Why People Give

The young development director was waxing eloquent, talking about how incredible her organization’s mission was and how they would only have to get the word out to see the money pouring in. I almost didn’t have the heart to disabuse her of her passion, but I knew (from experience—and not just my own) that in a year or two, when the money hadn’t come pouring in, her disillusion would be as strong as her passion and probably more damaging.

The truth, alas, is that few people give to you because of your mission. They don’t give because of your amazing programs, staff, clients. Those things may prevent them from making a gift (a person who doesn’t like dogs, for example, is hardly likely to support a no kill shelter), but these really aren’t the reason that someone gives.

They give because of a relationship—to the organization (think alumni at universities or grateful hospital patients) or with someone already involved with the organization (a board member, the Executive Director, a client who benefitted from what your organization does).

And they give because you stoke their passion.

That’s why pictures of puppies, kittens, babies bring in the bucks. Grown ups, be they human or animal….honestly, not so much.

Smiles sell more than tears—best of all is smiles that bring tears to eyes of those seeing the smiles.

Having your board members ask their friends to “join with me” in supporting the work you do will be far more successful than explaining to strangers about the work you do.

It’s not that what you do doesn’t matter—it does. But it doesn’t motivate individuals to reach into that proverbial pocket.

People give because you make them care. Focus on their passions and their values and you will win more support than all the statistics in the world.

That’s why you need to know who your supporters are. If they gave because of what you do and how you do it, you would not need to know a thing about the people who contribute to your cause. But because they give because they perceive a shared value, they feel a certain way about what they think you do, they trust a friend and think that they have a shared worldview, you need to know what their values are, why they feel as they feel and what they think you do. You need to understand that worldview and find others who share it with them.

Then, and only then, will the money come pouring in—and the support be strong and sustainable.


Janet Levine works with nonprofits, helping them to increase their fundraising capacity and build stronger boards. She believes in the power of shared values and works with her clients to ensure they know how to uncover what matters to their supporters. Learn how she can help your organization at www.janetlevineconsulting.com