What Makes People Give?

| by Priscilla Bratcher

I just returned from a meeting with prospective donors for a current client. These are well-informed, long-time volunteers and supporters who are eager to be part of the upcoming capital campaign. In advance of my visit, the client had prepared a draft “vision statement” which set out the organization’s needs for campaign funding. But even with these highly engaged and motivated donors, the draft fell flat. They wanted to know something very simple and yet something we often forget about: what difference will my gift make?

In any organization, it’s so easy to get inside our own small worlds and forget about what really motivates donors. We become distracted with report deadlines, meeting agendas, management duties, scheduling and a million other daily tasks that become our entire world, if we let them. We forget to remember the big picture, the greater good we are doing. Stepping back on a regular basis is healthy for every part of life. That’s why vacations were invented.

This couple was curious and wanted to help create a stronger case for support. After our discussion of the client organization, they asked me what, based on my many years of fundraising, motivates people to give. I took the easy, if honest, way out:  it depends.

I talked to them about the differences in motivation for women and men, people of different generations, donors of different cultural backgrounds. I’ve read, engaged in continuing education and personally experienced a lot over these well-documented variations over the years. But when it comes right down to it, it’s pretty simple.

Years ago, a fundraising sage told me that people give to save lives and change lives. Simply and beautifully put. I always try to keep that in mind when constructing a case for support or advising clients about their fundraising appeals. We need to demonstrate to donors that their gifts will have impact, demonstrable, measurable and life-changing.

The beauty of the situation is that our organizations do make a difference in people’s lives and we have those stories to tell! These stories have power. After all, story-telling is the ancient and powerful way we humans have always communicated.

One final thought: think about your own work and what motivates you to spend the many hours each day working toward a shared mission. Why do you do it? What is it about the way you are helping others that keeps you going? Chances are, the same things that motivate you to work hard will motivate donors to give generously. So get out there and tell those true, powerful and motivating stories. They have the potential to persuade the head and move the heart and make the lives of many, including those of our donors, more fulfilling.


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