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Why Do Donors Give?

Donating to a nonprofit organization is an odd thing. Generally, when we choose to spend our hard-earned money, we receive a product or service of equal value in return. In fact, that’s the basis of our entire financial system. So, when people give to your nonprofit organization, what do they get in return? No, it’s not the tote bag.

To answer the question, we need to go back to Psychology 101 and Abraham Maslow. Maslow proposed a “hierarchy of needs” to describe the basis for human motivation. At the base of the pyramid are two fundamental needs: “Physiological,” which refers to the air, food, and water we need to survive and “Safety” which is reflects protection from violence, pain, and suffering.

Once, those needs are satisfied, we pursue “Love and Belonging.” And that is where your organization comes in. When people give to your organization, they feel like they are joining an important “club.” It’s a club of people making some difference in society. We often think about what donors do for us, but when we consider the impact we have on our donors, we open the doors to a whole new world of opportunities.

Thank your donors personally. How long would it take to make five phone calls just to say thanks? (If you do it during business hours, you might just leave a message). How long would it take to write one hand-written note? These quick and easy actions have a profound impact on your donors. It tells them that someone values them enough to take time out of their day to do something for them. Furthermore, it tells them that your organization is a special one – one to which they want to “belong.” Incidentally, could you imagine a more personally fulfilling way to start the day than to reach out to people and say “Thank you”?

Create donor appreciation events. If donors feel like they belong to a “club,” why not make it official? Host events that are only open to donors. These don’t need to be big or expensive events; they just need to appeal to that sense of belonging. If, for example, you run an afterschool program, invite your donors to an event at your center. Let them see artwork made by your participants or have your participants put on a performance for them. Events like these not only make your donors feel like they are a part of something special, but they also demonstrate to your donors specifically what their donations pay for.

Engage people at a deeper level. We mentioned that donor appreciation events need not be big. In fact, small donor appreciation events have advantages over bigger ones. First, they help you identify donors who may have more to give you. By coming to numerous small events, a donor is telling you that your organization is important to them. Furthermore, small events allow you to spend more time with individuals, learning about them and identifying opportunities for them to give on a deeper level. The data you collect from these conversations can lead to symbiotic opportunities. Perhaps your organization is dealing with some real estate issues and you happen to learn that one of your donors is a real estate attorney. Or maybe you want to provide a financial literacy seminar to your participants and you meet a donor who works in finance. Now you can give your donors an opportunity to utilize their expertise, which in turn enhances their sense of belonging all while benefiting your organization. It’s a win-win all around.

What is the ultimate goal? How do you cultivate new potential board members? How do you turn small occasional donors into major consistent ones? How do you obtain pro-bono or discounted services for the betterment of your organization? You accomplish these goals by identifying people who are ready, willing, and able to commit to your organization. And you give to them a sense that that they belong, that they are important, and that they are valued.

And, by the way, when you give back to your donors in this way, it feels good to you too.


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