Importance of Motivation

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My sisters and I gathered over Memorial Day weekend to celebrate one sister's milestone birthday. Over dinner one night, we started trying to figure out how to bribe our nieces to do something for us but the conversation soon became a serious discussion of what motivates us. Interestingly, we could better identify each other's motives than we could in ourselves. Although we share similar genes and upbringings, we all work for different reasons. (We decided that my motivation comes from intellectual simulation – I like to learn new things – and helping others. What’s yours?)

We all have reasons why we choose to do one thing over another – even our donors and volunteers. They have very specific reasons for supporting your organization over others. If four people as similar as my sisters and me have such different motives for action, why would we assume our donors and volunteers all give for the same reason? Each donor or volunteer supports your organization for his or her own very personal reasons that come from their experiences, history and expectations.

How can you find out what motivates your donors? Ask them! What better way to show them you care than to ask them why they support you. And once you know, you can target your ask toward that reason.

But, that said, some general tendencies exist when it comes to donor motivation. In my work helping nonprofits develop fundraising and marketing plans and conduct fundraising feasibility studies, I have had the privilege of asking donors why they give to a particular organization. Many of these reasons confirm findings from my own research.

  1. Donors give to organizations when they believe in the mission. Not everyone has the same passion for every mission which means that generous people may or may not feel that passion for your mission. Too often I hear people say “Person X gives a lot of money; why don’t they give it to us?” Just because they support the arts, does not mean they have a passion for human services.

  2. Donors give when they trust the organization and its leaders to use their funds effectively and efficiently. Transparency will help your donors feel comfortable investing in your organization. Building a personal relationship between your board and executive director and major donors also helps to cultivate this trust.

  3. Donors give to make a difference in the lives of those you serve. Let them know what a difference their gift - no matter what size - makes not for your organization but those you serve. Having clients at events to tell their stories, highlighting client stories on your website and in publications, and allowing major donors to meet your clients can all help to cultivate this sense that their gifts make a difference.

  4. Donors give because someone asked. It amazes me the excuses that fundraisers have for not asking for a gift. The worst thing that could happen? They say no, leaving you no worse off. But you also have an opportunity to find out why they say no and either help address their motivations or take them off your prospect list. I had one person tell me that organizations for which she has left the board no longer ask her to give yet she would if asked. Bottom line: ASK!

What motivates you to get up in the morning and work for your organization? What motivates your donors? I bet you come up with many of the same reasons and you will learn a lot about yourself and your donors when you ask the question.