In the United States, 90% of households donated an average of $1,623 to nonprofit organizations in 2000.(1) Since then, studies have been underway to analyze the motivation behind philanthropic giving behavior. In order to increase the network of donors and encourage the practice of making charitable contributions, it is important to understand the reasons why people support causes through grassroots organizations.
A major motivation for giving is the personal affinity for a cause. Whether this originates from past or present experiences, people develop connections with the missions of nonprofit organizations and become inspired to lend support. In aligning personal interests with the aims of different organizations, donors will more likely give to organizations that hold shared ideals and values.(2) When choosing among charities that work toward a similar cause, donors may decide who to support based on the organization’s goals and publicized strategies to achieve these goals.
Making a charitable contribution allows individuals to become associated with a cause that they support. People may be “motivated by personal recognition and benefits,” in which they hope to seek out public acknowledgement to satisfy a psychological or emotional need.(3) For this reason, organizations often devote part of their resources to credit donors with gifts, plaques, or other signs of appreciation. This emphasis by grassroots organizations to positively reinforce donor support helps to encourage further commitments to giving.
“Welfare is derived not merely from an increase in someone else’s satisfaction but from the fact that the individual himself has contributed to that satisfaction.”(4) Researchers and individuals alike have long wondered about the motivation behind this altruistic behavior. It seems that giving arises from a “natural willingness to help,” bringing joy to the giver as a result of impacting someone else’s life.(5) Through the act of giving, donors can positively influence those around them and enjoy increased self-esteem, joy, and social status from giving.(6) Research suggests that “pro-social” giving actually leads to greater happiness than spending on oneself.(7) The majority of people believe in the value of giving and making contributions as a way of contributing to the community.
People tend to donate to friends, family members, and others that they admire. Eighty-four % of charitable contributors prefer being asked to donate by people they know, since “a more personal solicitation [allows] the fundraiser to exert peer pressure on the donor” to engage in charitable causes.(8) As a result, people with extensive social networks tend to be more charitable due to frequent donation requests from people in their networks.(9) With peer-to-peer solicitation, there is credibility from referrals from friends, family members, and colleagues.
The social pressure of philanthropy also plays an influential role in determining whether and how much to give.(10) For example, the Girl Scouts of the USA conducts an annual cookie drive that targets fundraising efforts at friends, families, and neighbors. Purchasing cookies occurs publicly, and this promise and expectation of future reciprocation encourages others to contribute. This form of peer-to-peer fundraising known as “favor trading” has been shown to increase contributions to the public good by 14%.(11) The community of peer-to-peer fundraising even extends to social media in the growing utilization of email, social networking sites, and online fundraising pages. Approximately one-third of youth inform their peers about a charity through email or social networking.(12)
A reason for giving arises from altruistic motivation and a desire to make a positive impact on the lives of others by contributing to a specific organization’s outcomes. People are more inclined to give for public benefit when they are convinced that they will make “a lasting and tangible change as a result of their contribution.”(13)
A study on potential donors’ evaluation of fundraising websites showed that the top priority of viewers was to identify the organization’s mission, goals, and plan for using contributions.(14) Donors may approach organizations about the outcomes of their projects in order to determine the cost-effectiveness of a contribution.(15) It follows that many organizations not only provide past measurable results, but also compelling information on the value of contributions. For instance, the nonprofit organization Charity: Water advertises in their fundraising campaigns that “$20 can give one person clean, safe drinking water.” They further specify that a “water project costs an average of $5,000 and can serve a community of 250 people.”(16) Unite For Sight emphasizes that the average cost for a sight-restoring surgery is $50. To give donors a concrete understanding of the effect of their donations, it is important for grassroots organizations to clearly communicate their mission statements and model of impact.
A new era of philanthropy has greatly expanded the practice of giving. Individuals are finding new ways to donate, and they are making philanthropy a priority in their personal and professional lives. With this rising “new donor generation,” it is important to recognize the standard of higher expectations, greater demand for direct involvement, and requirement of accountability of non-profit organizations.(17)
Donors cite various reasons for making charitable contributions, including a “search for meaning,” an altruistic motivation to “give back,” and a desire to “make a difference.”(18) The “new donor generation” wants to evaluate nonprofit recipients as “market-conscious” and “knowledge-based,” with measurable outcomes, before giving support. They want to see donations directly reach communities in need, and will thus critically analyze the effectiveness of organizational funds, resource management, development of goals, and willingness to share information.(19) This generation expects nonprofit organizations to demonstrate success from previous outcomes, maximize the cost-effectiveness of funds, present clear strategies and goals, and aim for sustainable change. Giving has become an important component of identity for the “new donor generation,” and careful decision-making has generally led to larger gifts for fewer causes as an “investment in the community.”(20)
(2) "Grants & Resources From Chapel & York." Chapel & York Online. Chapel & York, Feb. 2011. Web. 29 Aug. 2011. <http://www.chapel-york.com/latest_gandr/april09.html>.
(3) Sims, Sandra. "Why Do People Donate to Charitable Causes?" Fundraiser Ideas for Non Profit Organizations | Step by Step Fundraising Ideas. Step-by-Step Fundraising, 15 Aug. 2007. Web. 29 Aug. 2011. <http://stepbystepfundraising.com/why-do-people-donate-to-charitable-causes/>.
(4) Powell, Walter W., and Richard Steinberg. The Nonprofit Sector a Research Handbook. New Haven: Yale UP, 2006. Print.
(7) "Happier to Give than Receive?" Science Daily: News & Articles in Science, Health, Environment & Technology. Science Daily, 16 Oct. 2010. Web. 29 Aug. 2011. <http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/10/101015110149.htm>.
(8) Jacobson, Sarah, and Ragan Petrie. "Favor Trading in Public Good Provision”. Mason Academic Research System. Web. 22 Aug. 2011. <http://mason.gmu.edu/~rpetrie1/Girl_Scout_Cookie_jacobson_petrie_feb2011.pdf>.
(10) Fritz, Joanne. "The Science of Giving - A Review Charitable Giving Through the Eyes of Social Scientists." Nonprofit Charitable Organizations. About.com. Web. 23 Aug. 2011. <http://nonprofit.about.com/od/fundraising/fr/The-Science-Of-Giving-A-Review.htm>.
(11) Jacobson, Sarah, and Ragan Petrie. "Favor Trading in Grassroots Fundraising: The Girl Scout Cookie Phenomenon." Mason Academic Research System. Web. 22 Aug. 2011. <http://mason.gmu.edu/~rpetrie1/Girl_Scout_Cookie_jacobson_petrie_oct2010.pdf>.
(13) Sims, Sandra. "Why Do People Donate to Charitable Causes?" Fundraiser Ideas for Non Profit Organizations | Step by Step Fundraising Ideas. Step-by-Step Fundraising, 15 Aug. 2007. Web. 29 Aug. 2011. <http://stepbystepfundraising.com/why-do-people-donate-to-charitable-causes>.
(14) "Grants & Resources From Chapel & York." Chapel & York Online. Chapel & York, Feb. 2011. Web. 29 Aug. 2011. <http://www.chapel-york.com/latest_gandr/april09.html>.
(19) Sims, Sandra. "Why Do People Donate to Charitable Causes?" Fundraiser Ideas for Non Profit Organizations | Step by Step Fundraising Ideas. Step-by-Step Fundraising, 15 Aug. 2007. Web. 29 Aug. 2011. <http://stepbystepfundraising.com/why-do-people-donate-to-charitable-causes>.