Why would a donor give to your charity?

People don’t give to the most urgent needs, according to the Centre for Charitable Giving and Philanthropy in the UK.

The ‘How Donors Choose Charities’ survey reveals four key influencing criteria:

1. A donor’s personal tastes and preferences

2. The impact of their background

3. Their view of charities’ competence

4. Their assessment of how they can achieve the greatest personal impact.

Donors’ personal tastes and preferences

It’s easy to assume that people donate because they’re moved by the needs of others and want to help.

But as the study discovered, choices are largely driven by the donor’s own inclinations and preferences, a desire to help people they feel some affinity with, and a partiality for certain causes as a result of personal experiences.

In short, much charitable giving is taste-driven, rather than needs-driven:

“I would support deserving dogs but I wouldn’t support cats because I just happen to not like cats. It’s as silly and as simple as that.”

“I donate to the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) because bird-watching is one of my great obsessions. It’s my, kind of, my treat to myself, if you like.”

The impact of donors’ backgrounds

Our present-day choices are also shaped by earlier life experiences, which can be reflected in future giving patterns. For example, one survey respondent said that he supports a butterfly conservation charity because:

“When I was a boy I collected butterflies and I’m trying to give back, if you like, the damage that I did, so to speak. In those days you were encouraged to kill butterflies and collect them, so that’s an important one.”

People also draw on their own life experiences to create what have been called ‘philanthropic autobiographies’. Donors give to causes they feel some connection to, or affinity with, as a result of experience and incidents in their own lives.

“I grew up by the sea so I support the RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Association).”

“I have a child and very first thing I started off doing was child sponsorship.”

Donors views of charities’ competence

There is general consensus that charity competence, as demonstrated in the efficient use of money, is highly attractive and likely to prompt greater donations:

“Where we’re more confident that the money is genuinely going in full to the right place, we’re more inclined to give more money.”

“If I’m going to be giving away some money, it’s like buying things in a shop, I want to be sure I’m getting good value for it, as it were.”

However, respondents also noted that given the difficulty in obtaining and understanding information on charities general competence, common proxies for assessing competence include the frequency and estimated cost of charity mailings.

Donors’ desire to have a personal impact

A concern for personal impact is a key factor behind making a donation. And donors care about impact for different reasons based on their passions, preferences and personal experiences.


“I probably have gone for major charities because I feel they have more clout.”


“I gave to a very small charity because it means a huge lot to give them even $100.”


‘I sail quite a lot. I’ve never had to be rescued but I give the Lifeboats some money every year, being like an insurance policy.’


“My dad died unexpectedly, and mountain rescue was involved in him being brought down from the mountain, so I’ve given quite often to mountain rescue.’

So, how do you encourage a donor to give to you?

If we truly embrace the fact that:

· donors will support what they like, what they know and what they care about, and that

· it’s more important in the donor’s eyes than what a charity does, who it helps and how urgent it is …

… then it could help fundraisers to be more upfront in matching donors’ tastes with causes that need their support.

Click here to read the full report ‘How Donors Choose Charities’.

Understanding Donor Motivation is also the key to creating Donor Journeys that reduce donor attrition. Contact Pareto if you want help in understanding your donor motivations and using emotional insights to map your donor journeys for improved donor retention.