lower proportion of donations on administration, fundraising, and overhead? (Smaller charities, 43% to 29%)
  • Which tend to need your donations more? (Smaller charities, 46% to 24%)

 And in the last two areas, neither type has an advantage:

  • Which tend to be more trustworthy? (No difference, 29% to 29%)
  • Which tend to be the type you prefer to support? (No difference, 27% to 27%)

While the numbers above reflect donors overall, the study indicates that there are substantial differences among different types of donors.  Men consistently give a stronger advantage to larger charities.  Women, on the other hand, are less likely than men to see size-based differences.  When they do, they tend to see more advantages to smaller organizations.

There is also a substantial size bias by age.  Donors under age 35 consistently are almost twice as likely to give the advantage to larger charities over smaller ones.  This gradually changes as age increases, until the oldest donors (65 and over) average nearly two-to-one on the side of smaller organizations on these seven attributes.

 Further, there is consistent variation by race/ethnicity and religion.  Non-Hispanic Caucasian donors tend to give a slim advantage to smaller organizations over larger ones, while all other racial and ethnic groups combined see strong advantages to larger organizations, averaging more than two-to-one in favor of larger charities on the seven tested attributes.

Finally, while there is little difference between self-identified Christians and donors from other faith traditions, those who have no faith preference (atheists, agnostics, and “nones”) consistently see smaller organizations as having advantages over larger ones.  Within the Christian tradition, Protestants tend to give an edge to smaller organizations, while Catholics regularly see advantages to larger charities.

 The study also notes that there is substantial evidence that these donor perceptions play out in how people actually give.  Those who state a preference for larger organizations name a favorite charity that is nearly five times larger on average than those who prefer supporting a smaller organization.

So What Does This Research Mean?

Part of the benefit of partnering your non-profit organization with Opinions 4 Good is receiving tailored advice on how your organization can best advertise the opportunity to donors. Based off these research findings, Opinions 4 Good suggests that larger organizations with low overhead costs should emphasize this fact a little more. Past Opinions 4 Good partners have done this by running marketing campaigns correlating survey incentives with a specific mission driven need. For example, a local animal shelter could correlate one survey complete equals one meal for an animal in need. This ensures members do not assume donations are going directly to overhead costs at larger organizations.

On the other hand, the research suggests smaller organizations need to learn from larger organization’s communication strategies and be more effective at donor communication. Opinions 4 Good suggests non-profits send a “Thank You” note out to volunteers who have selected that non-profit as their benefitting charity for survey incentives. Ask your Non-Profit Coordinator if any Op4G members have opted-in to share their information with your non-profit.

Luckily, Opinions 4 Good offers members the opportunity to donate survey incentives back to any non-profit organization- large or small. Regardless of your organizational size, there is a community of volunteers waiting to give back their survey incentives to a charity in need."

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Topics: Consumer Research, Philanthropy