What motivates donors to give?

This is an important question, especially if you’re a nonprofit executive or fundraiser. Donors are the lifeblood of your organization; they allow you to execute your mission. Without your donors, you probably wouldn’t be in business.

Stating the obvious: donors are a central component of any successful nonprofit.

How we approach development is often driven by the kind of response we’re trying to elicit from donors. And the response we try to elicit depends on what we think motivates donors.

  • Do donors primarily give out of (enlightened) self-interest?
  • Are donors driven by a desire for a good return on their investments?
  • Do donors prioritize giving to organizations that can demonstrate effectiveness and impact (i.e., they look at the data and give accordingly)?

Many would answer “yes” to some or all of the above. This seems to be the conventional wisdom. We increasingly hear from philanthropy experts that these are the motivating factors, especially among high-net-worth individuals—your major donors. We’re told that they’re more sophisticated and are concerned about “root causes”, that they want to discern the marginal impact of their giving  and measure the relative performance of charities.

This may be true.  But then again maybe it’s not. At least maybe not quite as often as we think.

Perhaps what motivates donors is simpler and much more basic.

There are good reasons to question the “conventional wisdom” and to explore what really motivates donors (including findings in published reports such as Money for Good and The 2016 U.S. Trust Study of High Net Worth Philanthropy). In fact, take a moment right now to forget “donors” and instead think about yourself.

Ask yourself this question: What motivates you to give to the charities and causes that you support?

I suspect that your answer to this question may be telling and very much in line with what we know about human nature from modern psychology and sociology regarding identity and sociality. After all, human beings are human beings, and the motivating factors for donors are likely the same whether one is making a $100 or $100,000 gift.

 

Dive more deeply into the concept of donor motivation and how to leverage it to raise more money during Doug’s live Foundation Center webinar on January 25, Raise More Money by Leveraging Donor Motivation .