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DONATING IS SELFISH: How Nonprofits Can Use This Fact To Strengthen Stakeholder Engagement

For nonprofit organizations, fundraising is an ongoing part of the game plan. Organizations can use the same old formulas to devise complex strategies, launch elaborate campaigns and spend huge amounts of time and resources coming up with a variety of methods for stakeholder engagement. Or they can approach the game from a different angle by looking at what motivates people to donate and then using that motivation to better connect with their target audience.

Why People Donate
The key behind this strategy is remembering that donating is selfish. Despite the surface appearance of being an altruistic and selfless act, donations are often driven by self-interest—which is fine. Many people crave the personal pleasure that comes with donating to worthy causes, which economic professor James Adreoni defined as the “warm glow” theory of giving.

Even those who donate in the hopes of making a difference or taking a stand on a specific issue have an underlying motive for their charitable giving. In addition to personal pleasure, people may be motivated by recognition. Others may be seeking the social acceptance that donating brings, while others may have a personal or emotional connection to the nonprofit organization and its cause. One more reason may be the personal benefits they receive from their contributions, such as material gifts they can use or display to showcase their support.

Nonprofit organizations can use all these motivators to boost their fundraising to new heights. How? By truly getting to know the target audience and what motivates them.

Getting to Know the Audience
The more deeply organizations know their stakeholders, the more deeply they can connect. Pinpointing what drives people to donate allows organizations to pinpoint what fundraising strategies will be most effective. Individuals driven by recognition may respond to charity dinners honoring them for their generosity, complete with their names placed prominently on the donor list.

Those with personal and emotional connections can be equally responsive to methods that stress those connections and trigger an emotional response. Emotional reactions can also be the target response for fundraising efforts targeting people who fall into the warm glow category, showcasing how friendly and fuzzy they will feel from donating to such a worthy cause.

Increasing the Impact
The first order of business for successfully employing these tactics is ensuring the right message gets to the right audience. Creating stakeholder personas, or mini-profiles, that break down the audience by characteristics within different categories based on motivation can be very effective.

One category may be those seeking recognition. Another could be those with personal connections. A third would contain the donors seeking the warm glow feeling. Individuals who fall into more than one category could respond to more than one tactic or even a combination of tactics.

Nonprofit organizations can increase their impact even further by keeping a keen eye on the fundamentals. Relevant and valuable messages are the most effective messages for stakeholder engagement. Organizations can better connect when they take the time to provide useful information that actually matters to the audience.

Testing out different messages on different audiences and tracking the success will help organizations better predict the type of reactions they can expect going forward. This type of evidence-based engagement strategy can also help them more precisely shape future fundraising campaigns that increase the chances of new donor contributions, as well as donor retention.

Proper positioning of the organization is another fundamental strategy for increasing stakeholder engagement. Organizations need to differentiate themselves from other nonprofits while figuring out what specific niche they can fill. This can be done by assessing what makes an organization unique and how it’s different from similar organizations that may be backing similar causes or even the same cause.

One final strategy that shouldn’t be overlooked is ensuring the organization is working from a strong strategic platform and that its goals and mission are aligned with the organization’s realities. People are more apt to donate to organizations they trust, and it’s tough to trust organizations that send out messages that are inconsistent, or incoherent and do not match core values. Any fundraising campaigns or donation requests need to emulate the underlying beliefs of the organization or the very foundation of the organization can begin to crumble.

While strategies in the fundraising game may still tend to get elaborate or complex, coming at them from a whole new angle can bring on a whole new level of success. Knowing what motivates people to donate lets organizations speak directly to that motivation, increasing the chances of donor retention, new donations and the best results for their efforts.

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