As a financial advisor in the United States, I have discovered some interesting things about people and how they approach money issues; including their dispersion of their wealth and resources toward charitable pursuits. The motivations vary by donor but most have a common theme. The following are the most widely common motivations I have observed.

1.  They truly believe in a specific cause and are passionate about it and want to see it succeed.

2.  They like the cause, find it acceptable within the community, and want to advertise at the same time via “Sponsorships” for some type of recognition. Often, this includes both companies and individuals.

3.  They are familiar with the cause and there is someone close to them (a customer, vendor, employee, friend or family) that has asked them to make a donation. They are the “obliged” donor.

4.  They may not know much about the cause but have someone close to them who has been impacted so they want to allocate resources in honor of someone else.

5.  They are “guilted” into making a donation due to business, social, or religious pressure.

6.  They are seeking acceptance, inclusion, or simply friendships that giving to causes might convey. Perhaps they are invited to events or social gatherings as a result of their giving.

7.  They are humanitarians, truly givers inside and out, and they are internally motivated and compelled to help others. They see needs and step up to help meet them. They have a strong social consciousness and want to give back. They feel good about giving, give generously and do so with an unselfish motive. These people want to make a difference in the world and do so with both their mouths and their check books.

I did not mention “tax-motivated” donors because I have found that this alone will not cause people to be charitable who are simply not charitably-minded. When it comes down to the final decision, the donation is generally motivated for another reason. The “tax” benefits are simply a bonus that might make it possible to give larger amounts of resources.

Understanding human nature can be a key step in understanding the mindset of a donor and what type of solicitation will reach a donor.  It is important to realize that people from all nations have six basic human needs.  The first four are prevalent with everyone. The last two generally are needs experienced by people that are well past their own survival stage and are generally heading toward self-actualization.

Major Donors

  • The need for consistency and stability.
  • The need for variety.
  • The need to belong or be loved.
  • The need for significance.
  • The need to be constantly improving (personally and professionally)
  • The need to be part of something bigger than themselves.


The following is an over simplified example that may be helpful. You are in a conversation with a donor and realize that he or she talks about the “recognition” they received or the reception they attended as a result of a gift they had given in the past. They quickly dismiss it and tell you that it was not necessary. BUT you pick up on the fact that it was probably important because they mentioned it favorably. Most probably, this person has a need for “significance” or “belonging” (or both) in their lives. Therefore, it might be appropriate to share the details of how your organization recognizes its donors and how your organization orchestrates “donor activities” in addition to the cause itself. In any extended conversation with any individual, if you listen carefully and engage them, you will easily perceive the specific needs they have in their lives and the type of motivation they are most receptive to. 

Focus in on the real motivations of major donors, to be successful.

If you understand these basic human needs and why most people give, you can identify where a person is coming from and what need they must meet in their own lives. Then you can focus on the most appropriate approach toward asking them to be a donor. The closer you relate the “ask” to their specific “need” and/or “motivation”, the more effective you will be in getting them to participate in a significant way. Major DonorsAs you might imagine, it takes all kinds of givers to fill the treasuries of the charities so that the charities can continue their mission. Therefore, recognizing the needs and motivation of donors is important for non-profit organizations. If an organization’s development director or Board member simply focuses in on the real motivations for major donors, they will be successful.

Understanding that people give for different reasons will help your nonprofit raise funds from major donors.

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