For decades nonprofits, fundraisers, and scholars have tried to understand what makes people give to a specific cause or organization. Understanding the dynamics that prompt individuals to support a cause can help philanthropists better appreciate their own giving habits and help nonprofits to cultivate donors efficiently and effectively.
As nonprofit organizations work to better understand their donor-base and cultivate relationships that really matter (those that help to further long-standing partnerships to sustain the nonprofit), philanthropists can also take the time to better understand their giving habits. Whether you work for, volunteer at, or support nonprofits through other means, taking time to appreciate the various reasons people give to these community organizations will help you better assist them and their vitally important role in the community.
While much research has been shared on this topic, about a decade ago Dutch scholars published a report that aggregated over 500 published papers. All that historical data was compiled and funneled down to present the main dynamics that drive giving. While donors are motivated by multiple factors, knowing which ones to look for can make or break a nonprofit's fundraising goals.
Psychologists have studied the dynamics of giving for many years and have identified 8 key internal motivators. Looking at Bekkers’ and Wiepking's published literature we can learn about each of these motivators and uncover ways nonprofits can use these influences to further guide and develop philanthropy.
As counterproductive as it is, people like to know there is something that needs their help. Yes, they are giving towards a life where there is no more homelessness, there is enough food for everyone, there are cures for every rare disease, or to create a sustainable planet. Yet, for people to give, they must become aware of a need for support. That need could include tangible objects (e.g., housing, food, carbon emission capture, etc.) or intangible objects (e.g., psychological care).
Nonprofits should share stories about the needs of their organization and the community residents they serve. Share on social media, your website, in newsletters, at events, and by word of mouth by your Board, current donors, staff, and volunteers.
A large majority of all donations happen because of an ask. Research has shown that 85 percent of charitable donations occur because of a solicitation practice. Basically, if you ask, you shall receive.
Most fundraisers have probably heard of this reason for giving at some point throughout their careers. It all comes down to the "ask." But how do you make a good ask? Well, let's be honest, there is an art to asking people for money, and there is a science behind it too. A fundraiser does not need to make the perfect ask to raise money. However, understanding that people want to be asked for money will help fundraisers turn people into long-term donors.
It is important to remember that there is a material cost and benefit associated with donating, as with anything else in this world. Donors want to feel like they are essentially getting a deal. Whether this is a gift from the charity or a tax benefit, donors want to feel like they are somehow getting a deal with their donation.
Successful nonprofits are well-versed in showing appreciation to their donors and highlighting the benefits of their donations. And while donors cannot receive any goods or gifts of service to receive the full tax deduction for their contribution to a charity, nonprofits can still "reward" donors in other ways. Highlight how a certain amount of money makes an impact within the organization. Example: "For $10 a day, your donation feeds a family of four through our food pantry services. Plus, your donation is tax-deductible, be sure to talk to your accountant!"
Many people give to a charity because they care about the organization's output or their donation's effects on beneficiaries of the organization's services.
These types of donors usually love a good story. Nonprofits can make sure they let donors know precisely why their help is needed. Include important information in messaging like who and how many will benefit from a donation, and exactly how someone's life or situation will improve.
Some people appreciate and need some form of recognition or approval from others when they give. From a donors' view, they like to be known for giving.
This is useful for nonprofits because organizations can think about ways to highlight a donor in an annual report, with the naming of a building or park, or numerous other ways.
Giving no doubt contributes to one's self-image. People can identify with their giving in an unselfish, empathic, socially responsible, or influential way. In addition to these personal identifiers, giving creates a somewhat automatic emotional response, producing a positive mood or even alleviating feelings of guilt for the donor. People report feeling more grateful for their own lives, which is why they give.
Nonprofits should play into these emotional triggers for donors and highlight why a donation helps. Immediately after a person donates, share a video of a family that is being supported by the organization or send a personal "thank you" note from your President and Board Chair expressing appreciation for the donation.
Attitudes and values endorsed by donors make charitable giving attractive to donors. Philanthropy is a means to reach a desired situation that is closer to one's view of the 'ideal' world. And donors use their power of philanthropy to shape the world to match what they value.
Nonprofits are meant to serve community needs, but in that idea, we know a nonprofit cannot serve every resident in its geographical area. Instead, it is important to highlight how the nonprofit stands out in the area and how its work is unique, necessary, and creates positive change
These days every nonprofit knows how to talk about its impact. And this is a good thing because donors want to know their contributions make a difference in the world. Like the "costs and benefits" idea, efficacy works in tandem with helping to provide donors with a "tangible" number so they can easily relate to the significance of their contribution.
People can be easily overwhelmed by large numbers. When it comes to working towards massive change the concept of large data sets (years worth of dates, facts, figures, and graphs) or putting a volume weight on the amount of carbon emissions that need to be brought under control a donor could feel immediately overwhelmed. They may begin to think the problem is so great that their contribution, however large or small to them, will not make a dent in the needs of others. This mindset causes potential donors to walk away from considering a donation to a charity. Nonprofits can overcome this by understanding how to show impact on large and small scales. Nonprofits can tell a story about how a gift impacts one family's ability to overcome poverty or how one city lowered its carbon emissions and saved X number of people from air pollution. Instead of looking at the millions of homeless families or the many countries struggling with clean air, the smaller-scale can help people see that the nonprofit's vision is possible, and they can be part of it!
There are many reasons why people give. Understanding our own motivations for giving can help us connect with the nonprofits we care most about. Likewise, it can help nonprofits retain and grow donors for their cause. No matter how you support nonprofits, taking time to appreciate the various reasons people give to these community organizations will help all of us better assist these vital causes.