7 Common Drivers of Charitable Giving

In the United States, approximately 90% of Americans will make a charitable donation each year. But what motivates people to give? Often, it is assumed that people make charitable donations simply because they are passionate about a cause. The truth is, the motivation behind charitable giving can be more complex than that. In fact, multiple reputable studies have shown that there are individual, social, and environmental factors that influence generosity. Understanding why people give is beneficial, as it can inform you of how you should appeal to potential donors, and ultimately support the good work your organization has set out to do.

Here is a breakdown of the most common drivers of charitable giving.

People give because of a personal relationship: A research report conducted by the American Red Cross revealed that the number one driver of charitable donations is simply, personal relationships. Basically at the end of the day, people tend to give to people they know. It might be a personal relationship with a board member, the executive director, or other members of staff. It might be a friend who shared a post on social media or personally invited you to a fundraiser dinner. When making an ask, consider your own personal connections but don’t stop there. The best fundraisers are those who can identify who the best person is to make the ask based on their personal sphere of influence.

People give because of Social Pressure: Philanthropic research conducted by the Greater Good Science Center at Berkeley University reveals that people give because of social and cultural pressure. What’s interesting in this piece of research is that generosity seems to be contagious. According to the report, “people with more friends engage in more volunteering, charitable giving, and blood donations. It can propagate within social networks and workplaces.” Norms regarding generosity within religious circles have also been shown to have an impact in charitable giving. The use of impactful digital campaigns and crowdfunding techniques can be useful tools to engage such givers.

 People give because of personal or social gain: Another common motivation for charitable giving is for perceived personal or social gain. This includes public recognition, invitations to exclusive networks, elevated status among peers, and positive business marketing. Coming up with giving levels with specific social and individual benefits can be a great way of engaging this population. This can include naming a building after a donor, offering to place a logo on your collateral, and doing a public shoutout on social media.

People give for the greater good: Altruistic givers do so because of an intrinsic desire to help those who are less fortunate. They feel a heavy responsibility and want to be part of the positive impact they perceive a charity is having on their community and individuals in need. Don’t be afraid to share those personal stories from individuals impacted by your organization’s work.

People give because they trust the organization: People give because they trust that the charity is being a good steward of the funds that have been given to them. It’s always a good idea to be transparent with your finances and how funds are being used for programs and to accomplish your overall mission. 

 People give because of their passion and experiences: People who have strong interests in the arts will more likely to give to an art academy. Those who have had a personal experience with cancer will be more inclined to support an organization that conducts cancer research. Mountain biking enthusiasts will most likely support a trail club. The list goes on. Although you can’t control someone’s interests, you can tell your story from different perspectives, speaking to your mission and the positive impact your organization is having on individuals and communities. 

People give to honor someone or to continue a family legacy: Research shows that people will give to honor a family member or friend impacted by an organization’s mission or something similar.  People also give to continue a family’s philanthropic legacy by establishing a private family foundation in the family’s name, or by some other means. It is always a good idea to provide an opportunity for legacy giving to honor such individuals and families.

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