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7 Reasons Why People Donate & How to Appeal to Their Motives

Knowing what motivates your donors to give is vital to the growth and longevity of your nonprofit. Have your donors been personally affected by your target issue? Are they eager for ways to give back to their community? Is it part of a family tradition, or did they learn about you through their social networks?

When you understand why people donate, your organization will be able to make more effective appeals that resonate and affect change.

We surveyed 3,000 donors and found the top seven reasons why donors give to nonprofits. They are:

1. Donors are mission-driven.

Donating to charity feels good and motivates people to practice unselfish concern for others. In fact, scientific studies show that generosity stimulates dopamine, which creates similar brain activity in the regions connected to the experience of pleasure and reward. That explains why many donors are hard-wired to share their support with worthy causes.

To harness the power of this inherent altruism, your organization should:

  • Prove that you do meaningful work
  • Show how your cause helps people within the community
  • Provide multiple giving opportunities

When mission-driven individuals see that your nonprofit aligns with their values and offers feel-good giving opportunities, they are almost guaranteed to take action.

2. Donors trust your organization.

Donors come to your nonprofit because they believe in your vision and feel satisfied after giving. If you want them to stay, you need to prove yourself worthy of their trust and commitment.

The key to building long-lasting relationships with donors is transparency. When you say you’re going to do something, be true to your word. Fostering trust can be as simple as:

  • Thanking donors promptly. We recommend following up on a gift within 48 hours to a week from receiving it. Donors will appreciate your responsiveness and acknowledgement.
  • Remaining upfront about your nonprofit’s financial situation. Prove you’re transparent by posting financial information on your website, such as annual reports and your recent IRS Form 990.
  • Showing what a donor’s money has been put towards. Show where people’s hard-earned money has gone by breaking down your overhead costs and fundraising goals.

Like any relationship, building mutual trust between your organization and its supporters takes time. But, once that trust is earned, you’ll have a committed donor base at your disposal.

3. Donors understand their impact.

Donors appreciate seeing the impact of their generosity. Communicating what you’ve accomplished gives donors the confidence they need to continue lending their support. Show donors how they’re making a difference with the following strategies:

  • Send monthly or quarterly campaign updates
  • Feature testimonials in your newsletter
  • Post photo and video reports on social media
  • Publish case studies to your website

When donors know that their gift has a direct impact on improving a situation, they will feel empowered and more connected to your organization.

4. Donors have a personal connection to your cause.

For many donors, charitable giving is highly personal. Perhaps one of your major donors experienced homelessness at some point in their life and contributes to your homeless shelter out of empathy. Or maybe the monthly donors who give to your cancer research fund have loved ones with the disease.

Donors who give because they have firsthand experience with your cause are incredible advocates. But if you aren’t asking donors why they give, you risk missing out on their stories, which—with their permission—can be turned into opportunities to spread the word about your cause.

Use your fundraising software to send donor surveys. Then, use this information to create highly personalized messages that reference the details and personal stories your supporters have shared with you.

5. Donors want to be part of something meaningful.

Donors want to feel like they are a part of something meaningful and significant. Convince people that donating to your organization is a worthwhile act by:

  • Adding a human element to each fact and statistic. People connect more with personal stories, rather than statistics and broad statements. Tell specific, impactful stories in your newsletters and blog posts to tug at your donors’ heartstrings.
  • Providing first-hand experiences. Most donors aren’t persuaded to make charitable donation decisions based on facts alone. Spark a personal connection by inviting donors to volunteer, attend a fundraising event, or take a tour of your facility.
  • Making your outreach efforts donor-centric. Placing donors at the heart of your solicitations makes them feel like a partner in your organization and empowers them to give.

Tap into your audience’s emotions and invite them to take a closer look at your organization, so they can connect with your work on a personal level.

6. Donors are engaged.

To generate long-term support for your nonprofit, it’s important to provide donors with a wide range of engagement opportunities, such as:

  • Donor appreciation events
  • Volunteer opportunities
  • Social media campaigns
  • Membership programs
  • Recurring gift options

When you involve donors in other aspects of your organization, you prove that your relationship extends far beyond a financial transaction.

7. Donors want tax benefits.

Some donors value the financial incentive of giving. When you donate to a 501(c)(3) public charity, you may be eligible for certain tax deductions. If your donors express interest in receiving tax benefits, appeal to them by:

  • Sharing annual giving letters that include your tax-exempt status and the overall contribution of donors
  • Offering a matching gifts program for donors to use at their respective companies
  • Sending donation receipts, a legal requirement for donations over a certain amount

Although tax exemption is a perk for donors, we know that altruism is the driving force behind why people donate. Continue to make your case for change to keep donors inspired by your work.

Wrapping up: How should nonprofits appeal to donors?

Understanding why donors give affects every interaction you have with them. While your nonprofit should show that it’s a good steward of donor money, your appeals must contain more than numbers and pie charts. After all, it’s clear from our research that most people act from the heart.

Let donor motivations guide your next fundraising appeal and keep these key takeaways in mind:

  • Remain transparent
  • Show the impact of each gift
  • Personalize your communications
  • Use emotional appeals
  • Provide opportunities for further engagement

These insights will help inspire future engagement, deepen relationships, and turn first-time donors into lifelong supporters and advocates.

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in 2018 and has been revamped and updated with new fundraising insights. 

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