Why People Give to One Cause Over Another

A longtime friend just asked me, “How do each of us grow a passion for one project or another?” Clearly none of us can give in response to every need, so what prompts us to choose one or some ministries over all the rest?

Certainly he’s not the first person to ask that. In fact, scholars Rene Bekkers and Pamala Wiepking published a paper in 2011 that drew from 500 other studies on this topic, to identify key factors that drive giving. Six years later two researchers built on that by developing a Motives to Donate Scale.1 In addition, last year Network for Good2 identified elements that motivate people to give to the nonprofit organizations they help market.

Out of these studies, I found seven key factors and one essential behavior:
Altruism – Affirming important values, including compassion. Believing it’s important to help others in need.
Trust that this specific charity will use their money to make a difference in the world. “Donors come to your nonprofit because they believe in your mission. [But] they stay with you because you prove yourself worthy of their trust and commitment.”2
Social Networks – Knowing their gifts will make a difference to people they know or care about. Understanding their giving as investing in people, not programs. One form of this occurs when people see their peers involved in a cause, such as in peer-to-peer giving.
Tax Breaks – Working out the financial costs and benefits to the donor.
Egoism – Feeling good when they give to something they want to support (including that consequent rush of physical dopamine that gives pleasure). Being aware that they’ll look good to others by giving.
Family Tradition – Many donors experience giving as something modeled or taught from one generation to the next. Behavior learned at a young age stays with us through adulthood.
Religious Beliefs – Every major religion teaches caring for others and charitable giving. The 2017 Giving USA Special Report on Giving to Religion found that 62 percent of religious households give to come kind of charity.

And what about that one essential behavior? It is the power of asking! One study1 confirmed that 85 percent of the charitable donations given came because someone asked people for the gift! So if we don’t gather up our courage to ask, there’s a good chance people will not follow through with giving.

I hope this response aids the friend who asked me about it; I know it helps me. We are not only individual donors, but also those who want the ministries we love to touch other people’s hearts, too.

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub

1 – Sara Konrath and Femida Handy, “Six Reasons Why People Give Their Money Away, or Not,” https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-empathy-gap/201711/six-reasons-why-people-give-their-money-away-or-not
2 – Linda Lombardi, Content Manager, https://www.networkforgood.com/nonprofitblog/7-reasons-why-donors-give/