When you think of why your nonprofit’s donors support your organization, do you expect each of their motivations to be the same? If not, are you acknowledging those differences in the way you build relationships with these supporters?

If you answered “no…well actually… maybe,” then you are not alone. When time and resources are scarce, it’s easier to send out the same fundraising message to everyone in your community.

However, by understanding the multitude of reasons why a person may donate to a nonprofit organization, you can start connecting with more of your supporters on a deeper level – and transform your fundraising results in the process.

Why is the Psychology of Giving Important?

Across the nonprofit sector, organizations usually utilize the psychology of giving in one of two ways:

In one case, the Executive Director, Development Director, or Board Member who’s responsible for creating fundraising appeals assumes all donors have the same motivations for giving that they do. Their outreach messaging is cohesive, but doesn’t speak to the interests, needs, and experiences of supporters who have a different reason for donating.

On the other end of the spectrum, there are nonprofit leaders who neglect philanthropy psychology. This person fears offending donors by asking at the “wrong” time. When a major event happens, such as the pandemic, wars, or natural disasters, they make a decision for the donor that this is the wrong time to be asked for a gift.

What has Research Shown About Why Donors Give?

The Millennial Impact Project studied why donors across generations start giving. Unexpectedly, according to the researcher, Derrick Feldmann, donors first give because they want to belong. They desire to join their friends or be a part of a cause doing the good they wish to see in the world – even before they understand what the cause or nonprofit is seeking to accomplish.

As they gain that sense of belonging and begin believing in the cause, they can be motivated to continue to give when the nonprofit taps into their giving style.

The Seven Faces of Philanthropy was a groundbreaking research study published in 1994 that has since been updated and is still relevant today. In summary, the researchers found that donors give for different reasons. Different donors indicated that they:

  • Enjoy the act of giving, especially through events
  • Prefer to donate to local charities or make a long-lasting impact through their investments
  • Desire to repay or pay forward in gratitude through their giving
  • Donate for religious or altruistic reasons
  • See giving as a family tradition and seek to teach their children generosity

Understanding the donor’s motivations can help a nonprofit develop motivating messaging, use the right fundraising methods, and segment their supporter list to target those who are most likely to give.

How Can you Encourage Your Donors to Give?

Now that you understand the psychology behind making a philanthropic gift, you can implement this knowledge to customize your fundraising appeals.

First, you will need to determine why your donors give. The best way to find out is to ask them directly:

  • Schedule regular check-ins with board members and personal conversations with donors, even new ones!
  • Conduct online donor surveys.

It begins with a simple question, “Why do you give to…?” The answers will help you creating categories of donors with similar motivations. These categories can be presented as personas or identities; that is, the types of identities or groups where donors wish to belong.

Sample identities could be “community leader” or “survivor” or “change maker.”

Next, based on what you learned from your current donors, pick the two or three donor motivations and associated identities that occurred most often in your research. Alter your current appeal messaging and fundraising methods to align with these giving reasons.

The messaging and methods that inspire your current donors will likely attract more donors like them.

Once you’ve launched your new approach, continue to optimize how you speak to your donors’ motivations. Begin testing your messaging to learn which message has the highest engagement in terms of engagement and donations?

As you further explore your donor’s motivations for giving, you can advance to segmenting your communications based on what will motivate groups of donors to give. This segmented approach will give you the best chance of reaching the right people at the right time with the right call to action.

Once you understand donor psychology, you will wonder how you missed the clues to why your donors give – and be ready to catch future donors by staying one step ahead of their giving habits.

About the Sponsor

Network for Good‘s easy-to-use, all-in-one platform empowers small and growing nonprofits to build strong donor relationships, fundraise confidently, and make a bigger impact. Network for Good is becoming Bonterra, a software platform on a mission to disrupt the social good industry.