Why do people donate?

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From Flickr user Alan/Falcon (Creative Commons)

Hope Consulting wanted to find out why people donate to good causes, and specifically what would encourage people to focus on supporting organizations that get results. What they found is published online in “Money for Good” (a pdf). According to the study, here’s how the universe of donors divides up:

  • 23% support organizations that have helped them or a loved one in the past
  • 18% give to well-known organizations, often through payroll deductions
  • 16% give to organizations they feel are making the greatest social impact
  • 16% choose organizations that match their religious beliefs
  • 14% look for small organizations where their gift makes a bigger difference
  • 13% give to organizations where they know people or where their friends also give

Only a third of the people they surveyed reported doing any research before giving, and nearly two-thirds of those donors do the research only to check up on an organization they have already decided to support (to “validate” the choice, in the researchers’ words).

Hope Neighbor, the leader of the consulting group, described herself in a profile on FastCompany with a bit of chagrin about her own habits. “I am mired in inertia,” she said, “and I definitely don’t choose the best organization. The way we act is different than the way we think we act. It’s true for me as for any of the people surveyed.”

My takeaways?

Donors: think about what you want to accomplish with your gifts and then spend some time exploring whether the recipients are aligned with those goals. (Here’s how.) It won’t take long to put you in the top ranks of intentional donors.

Organizations: your work isn’t going to appeal to every group of donors, so figure out which donor-profile fits your work and your mission. Once you’ve done that, make sure they are able to find the information they look for on your website, in your “support us” mailings, and in the presentations you make. If your messages don’t match what your core supporters are looking for, you’re wasting your time – and disappointing people who might find great satisfaction in supporting your work.

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Comments (2)


  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Idealist, Joni Trythall. Joni Trythall said: Why do people donate? http://bit.ly/f8yiBg #idealist [...]


  2. MARCY writes:
    February 28, 2011 at 3:19 pm

    The government checks of any types sure doesn’t help much at all. So, we all need to come out and push the budget up by giving them the cash or any other items – clothing(it should be brand new from the store).


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