The Contribution of Analyzing Donation Data in the COVID-19 Era

August 5, 2020
TRG Arts and Purple Seven by Eric Nelson

Data always inspires me. It highlights trends and sparks ideas. Our recently released report, “Individual Donations - Is New Philanthropic Income Replacing Lost Ticket Income?” from our COVID-19 International Benchmark, was especially illuminating. It is the first major study to document the economic impact of donation revenue during COVID-19.

In this blog post, I outline five inspirations I took away from the report.

1. Finally, some good news!

For the first six months of 2020, donation revenue in North America is down only 2% from 2019. I am geared to want to surpass goals, to do better each year than the previous one. I like to win. With the kind of year we are having, being down just 2% is a win. Especially when you put it in this context: ticket revenue for the first six months of 2020 is down 44% in North America.

Our sector mobilized quickly and launched numerous special giving campaigns in the first six months of this year. These campaigns played a big role in us only being behind by 2%. Not to mention all the streaming content we posted that encouraged patrons to give. We asked and patrons responded.

I am in awe and inspired by the nimble and creative work of arts and culture professionals.

2. Big gifts are saving the day, but for how long?

Another piece of good news is that the number of gifts over $100,000 in the first six months of 2020 vs 2019 has grown. Some patrons are really stepping up!

Before we pop the champagne, I’m here with some cold water.

Anyone who has worked on a capital campaign knows that total gift revenue goes down the year, and in some cases years, after the campaign has ended. Why? Patrons and audiences get excited and motivated by the campaign. They make sacrifices and dig deep so they can participate with gifts that are bigger than what they usually can do. After the campaign is over, priorities shift for many of these patrons. Some need to re-stock their finances and some turn their attention to other projects that are important to them.

As we see in the report, In the first six months of 2019, gifts of over $100K accounted for 36% of all contributed revenue. In 2020 this rose to 46%. So, while some patrons stepped up (thank you again!), experience tells us that this increased giving is likely to be special one-time gifts and not renewable revenue.

2. There is heavy lifting to do, and we must keep our backbone strong.

As in all revenue streams there are patrons who participate every year, patrons who do it for one year and then never again, and patrons who do it for the first-time who will get into a pattern of continual participation. Donors who are consistent givers and donors in the early stages of becoming consistent givers are the backbone of contributed revenue. Without them, we throw our back out.

Is our backbone strong enough? There are three key patron segments that are causing us some lower back pain, due to giving at smaller rates than in 2019.

  • Active – Have established a history of consistency with our organization.
  • Convertee – Patrons who have started to establish a pattern of consistency.
  • Once Before – Patrons who attended and are starting to get to know us.

We must prioritize these patrons and find out why they aren’t giving and how we can create plans of action with them. This requires one-on-one conversations and collaboration.

4. Nobody asked me.

We’ve all seen it. We deploy a survey to our patrons to find out all kinds of great information. We are excited to read the results and then it happens. We go cold. We can’t believe it. One of the top reasons why a patron hasn’t given a gift…..

“Nobody asked me.”

That sentence! So short. Just three words. It stings!

“How is that possible? We ask patrons all the time to give and in 10,000 different ways.”

Just because we asked, doesn’t mean they heard it. Just because we asked, doesn’t mean our pitch resonated. Just because we asked, doesn’t mean we spoke their language.

Take a step back, re-group, strategize. Find ways to be relevant. Meet patrons where they are and talk with them. Cultivate them back. We still have over five months until the end of the year.

5. Activate your “Stewardship” superpower.

Ok, I have thrown enough cold water. There is hope and we all hold the power. It’s a superpower that the Arts and Culture sector does so well. That YOU do so well.


We, better than anyone else, know how to make donors feel welcome, how to include them in our organization’s family, and how to keep them engaged. Now is the time to use these muscles.

The big take-away I have from this report is that we need to do more of what we do best. Even though we aren’t in our venues, we must create touchpoints to keep our active donors engaged. We need to create pathways to lead lapsed donors back. And red carpets must be rolled out for those donors who are new to us and those who are stepping up in amazing ways.

We know it well, let’s live surprise and delight.

Need some 1:1 thought-partnership about the stewardship of your donors and patron engagement during this time?

Click here to schedule a call with Eric

Has your organization seen an increase in gifts in 2020? If so, what types of customers are showing their support? How is your performance compared to your peers? You can answer all these questions with the free Benchmark Dashboard. An automated data feed between your box office system and Purple Seven’s secure servers provides a daily update on ticket sales, refunds and donations which is anonymised and aggregated for the national benchmark. 

Sign up for free today