To explore what motivates donors to give, let’s take a quick walk in the dog park.
I’m a dog person.
I don’t necessarily fit the profile of the most dog person you’ll ever meet (i.e. dogs aren’t my fur babies), but I love dogs, especially in comparison to cats. I’ll say hello to most dogs, give them some good pets, and even dog-sit occasionally, but I don’t want to spend money on dogs.
We won’t get into the various profiles of cat person, dog person, or neither conversation here, but while I love dogs, you likely won’t find me donating to any dog or animal cause (that makes me sound harsher than I anticipated).
Regardless, there are a few reasons I won’t donate to an animal cause, but the simplest answer is my motivation for giving is rooted in place and community. I’m more likely to give to a cause that’s in my neighborhood than one that is (quite literally) hundreds of miles away. Likewise, donors have a wide range of motivations for where they spend their money.
In the world of philanthropy, understanding what motivates donors to give can ease a lot of stress and anxiety for fundraisers. Whether it’s planning a fundraiser or preparing for an end-of-the-year push, better understanding donors will help you better tailor your message, leading to more meaningful and lasting donor relationships.
Below, we delve into six distinct donor profiles and explore what motivates donors to give. These aren’t exhaustive, but they’ll help you think about the underlying motivations for donors, which can help you connect more strategically.
Dynasty donors are forward-thinkers who are motivated to give to organizations with long-term visions. They might be intrigued more by addressing problems that can’t be solved in their lifetime versus a short-sighted goal like a building campaign or end-of-year request. Their core motivation revolves around legacy. They want to ensure that their impact and values are felt and remembered for generations to come, and they look for organizations that are doing the same. Phrases like, “I want to make sure my grandchildren will give,” or questions like “How do we want things to go, in the world and the United States?” encapsulate their longing to leave behind a lasting legacy through their philanthropy.
The Repayer is motivated by profound gratitude. They donate to organizations or causes that have personally touched their lives, but they may have a broad understanding of what that impact is. It could be from an alma mater or a park or zoo where they spent meaningful time with families and friends. Their act of giving is a way of saying “thank you.” Their donations are rooted in deep-seated feelings of appreciation and the desire to give back. Phrases like, “I wouldn’t be who I am today without _________.” encapsulate their motivation and can tune you into what makes them tick.
A Civic Giver has a deep-rooted love for their community that propels and guides their giving. They have a powerful connection to a place, and it is seen through their investment in local schools, business, nonprofits, and other essentials that make up their neighborhood. What motivates Civic Givers is their investment in ensuring the prosperity and well-being of the communities they identify with, be it their hometown, city, or nation. Their mindset revolves around phrases like, “This is where I have lived, and I want it to thrive.” They are thinking about the betterment of their neighbors and neighborhood. It’s also worth noting, civic givers tend to prioritize a handful of local organizations instead of giving to many things.
The Investor donor is interested in efficiency and strategy within the organizations they support. They want their funds to make a measurable difference and are keenly interested in the efficacy of organizations. They want to see the “ability to execute the dollar.” They appreciate transparency and want to ensure that their money is being used judiciously. To them, donating is akin to an investment, and they are constantly looking for returns in the form of positive change. A phrase you might hear is, “I want to see the difference I’ve made.” Investor donations are fueled by identifying efficacy both in the organization or a specific leader.
The Social Giver is about connection and belonging through their philanthropy. The act of giving is intertwined with the social experiences it offers—be it attending galas, mingling at fundraisers, or being a part of a cause. Their giving is a way for them to experience a sense of belonging or purpose. Phrases you might hear them say are, “When I give, I belong to something” or “I love being a part of ____.” Social Givers are motivated by the relational aspect of giving and the feeling of being a part of something bigger than themselves, cultivating a social identity through their generosity.
The Devotee Donor is driven by an unwavering sense of duty or faith. They are often deeply connected to religious or moral principles that guide their charitable actions and involvement. Their core motivation is faithfulness, and they give because they believe it’s their calling or responsibility. Phrases you might hear from them are, “I feel called to _____” or “It is my deep conviction to give to _____.” The generosity of Devotee Donors is tied to deep conviction and calling. For these donors, giving is deeply personal.
Bonus: We shouldn’t expect donors to fit neatly into one of these six profiles; however, these are helpful guidelines when considering what motivates donors to give and determining who gives to what. Asking good questions is how you can better understand a donor’s motivation:
The heart of every donation is a story and a desire to make a difference. Understanding what motivates donors to give is important to fostering lasting and impactful donor relationships that are people- and story-driven. This is all a way to create more effective partnerships between a donor and an organization.