Why People Give to Nonprofits – and Why They Don’t

Major Gifts – Beyond the Solicitation Series – Part 3

David A. Mersky imageOften, when I conduct a workshop or a solicitor development program — particularly with volunteer leaders — I facilitate a brainstorming session.  I ask all the participants to give me every reason they can think of why people give to nonprofits.

With my back to the participants, so that I can write on a white board or a pad of newsprint on an easel, people “shout out” different reasons. Over the years, the reasons have remained essentially the same.  People say that they give because:

  • they believe in the cause
  • they trust the leadership of the agency
  • of peer pressure
  • tax deduction
  • they were asked
  • of who asked them
  • of the private benefits of giving
  • of the networking opportunity with other donors
  • of recognition
  • it feels good
  • to repay someplace or someone
  • it is good for business
  • it is God’s will
  • it feels right
  • it is a family tradition

When I turn around to face the group, I ask them which they think is the single most important reason.  Someone always suggests the “tax deductibility of the gift;” another proposes that it is all about “recognition.”  Still another will offer that “it is good for business.”  Finally someone will shout out, “because they were asked.”

And, of course, that is the answer.  Virtually no one gives until, and unless, asked.  All of the other reasons that people have shared, and that are enumerated above, play a role—depending upon the individual.  Some more than others.  But, the key is that they were asked.  After the fact that they were asked, it is important that they believe in the cause and that they are asked by the right person—preferably, someone to whom they cannot say, “No.”

Those of you who are actually in the business of engaging with donors might consider asking your supporters why they give to your organization.  You could do it in a face to face conversation as part of the stewardship process.  You might also do a survey as an involvement device to ask donors why they give to your organization.

And then you can take what you learn and make sure that the motivators which your donors have identified are included in your subsequent communications with them.

Oh, and if you have not already figured it out, why don’t people give?

They were not asked!

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