Why do donors give?

Posted by Molly Hetrick at 09/25/2023

Fall weather is here and you know what that means!

It’s time for year-end fundraising!

Okay, maybe that isn’t what you expected me to say, but it’s very true. Year end fundraising starts with planning in August and September, and outreach in October through the end of the year. Don’t panic – if you haven’t started, you can start now.

As we prepare our messaging and outreach, and select a great project that we hope our supporters will be excited about donating to, let’s take a moment to review why donors give. Keeping this in mind while you prepare donor-centered fundraising materials can be really key to getting healthy returns through the season.

First, think about your own philanthropic giving. Most people have their "top 3" – the top 3 organizations or causes that they regular support or prioritize. For me, these are local animal rescue groups and land conservation organizations, plus the groups I serve on the boards of.

I do not come from a background of philanthropy myself, meaning my family didn’t have the extra means to be regular donors to causes and/or have investments that they used for philanthropy. Generally, if someone grew up watching their parents and grandparents give generously, attend fundraising events, and prioritize giving, they are much more likely to themselves. But, regardless of how someone comes to the habit of giving, they usually have their top priorities.

If you and your project or organization can connect with donors and become important to them, you may end up in their top 3 as well. Even if you are not, it’s still possible to get generous gifts at year-end with careful messaging and direct asks.

Another reason people give is the emotional tie they have with a cause, or their personal beliefs. Sometimes this has to do with social issues, or it can also be related to religious beliefs and customs. People want to make their community a better place to live and are likely to give for projects they believe in.

Sometimes donors give because their neighbors or other community members are supporting a particular local cause or project and they want to get involved too.

Here is something important:

In a study referenced in Psychology Today, 85% of respondents said the reason they gave was simply because someone asked them.

Now, isn’t THAT interesting. This probably doesn’t refer to the well worded letter that arrived in their mailbox, but it might – asking is the first step. This more likely refers to someone – a friend or peer – actually asking them in person, “Would you be willing to support this cause? Here is why my family has decided to support it.”

This is really important for several reasons, most directly it can mean that when you gather a group of dedicated supporters and encourage (or train) them on sharing the message of your project, they have the power to create a big impact.

As you look at your year-end giving, take a few minutes to think about who is connected to your project or message and may be well positioned to help you and your board with the asks. Gather the group, share the resources, and encourage them to share what they love about it with others to encourage their interest as well. Good luck and happy Fall season!