Understanding donor psychology: motivations and barriers to charitable giving

This is a sample from our new research report entitled Motivate and Convince: the Most Effective Tactics for Attracting Donors and Volunteers. You can download the report for free here: full report hereNote: the sources and references to the studies mentioned here can be found in the full report

Understanding donor motivations and psychology

According to recent research, the most frequently reported motivations for making donations were feeling compassion for those in need (90%), wanting to help a cause in which the donor personally believes (86%), and wanting to make a contribution to the community (80%).

Donors also give when they have been personally affected by the cause of the organization (62%). Some donors reported that their giving was influenced by whether government would give them a credit on their income tax (23%).

This research suggests that there are a number of effective approaches to take in developing messaging for fundraising campaigns. It also suggests that eligible non-profits should clearly note the beneficial income tax treatment of donations in all fundraising requests.

The 2007 Canada Survey of Giving, Volunteering and Participating (CSGVP) shows that while most Canadians give in response to being asked, the minority that plans their giving in advance tend to give larger amounts. In 2007, 19% of donors reported that they decided in advance how much they intended to give to charitable organizations over the course of a year.

These donors contributed an average of $797 annually, compared to $351 for those who did not decide how much to give in advance. These results highlight the importance of encouraging loyalty among existing donors by developing strong, long- term relationships between regular donors and the nonprofit organizations they support.

Common barriers to giving

Donors were most likely to report that they did not give more because they could not afford to do so (71%), or because they were happy with the amounts that they had already contributed (65%). Forty percent indicated that the reason they did not give more was because they believed that they already gave enough directly to people, without involving an organization.

About a third agreed that they did not give more because they did not think that the money would be used efficiently (33%), or because they gave voluntary time instead of money (32%). A comparatively small percentage (11%) identified difficulty finding a worthy cause as a barrier to increased giving.

Of particular interest is that a number of barriers to increased giving are related to the ways in which organizations make their requests for donations. About a third of donors (34%) indicated that they did not give more because they did not like the ways in which requests for donations were made.

About a quarter (24%) indicated that no one asked them to give more and 12% did not know where to make a contribution. The 34% of donors who reported that they did not give more because they did not like how requests for donations were made were asked to indicate what it was about the requests that they didn’t like.

The most frequent issue identified was the tone of the requests (reported by 43% of those who indicated that they did not like how requests were made). About a quarter (24%) indicated that they did not like the frequency or volume of requests from organizations and 15% did not like receiving multiple requests from the same organization.

Just under half of donors (44%) said that they disliked some other aspect of the request. (See also our post on the most effective fundraising channels for more insights into fundraising barriers and opportunities).  

This suggests that non-profits would benefit from crafting the tone of their requests more carefully, and that an analysis of multiple-flight campaigns should be undertaken to weigh the cost-benefit of making multiple donation requests each year.

Free Redbird Research Report: The Most Effective Tactics for Attracting Donors and Volunteers

Redbird Communications has released a free research report for non-profits.

research on donor psychology fundraising

In the report, you'll find:

  • Research on approaching business leaders, corporations, and foundations for support.
  • Research and actionable insights on the most effective fundraising tactics.
  • Research on donor motivations and psychology.
  • Research and tactics on attracting and retaining volunteers.
  • Analytical commentary, tables, and graphs.

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About Redbird Communications

Redbird Communications is a marketing communications agency in Victoria, British Columbia, that works with non-profits, social enterprises, government ministries and other private and public-sector organizations.

Founded in 2001, we provide research, strategic planning, creative services, and public relations to clients in BC, Ontario, and beyond. Redbird has developed province-wide awareness campaigns, including our most recent ‘Signs of Stroke’ campaign for the Heart and Stroke Foundation of BC & Yukon. For that campaign, we helped to raise $250,000 from pharmaceutical sponsors to fund the media buy, and created TV and radio spots, print collateral, and online advertising.

For more resources, tips, and strategic advice follow us on Twitter (@Redbirdcomms).