ASU Lodestar Center Blog

Current nonprofit sector research and recommendations for effective day-to-day practice from ASU faculty, staff, students, and the nonprofit and philanthropic community.

Friday, April 1, 2011 - 2:48pm
Stephanie La Loggia, M.A.

Manager of Knowledge Resources
ASU Lodestar Center

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.


I worked with a nonprofit several years ago, and we had the most success with donors when we actually talked to them... gasp.. in person!

The reality is, we're all bombarded with digital messages and shares and likes and spam. While I'm clearly an advocate for the effectiveness of building an online community, sometimes you just have to talk directly to the people.

Currently (on my lowly grad student budget), I only give money to one nonprofit org. It's one of those sponsor-a-kid programs, but I stay with the organization because they make me feel special and important. They send me letters tailored to my interests, and they're clearly very connected to current events. They get to keep me around because I get to feel like my dollars genuinely matter and are valued. It's a nice trade.

I'm a donor and an active fund raiser. The evident craving for shortcuts--ways to avoid the personal contact that really drives continued giving--amazes me. Relationships with donors are the best part of asking for money on behalf of organizations. To give up those opportunities because "we can farm that out," or "a newsletter will do," or "we're just too busy" amazes me!

Many years ago I also stopped giving to a specific organization when I found out how much one of the Administrative Assistants was making. Over the last couple of years we have had to reduce our giving overall because my wife is not working, my income is down and I am paying ASU tuition.

In regards to your comments on connections I learned more about this in the past few weeks. Over the past six years I have been very active at my daughter's school and when doing my project for PRM 303, I have reached out to many of the friends and families that I know from church and the school. I had never received one response from an email but yesterday I saw many of those people at our annual festival. In conversations they would ask me how school is going and then I would tell them about the different things I am doing in each class. Then the light bulb would go off, "oh, I saw your email. That is great. Can I still make a donation?"

The emails were not effective at all but just seeing each other brought back our personal connection and I am sure that I probably will receive a few donations just from yesterday conversations for my PRM 303 program. I spent more time than on the email but most people do not read an email because they are too busy with volunteering, kids, work and some are even pursuing their degrees. We need to find a way to just have coffee with people. It could be a way to bring in quite a bit of money!

Mark: Great point about the "craving for shortcuts." That is a really great way to put it.

Travis: this is an excellent example! I did the same thing with a fundraiser for my daughter's school last year. I wasn't timely with an e-mail response but I did give when I was able to speak with the coordinator in person.

In 1997 I got involved in the noprofit world. While in the Marines we would always have a yearly event where you picked nonprofits to give money to for the year. I donated money for 5 years but stopped for a few reasons. At the same time I was also giving my time as a volunteer to a few nonprofits.

I decided to just volunteer from that point on. I didn't have a connection with any of the nonprofits that I donated money to. I didn't receive any information from the organizations either about who they were and what they did.

As a volunteer I made connections with the organization and their clients. I was more involved and even felt like a part of the organization. Ever since then when I am asked to donate I respond by saying I will give my time as a volunteer, but I will not donate. I also noticed as a volunteer it helps them and me. It helps with networking and making friendships. Volunteering also creates experiences that can last a lifetime. I can even help with planning an event or camp.

There is a need for donations, but as long as I can volunteer I will continue to do it. Once I am unable to volunteer I will be willing to donate again.

I completely agree! I have volunteered in the past and absolutely loved the experience but then the organization didn't keep a connection with me. Soon I had no clue whether or not they would need me and so I simply moved on. If there is, indeed, that connection between the organizations staff or even those receiving the help then the donor feels as if what the are donating is ACTUALLY needed so they will feel compelled to continue their help in the future!

I think many organizations are so focused on raising money, approaching possible donors with a spiel, that they forget the importance of building relationships first. I think involving donors in the implementation of a program is a great way to build that relationship; this allows them to express their opinions and in a sense makes them feel like they matter to the organization and not just their money. Inviting donors to dinners where volunteers are recognized, inviting them to see the progress and the goals the organization has accomplished is a great way to also keep them connected. Allowing the donor to be a part of the organization not only makes it easier to ask for the donation but it allows for them to willingly make a contribution without being asked. I also agree with Richards comment, establishing a deeper connection between the donor and the “child”, for example, provides a sense of commitment to the donor and makes it more complex for them to just walk away from the organization; because now, they have a sense of responsibility they need to fulfill and commit to.

I really do agree with this post, but don't think it only applies to non profit organizations. A great example of this would be the Phoenix Suns organization. When you submit an inquiry someone in ticket sales will give you a call and when they do of course they try to get you to buy tickets but they also talk to you and try to get to know you as a person and not just as a customer or someone who just writes a check. It makes you want to keep going back and makes you look positively at the organization.

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