How to Find Out What Motivates Donors to Give

4 simple methods your nonprofit can implement right away

Why do your donors give?

That’s a fairly important question to know. It affects how you communicate with them, keep them engaged, and find new donors.

Having worked with and in a lot of nonprofits, I’ve found out that most just guess. They make a general assumption that donors think their organization is important and want to support that work. That may be true, but it’s very generalized.

Donors have internal motivations for wanting to give, and nonprofits need to understand and connect with those motivations. This is one of the foundational shifts that nonprofits need to make to better fundraise.

You could look up surveys of donors from other organizations to get a general idea, like this one on the top 14 reasons donors give.

The easiest way to know why donors give is to simply ask. I’ll share 4 different methods you can use to solicit feedback from your donors – methods that I’ve recently used with some of the nonprofits I’ve worked with. The answers sometimes confirm what you thought and sometimes they surprise you. It’s incredibly helpful in shaping our communication with donors, along with crafting our marketing messages toward potential donors.


Different Forms for Different Funds

When it comes to online donations, smaller nonprofits may have a single donation form on their website. Those donations are used for a lot of different things, and your organization’s work can probably be divided into different categories.

Depending on how complex that work is, you could have a few different donation forms throughout your website that reflect different aspects of your work. Another method is to have a single donation form, but with a dropdown allowing donors to select what project or fund they want to give towards.

This method allows donors the option to give towards what matters most to them. The other benefit is that you’re able to see what resonates most with donors.

If there are more donations to a particular form or fund, it’ll indicate that donors care about that issue more. This can inform you on the types of updates and communication you send to your audience.

Unless you’re a big organization, I usually recommend no more than 3 or 4 different funds/forms on your website for your audience to interact with.


Response Form After Donation

After a donor gives, the emotion attached to that donation is still fresh. This is the perfect time to have them recall their motivations and share with you.

Place a questionnaire form on the thank you page after someone makes a donation. Say how filling out this quick form will help your organization send more relevant updates on how their donation is being used.

Keep the form simple. A text box with the question “What motivated you to give?” is good, or you can add multiple choice answers for them to select if you know your audience a little better.

I’ve helped nonprofits implement this on their websites and they tend to get responses from about 1 in 5 donations, which over time adds up to a fairly good amount of survey data.


Email Survey to Donors

This is similar to the after-donation questionnaire. In fact, you can even use the same form if you want. Sending an email survey out to your existing donors can get you a large sampling size all at once.

First, decide which donors you want to survey. You will want recent donors, as people who gave a long time ago probably aren’t as engaged with your nonprofit anymore and won’t remember why they gave. I would suggest donors within the last 6 months, and no longer than a year.

Send an email to your donors thanking them for their gift, and asking them to do you a favor by filling out the survey. Emphasize how fast and easy it is, and how helpful it will be for your organization. You could even include a screenshot of the survey so they know how quick it will be.

On average, the nonprofits I work with will get about 25% of the donors they email to fill out the survey, which is a very informative sampling. This article gets into more details on how to survey your donors.


Testimonial Campaign

This last method involves more work, but will provide you with greater depth in response and great content for marketing. Use the testimonials of your most engaged donors as part of a marketing campaign.

Decide how you will filter your most engaged donors. This could be recurring or frequent donors, recent donors, or high-end donors.

Contact those donors thanking them for their support, and tell them how you want to tell the story of their generosity. Let them know it would also inspire others to give and join the mission. This rewards your donors (because people love being featured) and gives their testimonial a sense of purpose.

A simple method is to have them write a testimonial, with prompts and guidelines on what you’re looking for, and send in a picture of themselves. This gives you flexibility to use it in a lot of different formats.

If you want to take it to the next level, ask your donors to record a video of themselves to submit, also with prompts and guidelines. If your donors are local and you have a good media team, you can make a professional little video out of it. Otherwise, cell phone footage is just as great and adds a level of authenticity to the footage.

Here are some points to make sure your donor testimonials cover:

  • Their backgrounds – this helps viewers identify with them
  • Why they care about the cause
  • Why they chose to partner with your organization to donate
  • What their money is doing – you should be able to help provide information on this

When you share their testimonial, the most important thing to emphasize is that your donor is the hero – it will invoke a desire for others to join. This article shows how you can get great donor testimonies for fundraising.


How to Use Donor Feedback

All of these methods are not mutually exclusive to each other. In fact, most of the nonprofits I’ve helped get donor feedback have used all 4. We first email all existing donors – this helps get an idea of what motivates them. Based on those responses, we then create or modify their forms to reflect the different issues donors care about. We add the after-donation questionnaire form for future donors. Then out of the responses we get, we look for the donors who would be great in a testimonial marketing campaign.

Getting feedback of any kind is important. If you can identify trends in just a few donor responses, you can reasonably assume that’s how a good portion of your donors feel. It’s a lot more accurate than your guess.

If you can take specific phrasing that donors use and implement that into your communication, you connect with existing donors and new donors on a whole new level. They will feel like you get them and are reading their minds. This ultimately results in more engaged donors and more funds for your organization.

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