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The Path to Donor Centricity: What motivates donors to give?

Understanding motivation is the third step of our people-based analysis process. To date, we have identified the future value of your donors and segmented them by both their actions and a well-rounded view of the donor as a person. Now we ask the question: Why do donors give to my organization?


You are likely saying I know why people give to my organization and we have many strong cases for giving. While I am sure both are true, you may still be missing a few critical components of understanding true donor motivation.

First, have you directly asked your donors why they give?  If so, assign those motivations to each individual donor on your file. Second, have you gone beyond the features to understand the values that drive them to make the gift?

As you might suspect, I have a motivational research approach in mind. This approach rests on the theory that approximately 95 percent of our decisions are made in our unconscious mind. For example, do you remember every step (or any step) of today’s morning commute? We can apply the means-end theory to uncover the unconscious motivations and clarify the decision process. Below is an example of the process:


See the difference? Most of us focus our case for giving on attributes and, if sophisticated, the functional consequences. How would your case for giving change if you focused on personal values and made this person feel empowered to protect his or her family?  

As an example, a non-religious, youth-enablement organization uncovered that a key motivating consequence for a large portion of its donors (11 percent) was “religious salvation.” In other words, donors were motivated to give by faith to an organization that has no faith affiliation.

Not only should you focus on uncovering true motivations, you must conduct the research in a way that enables you to assign a given motivation to each individual donor. Sounds magical, right?  A well-designed research process can do just that.

We are almost at the end of our process, but think about how much more we know about our donors.  We now know their future value, who they are, how they engage with us and why they engage with us. The last step is to choose the right offer to put in front of the donor. For more great insights visit our other blog posts and tune into our webinar, Path to Donor Centricity: The Analytic First Steps.

Also connect with me and let me know: What research have you used to shape your case for giving?  Does that research provide general direction or is it targeted at the individual level? I’d love to hear from you at [email protected]

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