5 reasons people donate

Today, it's harder than ever to inspire donors to give, and advancement divisions are struggling to capture donor attention and convert it into philanthropic support for the university.

In a recent article for The Conversation, Sara Konrath, assistant professor of philanthropic studies at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) and Femida Handy, professor of social policy at the University of Pennsylvania share findings from their research into what motivates people to give.

To conduct the research, Konrath and Handy asked 819 people who said they had donated to charities about what motivated them to give. The survey offered 54 possible responses, based on previous research, and asked participants to rate how strongly they agreed with each response.  

Konrath and Handy identified the top reasons people give as:

1: Trust. Today's donors want assurance that the organization they're giving to will be able to make a difference in the causes they care about, Konrath and Handy write. Millennial donors, in particular, want to see the impact of their donations from day one.

2: Helping others. Konrath and Handy's research has shown that helping those who need assistance is top-of-mind for donors. The same is true for individuals who volunteer, according to other research. Today's donors appreciate heartfelt narratives from beneficiaries of their gifts, EAB research has found.

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3: Relationships. Donors often give to organizations for social reasons, Konrath and Handy explain. For example, they might buy Girl Scout cookies from a neighbor or donate to research related to a disease that has affected a friend or family member.

4: Taxes. Donors do consider the potential benefits to themselves of giving, Konrath and Handy write. Tax benefits do inspire people to give, especially near the end of the year.

5: Reputation. People want to feel good about themselves and to look good to others. Today's donors crave exclusivity and insider knowledge, and feel more motivated to give when organizations meet this expectation, EAB research has found.

One limitation of the study was that the sample was not representative of U.S. demographics, the authors note. For future research, they plan to further investigate the motivations to give across a broader range of Americans, as well as across different countries and cultures (Konrath/Handy, The Conversation, 11/26).

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