6 Reasons Why Donors Give – and Why They Stop

Are you tapping into the most important reason why someone would give to your cause? When you are building a relationship and putting together a proposal, are you focusing on the motivational levers that are most convincing to your donor?

This matters for a very important reason: if you’re not being intentional about focusing on your DONOR’S reasons for giving, you will default to focusing on your OWN reasons.

For me, giving is all about relationships and impact. Show me a friend who supports a charity that means something to them, I’m in. Put a great story in front of me about how a nonprofit organization is creating opportunities for women escaping human trafficking, here comes my money. 

So it followed that, when I was starting out in fundraising, that’s what I talked about to EVERY. SINGLE. DONOR: their personal connections and all the amazing things we were doing at the foundation. I ignored all the other reasons why someone might want to give because… well, to be honest, they didn’t even occur to me.

Dr. Stephen Covey said, “we see the world, not as it is, but as we are.” The same is true for giving. We often don’t see the motivation to give as it is for the donor, but as it is for ourselves

We can’t afford to miss the opportunity to speak to what moves our donors.

Every donor has a unique story, and they usually break down into one of these 6 reasons for giving:

(1)  Personal connections– People give to people. If asking for a gift could be done by chatbots, webpages, or mailers alone, we wouldn’t need fundraisers. (Ouch! But we DO need you!) The fact is, cultivating a relationship matters, both directly with donors and collectively by building communities. Social giving is a major force now. When people see their peers giving and getting involved, they want to join in.

(2)  Unique experiences– Making a gift often gives donors access to unique experiences, like attending special events, meeting people whom their gift served, and traveling to interesting places (AKA: voluntourism). Sometimes giving a gift is the cost of entry to something else that is more important to the donor than the cause itself. Knowing the difference can be crucial to your successful ask!

(3)  Helping others– Of course, giving to make a difference and aid humanity is a powerful motivation for many donors. This is the pure altruism, or philanthropy – and it is alive and well! These donors care deeply about the mission and trustworthiness of your organization. Show them how the dollars meet a need, and they will love you.

(4)  Showing appreciation– When a person has experienced a meaningful and impactful connection, they often want to show their gratitude through making a charitable gift. Think about asking for a gift from those who adopted a beloved pet, attended a school that helped them get ahead in their career, or received life-prolonging care at a hospital or clinic. Memorial gifts are often a way people show their gratitude for a special person. Being able to express appreciation by paying it forward can start an important conversation between fundraisers and donors.

(5)  Dutiful obligation– Depending on a person’s religious tradition, family example, or humanitarian values, they may feel like it’s their duty or responsibility to give. Regular tithing or traditions of giving during a certain time of year or for a certain cause are common examples of duty-driven giving. Speaking to a donor’s sense of duty may not be the first thing that comes to mind, but it can be an important element to remember when considering reasons why a person might give.

(6)  Pride and power – Last but not least, some people give because of the attention and prestige that being a well-known or generous philanthropist gives them. As I say, some people like to see their name engraved on something! In fundraising, we usually don’t talk about this motivational factor enough. Most of your donors won’t come right out and say they want the recognition, so be on the look-out for people who seem to enjoy being in the spotlight and then create opportunities for them to get the spotlight from your cause.

Every donor has their own unique story and inspiration for making a gift. If you’re not listening for that story, you’re missing a huge piece of the puzzle for closing a gift. 

Things have changed – donors are no longer making gifts just for the tax deductions or their own membership affinity. By understanding these major reasons why people would give, you can tap into what is most important to them and use that motivation to help you close larger, more transformational gifts that are a win-win for you and your donor.