Research Friday: Why Do People Stop Giving?
Welcome to Research Friday! As part of a continuing weekly series, each Friday we invite a nonprofit expert from our academic faculty to highlight a research report or study and discuss how it can inform and improve day-to-day nonprofit practice. We welcome your comments and feedback.
As a charitable donor, I've become so fickle it's almost embarrassing. I like to be informed of what the organization is doing, but I don't want mail solicitations. I don't mind administrative spending, but I bristle at high fundraising costs. And I tell my students that I'll give to any of the worthy causes they pour their hearts into, but they have to ask me in person (not on Facebook)! That's my list, and you probably have yours — I say that because, as the research tells us, charitable giving is driven by a host of individual motivations and preferences.
When we investigate motivations for charitable giving, we aren't only concerned with what motivates a donor to write the first check to a charitable organization, but also what inspires them to become a regular, ongoing donor. An important aspect of this is the opposite question: why do people stop making donations?
In our recent Arizona Giving and Volunteering* research, we asked respondents if they could recall a decision to stop giving to an organization they had previously supported. A fairly high percentage — 30% — said yes. From a list of possible reasons, there was a clear number one answer: lack of connection. 65% said that the reason they stopped supporting the nonprofit was because they no longer felt connected to the organization.
So, should we send them more e-mails? More newsletters? More YouTube videos? Perhaps that is what some respondents had in mind. However, we know from previous research — as well as collective experience — that it is our connections with people that are most powerful. As the old adage goes, "people give to people, not causes." It is the relationships people form with each other that resonate and provide feelings of connection — much more than that weekly e-newsletter.
Most of us can think of examples of this from our own lives. We tune into causes through our relationships with others, whether it's a kid from our neighborhood in a youth group, our sister doing a breast cancer run, or our friend organizing a reading night at a homeless shelter. And our continuing involvement with the organization often depends on whether our friend or relative continues to keep us plugged in — or if we develop our own relationships with the cause and its people.
If you have watched the TV show Secret Millionaire, you've seen this holds true even on reality TV. The millionaire isn't compelled to write the big checks because he or she has temporarily sworn off the high life and survived on a tight budget. In the end, he or she comes to see the world differently — and support social endeavors — because of the relationships he or she has formed with the people struggling to make a living and striving to make a difference.
So we must not only persuade donors to write that first check, but we must endeavor to keep them involved and connected; not just with news from our organizations, but with each other, and with all stakeholders — clients, volunteers, and staff. Although it may seem counter-intuitive to ask donors to get more involved, it is not only a proven strategy, it is what many donors actually want. Exemplars of this practice abound, but I'll cite a classic: Habitat for Humanity. Donors don't just write a check — they get out there and build a house. And families don't just move into a house — they get out there and build the house, with the donors and volunteers, together.
So, whatever "house" your organization is building, be it strong youth, empowered women, more just laws, or healthier people — don't just be content with donors sending in checks. Strive to put a hammer in everyone's hand, and get them connected with each other, working together.
* The full list of reasons people stopped giving to an organization they previously supported can be found on page 4 of the Arizona Giving and Volunteering Report.