What motivates you to get up in the morning? Your job? Family responsibilities? A game of golf or tennis? Everyone has something that motivates them to do what they do. This holds true just as well for philanthropy. People are motivated to give for a reason. They may not admit to it. But they are.
Usually when a donor connects with the mission of a nonprofit, that’s all it takes to motivate him/her to give. You’ll hear someone say that it’s their “pet project” and this is because they feel close to the organization or identify with its services, staff or clients. Perhaps there is a history that connected them or their family.
In the Mishnah Torah, under laws of charity, Maimonides identified eight levels of charity. Each step is higher than the next. The highest level is to support a fellow Jew by endowing him with a gift or loan, or entering into a partnership with him, or finding employment for him, in order to strengthen his hand so that he will not need to be dependent upon others... Perhaps, Maimonides affirmed these levels because everyone has a different capacity to give. I assert everyone has a different reason why they give.
So, what motivates a person to give in one level versus another? Everyone is different and yet giving charity is a commonality we all share, but for different reasons.
Studies have been done to learn why people give. For the fundraiser, understanding why can mean the difference between success and failure. If you figure out what motivates a donor to give, half the battle is won. This is important not just because it helps the fundraiser in his or her quest, but it hopefully helps achieve the philanthropic needs of the donor.
So why do people give? Let me suggest there are many reasons. The following represent only some:
(1) Here’s a surprise. Half of the people give to a charity for one reason and one reason alone—they were asked. So, this teachable moment is a simple lesson. You have a 50 percent chance for success simply by asking. The donor may or may not have a special motivation.
(2) Some folks have a religious belief learned when they were young. There are those who believe in tithing—giving a tenth of their earnings, also called “Ma’aser,” to charity. Others give to mark a yahrzeit or for Yizkor, prior to a Jewish Holiday, to commemorate a happy occasion or sometimes a sad one.
(3) This may surprise you too. Some people contribute as a means of self-preservation. How, you may ask? For the answer, go no further than reading the mantras of several nonprofits. For instance, the American Cancer Society states: “We want to wipe out cancer in your lifetime.” When AIDS was at its peak, the mantra was: “Unless a cure is found for this killer disease, millions of people may die.” Some people feel that by giving to a certain cause, they may avoid the nasty tentacles of the disease.
(4) No surprise with this reason—guilt. This occurs when people feel they will neglect or have neglected the needs of others. Commercials that portray neglected animals, the homeless or wounded veterans are prime examples of hammering home guilt.
(5) Tax benefits are a sure-shot method of inducing donations. Deductions are not what they used to be, and who knows what laws Congress may add, yet tax advantages are still a big seller. This is especially true with planned gifts such as charitable trusts and gift annuities.
(6) College graduates often become indebted to their alma mater, families benefit by the admission of a loved one into a nursing home and congregants benefit from membership in a synagogue. What these have in common is a moral obligation to support the institution that has done good in their eyes.
(7) Donor recognition is a motivator for some. It can come in the form of a singular honor at an event, a plaque on a wall, an honor roll or even a listing in an annual report or newsletter. To some degree this also plays to the ego of the philanthropist.
(8) Peer pressure works well as a motivator for some folks. During a solicitation it often helps to have present a family member, a friend or a business associate who the donor respects. That kind of leverage can go a long way.
(9) Here’s probably the most important reason of all: making a difference. Many individuals want to know that they are making a difference in the lives of those less fortunate. Philanthropists such as Bill and Melinda Gates, who give billions away to the African continent for vaccines, AIDS support and the like, genuinely feel they are making a difference in millions of lives. And they do.
There may be other reasons why people give to charitable causes, but these are at the top of my list. So, when you see others giving to their favorite nonprofit, this will give you insight into their reasoning. So, I ask you: Why do you give?
By Norman B. Gildin
Norman B. Gildin has fundraised for nonprofits for more than three decades and has raised upwards of $93 million in the process. He lived in Teaneck for 34 years and now resides in Boynton Beach, Florida, and was recently appointed as the national director of development for The Aleph Institute. He can be reached at [email protected]