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Knowing why your donors give

The general rule of fundraising says that asking the right donor, at the right time, for the right amount will lead to success.

We also like to say a donor has to have three things: an affinity for your organization, the financial ability to give and they have to be asked. But do you really understand WHY your donors give? What about your messaging, imagery or story actually pushed them to make that gift? Is fundraising all about the relationship between the donor and the nonprofit or between the donor and the staff member they are working with?

In general, people want to be philanthropic. They want to feel like they are making a difference in someone’s life, and they want to feel the joy of being a gift giver rather than being a gift receiver. According to Network for Good, the eight top reasons someone gives are:

1. I know the nonprofit’s mission and it does good work.
2. I believe the nonprofit will use my gift to stabilize or expand programming.
3. The nonprofit communicates program outcomes.
4. I know someone that benefited from the nonprofit’s work.
5. I want to be associated with the organization and its brand.
6. I see the organization online and on social media.
7. I want a tax deduction.
8. I know someone who volunteers or serves on the organization's board.

Most of these are a little superficial, like seeing an organization online, but I think the top three are really the best indicators of what your donors are thinking. They want to know their donation is making an impact.

The art of messaging

There are many different messages we use as fundraisers to encourage our donors to give, give again or give at a larger amount. We all know that using a matching gift can significantly increase donations. According to Global Giving, if donors believe they are helping the organization reach their final goal, they gave 200% larger donations.

We also know using personal stories to make a connection to the donor can have a big impact. I’ve received phone calls from my alma maters that are from actual students asking me to support a campaign. Although I think it was luck, one student I spoke to lived on the same floor of the same dorm I lived in my freshman year on campus. I gave $50 during that call. But I can’t promise that I gave again the next year. I just don’t remember.

I listened to a webinar earlier this year that spoke a little about donor psychology that said when a donor was asked if they gave the previous year and how much they gave, they couldn’t remember. An overwhelming number of people said they gave to an organization the previous year, when in fact, they didn’t.

Use that information when people push back on sending to your LYBNT (last year but not this year) and SYBNT (some year but not this year) list. We expect donors to remember everything they did when we can very easily pull their donor history, remind them of what they have given in the past, encourage them to give more and slightly nudge them if they haven’t yet given. As long as your information is correct, most donors appreciate that you aren’t expecting them to remember if they have renewed their membership or sent their annual check.

The tricks of the trade

We all know that marketers have tricks they use to persuade us into buying their product, from the colors on the packaging to using phrases like fat-free on a product that is, by nature, fat-free to make us think we are eating healthier. Casinos don’t have windows so you don’t know what time it is, and movie theatres always smell like popcorn so you’ll want to buy some. Fundraisers have these tricks to, to a lesser degree. Classy worked with Jen Shang, a philanthropic psychologist, who has studied the language we use. Shang says by using these 9 words in your appeals, donors will be more likely to give because it reminds them that they are being a good person:

1. Kind
2. Caring
3. Compassionate
4. Helpful
5. Friendly
6. Fair
7. Hard-working
8. Generous
9. Honest

Shang says different demographics respond to different language. For instance, one of Shang’s studies shows that when appeals use adjectives like “kind and compassionate,” women increased their giving on average by 10%. However, male donors are likely to give more when solicitations use adjectives like “strong,” “responsible,” and “loyal.”

Learn more about the psychology of giving

Understanding what makes your donors give is key to building and maintaining a successful fundraising program. However, there are probably subtle things you aren’t thinking about while making asks and writing appeals. Learn more about the psychology of giving through this webinar series:

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