The Psychology of Giving, Part 1

From the outside, fundraising seems like a very straightforward process. You target the people who have the most money, and who are most likely to agree, and you ask them for a donation. One of the first lessons you learn when fundraising for any cause is that wealthy donors are the target of many causes other than yours. Also, wealthy donors are not typically frivolous with their money. In short, if you’re expecting million-dollar checks, you should either develop an internationally recognizable and credible organization very quickly, or you should be more realistic about your potential donors.

The variety of donors is as wide as the range of human personalities, but there are some general characteristics that the majority of donors seem to share. For evidence of these characteristics, look at the fundraising materials of any large, fundraising organization.

A picture is worth (at least) a thousand bucks.

The first step in getting donors’ money is getting their attention. Whatever problem your organization is attempting to solve – that problem is the source of your content. Take photos of it. Write newspaper articles and blogs about it. Whether your objective is becoming the next mayor of your city or raising money for a children’s hospital, identify the problem and build content around it. In short, prove that the purpose of your mission is real.

Sharpen the problem to a point.

There are countless social problems to address and even more methods for addressing them. But in the fundraising arena, ambition is both a virtue and a vice. Taking on a problem too large, or promoting a mission that is too broad or vague, will turn donors away. The reason is very personal. The average donor will become apathetic if a problem is beyond their scope to help. The key is to narrow your focus and point out what a single donor can accomplish. Put another way, before you try to reform a continent, focus on a single village.

Make the outcome personal.

Building on the previous point, it is much more natural for people to empathize with individuals or families than with entire countries or worldwide phenomena. Donors contribute to causes for many reasons, but in general, donors respond best to problems that yield a sense of personal involvement in the direct outcome. The difference is that space between “Make the world a better place” and “You can save the life of one child.” The more specific goal with the direct emotional outcome will almost always yield better results.

Fundraising is a complicated business that takes time and effort to identify donors and establish ongoing relationships. The basics, however, are something every fund-raiser should know. As important as your cause is to you, you cannot expect the same enthusiasm in others, especially when asking them for money. Court them with courtesy and allow for entry points in your organization where donors of different philosophies can find common ground. Stay up-to-date on fundraising and how it affects your campaign or organization. Follow the money with Raise The Money.

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