semillasIn an ideal world, generous supporters would give to good causes based on the merits of the mission alone. In the real world, the motivation for giving is much more complex and less rational than a calculated assessment. To successfully connect with potential donors and get them to take action, nonprofit fundraisers and marketers should understand why donors give.

What’s in it for them?

While human beings have natural altruistic tendencies, self-interest affects practically everything we do—including giving to charities. For nonprofits, it’s important to remember that while donors do care about your mission, they also give because doing so makes them feel empowered, important, and good about themselves. There is a “helper’s high” that comes with doing good, and this positive reinforcement sets the stage for future acts of charity.

Put this to work for your cause:

Tap into emotion. It’s tempting to want to appeal to your donors’ inner statisticians, but your outreach—especially your fundraising messages—should focus more on making the reader feel something. A compelling story with a direct call to action will perform better than a list of facts and figures.

Clearly outline what a donation can do. Donors want to know they can make a real difference. Give your supporters specific examples of what their money can do. Providing this kind of tangibility allows donors to visualize how their contribution will help.

Have a warm thank you ready. Keep the good feelings flowing with a personalized thank you letter that reinforces the impact of a donation. Couple this with a comprehensive donor stewardship strategy and regularly update supporters on your progress.

Giving back to personal ties

People are more likely to give to causes that they associate with their experiences, community, or personal relationships. The Money for Good study found that people are more likely to give to causes that have directly affected their lives (or their friends/families).

Put this to work for your cause:

Understand which communities your cause touches. Are you working with alumni, community centers, or people with a shared interest? Take inventory of all of the ways your supporters could be grouped and which ones are most likely to influence their support of your organization. Some of these associations may be obvious, but a quick donor survey will help you discover new angles.

Segment your appeals. Don’t send the same appeals to all of your supporters. Different messages will resonate with different audiences. Write specific versions of your fundraising materials to evoke each group’s passion and personal ties to your cause.

Personalize your outreach. Whenever you communicate with donors,remind them of the connections they have with your cause. Emphasize shared history and values to underscore the fact that you’re part of the same team.

Social influence

We’re social creatures and the power of peer influence makes a difference when it comes to donating to charity. Supporters want to be able to give social credibility as well as see it from the causes they love. In the Digital Persuasion report, published by Georgetown University’s Center for Social Impact Communication and Waggener Edstrom, 76% of respondents noted that it’s important for them to personally to influence others to care about the charities and causes that they care about. Social connections were also found to be important in the Money for Good study—the largest number of donations came from donors who chose to give to organizations due to connections with the staff or when they were asked by a friend.

Put this to work for your cause:

Leverage social networks.  Use the power of peer networks to help supporters share their passion for your cause and get your organization in front of new potential donors. Maintain an active presence on social media and connect with your vocal champions to arm them with new messages and links back to your key pages.

Show off your social proof.  Let donors know you have the support of credible authority figures, third-party certification providers, and other donors. Use testimonials, ratings badges and seals, and donation tickers to show your organization is one that has momentum.

Empower peer-to-peer fundraisers.  Network for Good’s Digital Giving Index showed a 55% increase in peer-to-peer giving in 2013. The power of social media, coupled with events and mobile has made crowdfunding a growing channel of revenue. Encourage your donors to become fundraisers themselves by equipping them with easy ways to raise money for your cause.

The specific reasons for giving will vary by individual and organization, but understanding the key motivators we all share will help you be more successful when planning your fundraising and communication strategy.