The Psychology of Giving: Lessons for Fundraisers

As a fundraiser, do you truly understand why your donors give to your organization? In this episode of The Responsive Weekly, Angel Aloma of Aloma Fundraising Strategies joined Erik Tomalis and Stephen Boudreau to share his expertise about the psychology of giving and what that means for fundraising.

Watch the full recording of their conversation here, or read on to learn more! 

The Quick Summary

Why Donors Give

In his time at Food For The Poor, Angel Aloma and his team completed a study about donor motivation. They interviewed a fair representative of major donors and large givers to dig deep into the psychology of their giving. The goal was to understand the fundamental reason why these donors were giving. 

Typically they found that the first reason donors gave for giving was that they wanted to help the people that Food For The Poor was helping. However, because the study aimed to dig deep, they kept asking questions.

The ultimate conclusion was much different than the first answer donors gave. The number one reason donors give money is that in a world full of negativity and division, donors want to feel good about themselves

What Does This Mean for Fundraising? 

Although this study was done specifically with Food For The Poor, the findings can be useful for most fundraisers. The top takeaway from this is that your fundraising efforts need to be focused on your donor’s motivations. If donors’ psychological catalysts are centered on a positive psychological response, they will give more the better they feel. 

Think about the simple fundraising practice of sending a thank you after a donation. The act of giving activates the same reward center as other activities that result in pleasure — but the great thing about giving is that there is no drop in depression afterward. If fundraisers can connect with donors within seven days of their original gift, donors are more likely to give again. They are still experiencing the pleasure from the first donation, so you want to connect with them during the afterglow of that positive experience. 

Using Psychology to Fundraise

Donors have a tremendous amount of expectations that fundraisers should keep in mind. If donors give because they want to feel good, fundraisers should get to know what a donor expects and needs. Many fundraisers may feel that creating a donor journey counts as focusing on donors. However, if your fundraising practices are focused on getting donors to give the way you want them to, that’s not truly meeting donors where they are.  

To dive into the psychology of your donors, you need to take advantage of donor signals and personal connections. You need to get to know your donors better. When engaging with donors, don’t ask yes or no questions. Instead, ask open-ended questions that start with “why” or “how.” Ultimately you want your donors to tell you stories about why they care about your mission. 

At Food For The Poor, they didn’t stop when a donor said they cared about the poor, they delved deeper into the donor’s psychology with questions such as:

  • “Why do you care about the poor?”
  • “Who taught you to care for the poor?”
  • “How were you taught to care for the poor?”

If you understand these answers, you can personalize future philanthropic asks that will connect with your donors and guarantee that they feel good about making a donation. 

The Psychology of Donor Retention 

Engaging with first-time donors is an important part of the psychology of fundraising. Donors will feel good when they make that first donation, but how you follow up with them will determine if they keep coming back or not. For donor retention, new donor journeys are key. 

New donors should receive a call as soon as possible (usually within a week). To lean into that feel-good psychology, try to find something unique to your mission to give back to donors.  Faith-based organizations often offer something such as prayer. Organizations that work with youth may have hand-written letters or artwork from the children sent as a gesture of thanks. Regardless, double down on helping donors feel appreciated by responding in a way that gives back to your donors, reminds them of the impact of their donation, and makes an emotional connection. 

After that initial follow-up, create your new donor journey email sequence of around five email communications. The first few emails should focus on sharing stories that shorten the distance between a donor and the impact of their gift. Personalize communication and show donors how connected their giving is to the good that is happening. 

Giving is a personal act. Donors may give because it elicits a positive feeling, but they also chose to give to your organization for a reason. Giving donors an experience that produces a good feeling whenever they hear from you will help you fundraise more and create a wonderful expression of gratitude for their generosity. 

Use Psychology to Break Through the Noise

The average person receives hundreds of emails in the course of a month — and it is hard to stand out among that. First, use your technology well. Send emails, but focus on the messaging that centers on the positive impact of their gift. Use your fundraising software to make notes about what you learn about your donors so that future communication can continue to be personalized and meaningful. 

The psychology of giving tells us how personal the act of generosity is for donors—so your communication should demonstrate that you also care about that personal connection.

Instead of just sending newsletters to everyone in your database once a month, consider creating some segmented, personalized communications. For example, one month you could send an email to everyone whose first donation was made during that month sometime in the past.  The email could include language such as: “Twelve years ago this month you did something incredible. You made your first gift to our nonprofit.” 

Another method to learn about your donors while showing gratitude is through visits to your organization. Bring in donors and give them a tour of your facilities. This will make them feel like part of the “inner circle” of your nonprofit and may give them a better, more personal perspective on the work that you do. 

Finally, donors are more likely to connect with the stories of others who give. Seeing how passionate and emotionally connected other donors are to your organization will psychologically motivate other donors to become more involved. Consider implementing a regular program where donors can meet with leaders of your nonprofit. Bonus points if they also get to meet with individuals who your organization has impacted. Inviting donors to these events will demonstrate gratitude and provide a space for them to share their stories and inspire each other

Key Takeaways

The psychology of fundraising shows that financial giving meets the emotional needs of donors as well as the needs of your nonprofit. This means that donors care about your mission and want to be involved! They are personally engaged with your cause and want to be invited to participate. Lean into these lessons from psychology, and generosity will only grow. 

What you should do now

Below are three ways we can help you begin your journey to building more personalized fundraising with responsive technology.

See the Virtuous platform in action.  Schedule a call with our team for personalized answers and expert advice on transforming your nonprofit with donor management software.

Download our free Responsive Maturity Model and learn the 5 steps to more personalized donor experiences.

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