What Causes People to Donate?

The Sad Truth About Animal Charity Donations explained the problem with donations to charity. Specifically, the evidence revealed people aren’t thinking critically enough about their giving, the salary structure of non-profits limits their talent pool, and people aren’t donating enough. This article explains what motivates people to donate to charity.

Huckleberry Lemon Drop, a rescued lamb at Blackberry Creek Farm Animal Sanctuary
Huckleberry Lemon Drop, a rescued lamb at Blackberry Creek Farm Animal Sanctuary

Why Do People Donate?
Recent research indicates that emphasizing the effectiveness of a charity doesn’t necessarily increase donations. This study revealed that more serious donors care about the impact of dollars but that other donors tend to respond more favorably to an emotional or social appeal. The impact of ratings from independent evaluators like Charity Navigator appears negligible at best. Many people donate based on what interests and affects them more than how wisely money will be spent.

Research indicates people give to a charity because their friends or people they trust give. It also suggests that people base how much they give based on how much others before them donated. Additional research confirms “individual giving behavior is affected by social influences.” These findings suggest that people will support a fundraising strategy that includes opportunities for people to give in the presence of others or that comes with recognition.

Research shows that by “simply announcing that match money is available considerably increases the revenue per solicitation by 19 percent. In addition, the match offer increases the probability that an individual chooses to donate by 22 percent.” This study result makes a strong case for securing and advertising match offers.

Finally, oddly enough, research indicates that the more we ask people to “suffer” while donating, the more they will contribute. Asking people to run in a race, for example, is a very effective way to raise money for your organization. Interestingly, the finding runs counterintuitive to our fast-paced, remote, tech-society. A desire to “suffer” while donating may have more to do with participating in a fun activity, giving when others are giving, or people’s desire for social interaction during the giving process.

Monty at Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary
Monty, a rescued pig at Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary

How to Increase Donations
There are many ways to increase donations. Here are a few suggestions:

1. Focus on a single story. Psychologist Nathalie Nahai states that research reveals people relate more to a single story. She explains that it makes the importance of the problem more real for people and inspires giving. Thus, it may be more productive to share the story of a rescued lamb or pig and what those animals need rather than discussing an organization’s desire to save millions of animals. Continue to tell an animal’s story so supporters can become attached and invested. People are more likely to donate to help animals they know, even from a distance. It’s the reason I started Animals of America.

2. Survey supporters to determine what interests them. Ask people which initiatives they are most likely to support. It may even be a worthwhile investment to commission a study of potential donors to determine what inspires them to donate. Nonprofits should be willing to spend money to raise money.

3. Ask for small amounts. Initiatives like $5 Fridays provide evidence that asking people to give a little can keep supporters in their comfort zone and make an impact.

4. Ask your community to get involved by providing a list of ways they can help. For example, students can organize a bake sale, designate birthday gifts to benefit your organization, or host a 5k run on your behalf. Adults can host a tennis or golf round robin or start an online fundraiser.

5. Find a matching donor. It has the potential to significantly increase donations.

A range of factors affects our decision-making process. Experiment with focused approaches, survey supporters, track the results of your strategies, solicit suggestions, secure matching offers, and always be willing to adjust to meet the needs of your organization.

6 thoughts on “What Causes People to Donate?

  1. Well said, Andrew. I have found it interesting, while getting our sanctuary of the ground, that it takes more than a good cause to raise money. We are products of our society. If it doesn’t glitter, it’s not gold.

  2. I was looking for help & suggestions to make donations before the end of the year. I have spent 2 hrs researching animal organizations & still am not sure who to support out of my pile of requests.

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