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Donor Participation Project

Dr. Russell James Reveals What Really Motivates Donors

What truly motivates donors to give to your cause? According to Dr. Russell James, a leading expert on charitable giving, the key is understanding donor identity and helping them achieve a meaningful victory.

Dr. James shared his insights in a recent webinar for the Donor Participation Project. He explained that a donor’s identity comes from their personal values, relationships, and life experiences. As fundraisers, we need to connect a donor’s identity to our mission through the fundraising process. We do this by first listening to donors and learning about what motivates them. We then present a challenge, like an opportunity to fund a new program, that allows them to achieve a victory meaningful to their identity. When they give, it enhances their identity in a personally fulfilling way.

For example, an environmental charity might survey donors on the values and life events that shaped their support for conservation. A donor may share that a childhood experience with their grandmother fostered their love of nature. The charity could then frame a fundraising appeal around continuing that legacy by protecting wetlands, helping that donor achieve a victory that honors their grandmother’s memory.

Rather than just sharing stories about organizational impact, fundraisers need to understand each donor’s hero story. We must ask questions to determine what gives their lives meaning and purpose. Small gifts often come from those seeking to remedy societal ills, while major donors usually want to share in the fruits of victory as part of a community.

Appealing to a donor’s identity and desire for victory moves them from casual giver to lifetime champion.

Continually learning, testing, and improving fundraising methods is key. As Dr. James said, “Progress, not perfection” should be our mantra. While the tools we use are constantly changing, human motivations remain the same. By focusing on donor identity and victory, we can build true relationships, gain larger gifts, and change more lives. Fundraisers would be wise to follow Dr. James’ data-driven advice.

View the full recording of this session in ourĀ Resource Library.

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