Changing motivations for giving mean changing fundraising strategy.
We addressed motivations for giving in a previous blog post, but how have those motivations changed over time?
Dr. Sara Konrath, associate professor of philanthropic studies, and Virginia Clark, assistant secretary emerita for advancement at the Smithsonian Institution and Of Counsel for Marts & Lundy, Inc., discussed how these motivations change over time in a webinar with Stanford Social Innovation Review.
Here are some of the changes to the motivations of trust, altruism, social benefits, tax benefits and egotism). In addition, financial constraints can negatively motivate charitable giving.
- Trust—seeing charities properly use donations for the public good
Konrath noted that over time, trust has declined among Americans of all ages. In addition, younger generations have lower amounts of trust compared to older generations.
Recent survey results show that less than one in five of young adults believe that most people are trustworthy.
Trust in nonprofits has also declined since a peak in 2010. In 2019, only 52 percent of Americans said they trusted nonprofits to do what was right.
- Altruism—concern or compassion for those less fortunate
Research from Konrath and her coauthors found generational declines in American college students’ self-reported empathy. High school seniors and first-year college students reported declining agreement with the statements, “I get very upset when I see other people treated unfairly,” and “It’s important to correct racial and economic inequalities” in 2009 compared to 1966. Students also agreed more with the statement, “It’s not really my problem if others are in trouble and need help.”
- Social benefits—nonmonetary benefit, being part of a social network
Since the 1960s, socializing with neighbors and coworkers, voluntary association participation, religious participation, and having trusted confidantes have all declined.
In addition, technology has increased the number of less close connections.
However, people are motivated by social connections. When they see someone donating money online, they may be more likely to donate as well.
- Tax benefits—monetary private benefit
Konrath explained that no research exists to show whether people are becoming more motivated by tax breaks over time.
She mentioned, though, there are research findings that demonstrate a sharp rise in being motivated by money. Younger generations may be more motivated to maximize the financial benefits of giving, which may result in increased interest in using tax benefits for giving to their advantage.
- Egotism—enhance reputation, experience good feelings about oneself
Research from Konrath and coauthors illustrates generational increases in American college students’ self-reported narcissism. College students in 2000 had higher levels of narcissism than college students in the 1980s.
- Financial constraints
While Konrath explained no research exists that measures whether people are less likely to give over time because of financial constraints, rising costs of living and increasing levels of inequality may constrain everyday individuals from giving.
So, what are the positives? How can nonprofits engage donors and potential donors in order to encourage them to start or continue giving?
Understand donor motivations by creating a survey or having a conversation with them.
Konrath urged donors to match donor opportunities to motivations. “Since the effort is more personalized, it has the potential to be more powerful.”
However, even with generational trends in giving, there are plenty of people who don’t fit the trends. It’s best to avoid making assumptions about donors based on their social category.
Tailor messages to different kinds of donors.
In a study about the Ice Bucket Challenge, Konrath and her students analyzed the motivations for those who gave money to the ALS Association versus those who videoed themselves dumping ice on their head without donating. They found that people who posted a video only scored the highest on narcissism, while those who donated without posting a video scored the lowest on narcissism.
So, think about ways to reach egotistically motivated donors. What can they receive in exchange for donating? How can nonprofits provide benefits to these donors that outweigh the costs?
Konrath suggested lowering costs, such as making it easier or faster to donate money, or making it a lower commitment. In addition, raising benefits such as increasing the level of attention on the donor, showing them how they can build their reputation because of a gift, or illustrating how a gift could benefit their financial or career interests could show the diverse benefits that arise from charitable giving.
For altruistic donors, Konrath encouraged fundraisers and other nonprofit practitioners to show how the values and mission of the organization fit with the donor’s values.
She also noted that donor motivations can change over time.
“You can use interactive games such as SPENT, in which users role play what it is like to live with low wages. This could help make people more empathetic.
“Consider assisting people in becoming more habitually generous people. For example, in a recent study, we found that sending people daily inspirational text message reminders to empathize with others changed their motives for volunteering. We also found that these people acted more prosocially up to six months later.”
The mission and goals of your organization must remain true and consistent.
Clark explained that fundraising cultivation strategies should incorporate the culture, environment, and values of the prospective donor population.
“Potential donors look for honest and transparent organizations, positive metrics that assess impact and progress, and ways to see their own values in the organization’s donor communities. Nonprofits need to demonstrate interest in listening to new and different perspectives, and also be agile in responding to those new perspectives.
“In addition, when engaging potential new communities, take incremental steps and maintain the long view. Building relationships takes time.”
Overall, Konrath and Clark urged nonprofits to work with the whole donor. “Don’t stereotype or make assumptions,” they explain. “Use all of the available resources you have to impact giving.”