Why Donors Give, and How Communications Can Help

New research on donor motivations underscores the important role communications can play in helping nonprofits attract and retain donors. Based on interviews with more than 6,200 nonprofit leaders and major donors, CCS Fundraising found that donors are most motivated by:

  • the impact of their gift (84%)
  • their ability to give (66%)
  • religious/moral obligation (54%)
  • their commitment to their community (52%)
  • being asked (47%)
  • the ability to get a tax deduction (22%)

CCS also lists 12 factors that influence donors to give (and how much they give). Collectively, this information provides valuable insights about how nonprofits can improve their communication to better engage and inspire donors and prospects. Here are some tips based on the CCS findings:

1. Give your supporters ways to share your mission and your needs. CCS’s research shows that people give to other people, most often their peers. It takes more than professional fundraisers to attract donors — you’ll be most successful if board members, donors, and recipients of your services spread the word to their friends and colleagues. Peer fundraising is having a major influence on the success of online fundraising, but peer-to-peer communication is key for all levels and all types of giving. Make it easy for your supporters to share content through printed materials, success stories, and easy sharing functionality on your website, emails, and social media channels.

2. Ask. This may sound simplistic, but when asked why they give, many people say “because I was asked.” As obvious as that may sound, nonprofits miss many opportunities to communicate the need to give. I bet you’ve heard of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital — and you know they need financial support, right? That’s no accident. St. Jude does a great job of integrating philanthropy messaging into everything they say and do. Do you let people know about the need and opportunity to give on your website’s homepage, in your annual report, in your marketing materials, and at your events? Does your CEO have a compelling way to talk about the need for support in speeches, letters, and conversations?

3. Be specific. Donors like their gifts to support a specific need or project. What are your needs? How do they match up with what is compelling and meaningful to your potential donors? Think about how you can package giving opportunities so people understand where their money will go. In addition to identifying specific needs — like the dollar amount needed for a piece of equipment — you can also offer representative examples. One organization that does this well is charity:water, which brings clean and safe drinking water to people in developing nations. At one level, they say, “$20 could provide one person with clean drinking water.” At higher levels, they offer the opportunity to sponsor a drilled well for $10,000 or a school project for $20,000.

4. Show results. Donors respond to successful and beneficial programs. They want to know that their contributions will be used wisely, and that you have a track record for results. Focus on the human impact of your work.

5. Be positive! CCS’s research shows that people are more likely to give to positive, enthusiastic solicitors. That’s not surprising, but it’s not something you find in most studies about fundraising. Are you, your team, and your executives enthusiastic when you talk about your work? Do you share your personal story about how you got involved, and why you care about your organization’s mission?

For more information about what motivates donors, and national trends in giving, download an advance copy of CCS’s “Snapshot of Today’s Philanthropic Landscape.”

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