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  • Nick Ryan

4 Reasons Why People Support You

There are hundreds of reasons why people and organisations give. However, these can be distilled down into four overriding themes: philanthropic, affinity, social and mutual-benefit motivations.

Donor motivations are pivotal in how you approach and interact with donors. If you have little awareness of its importance, then you are likely to spend most of your time talking about your cause. This approach will work for some people, but others will care little about what your charity does. Rambling on about the excellent work you do becomes like pushing on a door that needs pulling: you get nowhere.

In this post, I'll run through the critical points of this technique.

The Four Motivations

1. Philanthropic

This motivation revolves around doing good deeds and giving something back. It focuses on improving society and helping the needy. For most people, it is perhaps the purest form of giving as there is little or no vested interest behind it. Instead, there is a sense of duty or moral imperative to give.

Most religions embody this motivation. For example, Tzedakah and Zakat are central pillars of Judaism and Islam respectively. They both stress a duty to support those in need. The charity donor supporting a portfolio of good causes would similarly be giving under this motivation.

Example donors:

  • Trusts and foundations with 'general charitable purposes' as their stated objects

  • Those of a religious persuasion

  • Those who have been successful and attribute part of that success to outside help

Points to stress when engaging such donors:

As well as your charity and cause, it would be best if you spoke to the broader societal benefits that supporting you will bring.

2. Affinity

Those of this motivation believe wholeheartedly in the project that you are putting to them. For instance, a scientist who gives to a science project is likely to do so because he or she believes in the project itself, rather than for any other reason. As its name implies, those falling under this motivation are likely to fully understand the rationale behind a plan or activity and be as equally enthusiastic as you are.

Example donors:

  • Parents supporting a school

  • Animal lovers supporting animal charities

  • Beneficiaries of a charity’s service or work

Points to stress when engaging such donors:

Bring your passion and enthusiasm for your work to the fore.

3. Social

Those motivated by the Social factor want their support to reflect well on themselves and have others recognise their largesse. They weigh up potential donations on the impact that such assistance will have on their status. It is a surprisingly common factor - after all, who does not like being recognised? However, few people admit to it. For some reason, it does not seem quite ‘charitable’ enough!

In practice, it is best to assume that someone is likely to have this motivation until proved otherwise. So look for plenty of ways to acknowledge your supporters – expressions of thanks in newsletters, naming rights and VIP visits to your charity will all help.

Example donors:

  • Politicians

  • Business leaders

Points to stress when engaging such donors:

Name-dropping will generate interest while providing opportunities to meet the great-and-the-good will also resonate.

4. Mutually Beneficial

Those falling under this motivation want something in return for their giving. Businesses will typically fall under this heading, where the amount of support your charity receives is mostly dependent on how much you help the company.

This motivation is another area where there is often a reluctance to admit its existence. If you are wondering why you are receiving so little company support, then look at what you are offering. Companies do not always ask outright for benefits in return.

Example donors:

  • Enterprises looking for positive publicity in your field of work

  • National companies looking to be associated with good causes

Points to stress when engaging such donors:

Propose the ways you might benefit such donors and let such supporters know that you are expecting an equivalent pay-back - this form of giving is effectively horse-trading.

Pick & Mix

Determining someone's motivation is not quite as easy as picking one of the four motivations. Most people will have a combination, of various strengths. The joy or pain of fundraising is in large part working out the mixture!

I first saw this in action at the NSPCC, when a director and I met an FTSE-100 Chief Executive. The director, a fundraising whizz who moved to the states, spent over an hour post-meeting pointing out various clues to the Chief Executive's motivations. From family pictures on the desk to eye movement and fidgeting hands, he showed me how much could be picked up in a meeting. Was it effective? Well, the company came on board, and the Chief Executive began supporting in a personal capacity.

Covering the Motivations

These underlying drives are fundamental and will help inform each stage of your fundraising, such as writing proposals and thanking donors. Conversely, a one-size-fits-all approach will severely curb your income potential.

By ensuring that you have a variety of benefits linked to any of your fundraising projects, you can cover the various motivations. The simplest way to do this is to go through each motivation and check that you have it covered. For example, what are you offering someone who gives a significant donation to your building appeal and has an interest in the social motivation?

With a little practice, covering donor motivations will become second nature. Indeed, you will soon know when you are hitting people’s interests: people will be glad to give to you, rather than reluctantly being drawn into the subject. That means that you will have more enjoyment as well as more funds!

Understanding what makes a donor tick is essential if you are to build fruitful, long-term relationships.


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