The Psychology of Giving

So why do people give away money, and why do they keep on doing it ? If you cannot answer that question you cannot begin to fundraise, because you will have no real idea of what to say to people that will really convince them to join or donate to your organisation. You may even say many things quite innocently, which will put people off your organisation for life.

Finding out the facts
The simple answer is to ask them. Get together a few groups of, say, six to nine people who have given to your organisation and put a range of questions to them. This is usually a very revealing exercise – but beware. People love to tell you just what they think you want to hear, and it is much more effective if you use a professional agency to undertake these ‘focus group’ exercises.
Once you have a clear picture of just why people are attracted to your organisation you will need to weigh up the evidence carefully. If they are attracted for the reasons that you set out in your fundraising literature, are they just parroting back what you have said? It is a useful corrective to ask another set of people why they did not join or give to you. It could be for the same reason, and that you are putting people off as well as attracting them.
So you need to test your research against your own professional judgement, but do not just dismiss what people say, if it conflicts with your own views about what is effective. Test out what you learn. If you do not test, you really do not know.
Keeping the relationship alive
If donors have been giving to you for a long time and donating regularly, they expect to see that you have done something positive with their money. They need not just a thank-you letter, but a way of knowing that their donation has achieved their objective in giving. So reporting back after an appeal, or after the problem you are working on has appeared in the media, makes a big difference to the donor. If they have confidence that their money is well spent, they will give again and again.

Using your newsletter
The usual means of keeping people informed is your newsletter, sent out about four times or so each year. Do you really need to send it out more often? Is three months too long to leave your members in suspense, or, worse still, leave them open to approach by another charity? Either way, four issues a year is common and, though the readers will always say that they would give up the newsletter to save you money, they would also rapidly drift to another charity if they ceased to hear from you.
The newsletter also allows the organisation to mature and develop in the eyes of the donor. For example, let them know:
how the needs of the people you serve are changing, so that they will come with you when radical change happens. As it does every few years in the voluntary sector. If it hasn’t happened to your organisation yet, it is unusually unresponsive or about to explode. Prepare your donors for these changes.
when you take on new staff, and what important work those staff will do
everything that you find interesting about working for your organisation.
how much the latest appeals have made, and how you are now dealing with the problems you set out in the appeals. This feedback develops donors’ confidence in the organisation, and brings them up the fundraising pyramid, enhancing the warm feeling they have for you – which will develop their generosity.
If things go disastrously wrong, let donors know as soon as possible, and they will give again to help you. If they learn about it from the media, they may feel let down and leave. Always tell the truth in these circumstances and let donors have a clear idea of what went wrong and how you intend to go about putting it right. Do not be afraid of offering donors their money back if you cannot spend it in the way you said you would. In fact, you are obliged to do that. In practice, organisations have found that the gesture is really appreciated, and few people ask for their money back. Often more donations come in. Honesty is a highly valued commodity today.

Varying your communications
As new means of communication develop, be prepared to use them in your fundraising to keep the relationship alive. Nothing kills relationships like repetition.
Vary the size and style of your newsletter.
Use video to communicate.
Do you have an email list of top donors? If so, use it to update them on your programme and to reach them when items relating to your organisation break on the news.
Use the ubiquitous fax machine (but use it sparingly).
Varying the scope, size and style of your communications helps to maintain readership interest, but the content needs to move with the other changes. Keep it lively, but in a style in keeping with your organisation’s spirit. You may have a very conservative readership that is frightened of change. But if that is the case, why is it so? Is your membership profile ageing along with demographic trends, or are you failing to bring new blood into your organisation? Can you shift the trend or should you start new groups of supporters with a different ethos, to secure your income on into the future?

Motivating your donors
Do not take your donors for granted. Keep asking them what they want out of the relationship – you might be surprised! Surveys, questionnaires, focus groups and telephone calls all serve to let your donors pour out their hearts to you. If you have never undertaken a questionnaire, then you will be surprised just how many people will take great pride in telling you all about their personal feelings for the organisation. This can be immensely rewarding if you have the courage to respond positively to all that you learn.
You may learn that amongst the key motivators are simple rewards that will not take up much of your time and effort compared to their value to the donor. These are likely to vary a great deal from organisation to organisation because the psychology of the donors will be different, but common motivators are visits to your hospital, offices, centre, sanctuary, first nights, etc. Seeing the work taking place is a special privilege for those who have helped to make it happen. Having special access outside the normal visiting hours when no one else is around can be very rewarding for your donor.
Open days
An open day, for example, can really develop the relationship – but you must take care that it does not work against you. Make sure staff are happy to be showing people around, rather than resentful at spending another Saturday at the office. See that the day’s agenda is well planned, from travel there and back to refreshments at appropriate times, as well as explaining the work and letting the donors enjoy the experience. Knowing the organisation, they may have lots of detailed questions, and experienced members of staff should be on hand to deal with the enquiries in appropriate depth. Let them rattle old skeletons that may be lurking in the closets, so that they have good answers when their friends ask them similar questions.
The Medical Foundation holds five open days per year which are advertised in its newsletter. About twenty or thirty donors come each time. They are given light refreshment then split into two groups. One group is shown round the building for half an hour, then meets a clinician for a moving half hour discussion about their work and finally spends an hour with the charismatic Director. The other group meets the Director first, then has its tour and lastly meets the clinician. At the end both groups have more refreshment and there is a soft ask for money which covers all the costs involved. Most importantly the tour is not just peeking into empty offices. The visitors are told a series of moving stories about the victims of torture the organisation works to help. These stories are remembered and have a profound effect. Indeed the whole half day is surprisingly often the prelude to a deepening or very serious involvement by the supporters. We have tracked many major donations and acts of help back to these open days. Along with the special events the organisation runs they give the impression of a small, easily accessible, very special and professional organisation. That is exactly what our supporters tell us. We can also offer a visit to any potential major donor or celebrity without qualms because we know that they will be well received within this regular programme.

Certificates and registers of supporters, tree planting in donors’ names, and mentions in the annual report are all valuable ways of rewarding donors and building the relationship; but make sure these are ways that your donors will appreciate. That is not easy to do because asking the question directly will often be met by the modest answer, ‘Oh no, I would not like that at all,’ whereas in private, the donor may well be quietly proud that their name is engraved on the new hospital wall-plaque, or whatever. Incidentally, I have been very surprised at the number of people who have come forward and asked about naming rooms in a capital appeal I am running. I did not think people really did that.
Asking donors how they feel other people might respond will often give you a stronger clue to their own likes and desires. Some people could be embarrassed by the kind of recognition mentioned – but they will give, usually anonymously, or tell you their wishes quite clearly.

Personal contact
Often, personal contact is the strongest motivator of all. If you have a director, celebrity or key player in your organisation whom the donors will know quite well, either in relation to your work or from their role in public life, then you have a powerful motivator who can create a lasting impression on your supporters at meetings, and, more effectively, face-to-face. It is likely that this person is very busy, but do try to fee up their time to make a strong impact on your major givers or prospective major givers at dinners, or face-to-face meetings. There are theories to support such meetings in either the supporters office or your director’s office. I prefer to visit major donors in their own office or home because it is easier to arrange,and the donor is relaxed and inclined to be generous to their guests. At your office you are in charge and have the psychological upper hand but your donor may feel under pressure, which is bad for the kind of long-term relationship that brings rewards to both parties. Under pressure to give, the donor may make a relatively small donation for the sake of form, rather than commitment.
So, if you take the time and trouble to formulate a view on your donors’ needs, and test that view in practice, you will gradually learn how to develop the relationship beyond the immediate one-donation-at-a-time scenario to the mutually profitable fields of long-term commitment.

Phoning home
Double-glazing salespeople have given the phone a bad name as a means of communication: but a call from an old friend you thought had forgotten you is a pleasure to receive.
When the old friend is your favourite charity, it is also quite touching and personal. That is not a moment which should be left to chance. Well-planned and thought-out calls are a pleasure to receive. Calls with a cast-iron script are a cause for concern. By all means use the phone to ask for donations of all sorts, but do it sensitively to appropriate people and take great care to ensure that those who have any objection to calls are not phoned again. Make sure all questions asked are eventually answered, though the caller will rarely be able to answer them all and must say if they do not know the answer.
If you have interesting news or information that your members might like to hear, then phone them as you would your friends but, as with your friends, phone those with whom you have reached that stage of the relationship. Phoning someone who has made a small donation to tell them news about a project they will not know of, can be counterproductive, but phoning members to ask them to write to their MP about an issue which has just come up can be very productive. Calling major donors to let them know good news about a project they have heavily invested in will be very welcome. Who calls is important. Anyone who is keen, well-spoken and informed can phone, asking for a letter to be written, but the person who sought the donation from the major donor is the best person to call with the news, unless another caller is obviously of higher standing in the organisation. Keeping in close touch with your donors can build a lasting relationship beyond the usual telemarketing to lapsed members.
The word telemarketing itself inhibits our understanding of the possibilities. To use the phone only to bring back members or reactivate donors is to miss a great part of its value. Naturally, faxes, email and all other forms of communication are also useful devices for keeping in touch, provided they are used sensitively and imaginatively to build the relationship.