Donors See Big Nonprofits as More Effective, Impactful

December 4, 2017 — Nearly nine out of ten charitable donors form perceptions of nonprofits partly by how big—or small—they are, and for most donors that affects how they view an organization’s effectiveness, trustworthiness, efficiency, and dollar-for-dollar impact, according to a newly completed national study.

In the mind of the typical American donor, larger charitable organizations are more effective in their work than smaller ones, according to The Donor Mindset Study, completed by Grey Matter Research and Opinions4Good, and only 12% saw no differences between smaller and larger charities on any of the seven attributes tested in the study.

The study was based on a survey of 1,000 donors across the United States. It was left to respondents to distinguish between large and small nonprofits.

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 these two 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%)
Demographically, an organization’s size affects men and women very differently. The study found that men consistently give the advantage to larger organizations, with 40% of men giving the advantage to larger organizations vs. only 28% to smaller organizations, while typically 32% said they see no difference between the two.

Women are less likely to have any type of size bias; when they do, it is more often in favor of smaller organizations, the study found.

The study also found "a consistent, strong size bias by age." On average, donors age 18 to 34 were almost twice as likely to see advantages to larger organizations, compared to smaller ones. This shifted as age increases: Older donors, by 2-to-1, favored smaller organizations, while younger donors by same margin favored larger organizations.

There also were substantial differences by household income. In the lowest income group, smaller charities have a substantial perceptual advantage. This shifts as household income rises, moving to a small advantage for larger organizations among higher income donors.

Finally, there is also a substantial difference according to race/ethnicity. Non-Hispanic Caucasians typically have a slight bias toward smaller organizations, while all other racial or ethnic groups combined show more than a 2-to-1 perceptual advantage for larger organizations.