Donor motivation isn't mysterious. It’s common sense.
All choices are influenced by what motivates us - that's obvious. Whether a potential donor chooses to give to an organization or not is one such choice - and the possible motivations for giving or not are various. As a colleague said to me today "when someone asks what makes a donor give, I say, show me the donor." In other words, people have different motivations for making the choices they make.
We all share similar motivations, but some of them (and some combinations of them) are more common to certain types of funders. Some donor motivations include:
- Participate in something worthwhile
- Become involved with something in which one believes
- Increase connection to something cared about
- Align with something positive
- Support shared beliefs, values, priorities
- Respond to a friend’s request
- Gain access to a particular group of people
- Recognition of an effective effort
- Assuage guilt
- Give back
- Learn something
- Support a desired change
- Get a tax deduction
Donor motivation is one of the most important aspects of fundraising since it's what drives the donor to give or not. Unfortunately, donor motivation is something many nonprofits fail to carefully consider. And the result is too often one-size-fits-all fundraising. An organization that doesn’t understand or consider donor motivation in its fundraising program is like a person visiting a foreign country without considering the language barrier. Effective fundraising means understanding donor motivation and actively addressing it.
How does an organization effectively address donor motivation? Well, ideally, each donor would be cultivated using tailor-made communications, materials and benefits to fit their unique motivations. And this is exactly what makes major gift fundraising successful. However, creating a custom package for every single donor simply is not possible - so successful fundraising designs different campaigns to appeal to a broad range of predictable donor motivations.
The important thing to remember is that motivation creates expectation.
Motivations create expectations from the donors about what the organization should do once it has their money. For example, some individual donors may expect nothing more than a good feeling that they helped out, but most also expect, at minimum, an
acknowledgment of their gift for tax purposes. Others may expect some form of recognition (name listed in a program, annual report or on a website); some will expect inclusion in events and perhaps even something tangible like a mug or poster.
Corporations’ motivations for giving are generally related to marketing. Specific expectations may include various opportunities for name alignment with the organization, entertainment opportunities for customers and employees, and visibility of the brand and/or
products. Foundations, on the other hand, are in the business of investing in nonprofit organizations and so have the expectation of an effective service or product delivered with evidence of its benefit achieved. Foundations’ funding motivations and expectations then are more similar to a bank considering a loan. Although the foundation doesn’t expect or want to be repaid, it will use similar criteria to assess the worthiness of the nonprofit as a recipient of its funding.
Effective fundraising programs take into account these differing motivations and expectations, and design clear communication up front about what expectations will be met and how. However, when gifts are received fundraising work is still not complete. The successful nonprofit follows through on what has been promised to the donor - in other words, fulfills the expectation, and in doing so, sets the stage for the next fundraising appeal.
Fundraising is a cycle of relationship. Knowing and anticipating your donors' motivations, designing ways to appeal to them, and following through all create a satisfying donor experience. And a satisfied donor is a repeat giver, just about every time.
Nonprofit-KnowHow covers this topic in greater detail in the Fundraising 101 and Asking for Money chapters. Find out more.