What Motivates People to Give to Charity?

5 Dec

There are a few basic reasons why people are motivated to donate to charities: a moral obligation, it’s good for the self-esteem, it provides a decent tax right off, and/or helping others is part of a holiday tradition. We all have certain triggers that attach our hearts to our wallets and that’s what makes the holidays one of the busiest times of year for non-profits. Sentimentality, generosity and family traditions are as much a part of the season as decorated trees, sappy movies and too sweet cookies with a side of cold milk.

Knowing what motivates your donors to give is one of the biggest marketing challenges for non-profit organizations. It’s not that we want to manipulate our donors to pry open their wallets, but we do want to plant the reality of the urgency of the needs that burden our clientele. In a world filled with countless people needing assistance, many of our donors are bombarded with mail boxes flooded with letters petitioning for a monthly gift, Facebook posts stating the latest project that needs to be completed or TV commercials displaying heart breaking pictures with a melodic soundtrack playing in the background. Standing out and tapping into what motivates your donors is key to successful fundraising.

On StarTribune.com, writer Jean Hopfensperger interviewed several people to determine what motivates their giving in the holiday season. Hopfensperger mentions that in Minnesota, 60% of non-profit donations come between the Thanksgiving holiday and January. “Apart from feeling that warm glow of giving, people donate for more specific reasons. A 2009 survey by the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University showed the top three reasons people donate are to help disadvantaged folks meet their basic needs, to make the world a better place and to make their community a better place. Also near the top of the list was the personal conviction that people with more should help those with less,” explains Hopfensperger.

Tim Seiler, director of the fundraising school at the philanthropy center, commented “Tax breaks may not motivate the gift, but they may motivate the size of the gift… Likewise, improving social status is a motivator for some, such as having a chance to hobnob with the rich and famous at charity galas. But, again, it is not in the top tier of reasons.”

Fundraising experts say that giving has increased over the holiday seasons because of low-cost technological ways to reach out to donors via Facebook, Twitter and e-mail. This is also the easiest way for donors to make a pledge to their favorite charity.


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