We’re Not In Oz, Dorothy: Why Your Donors Give

Sections of this topic

    This piece was motivated by Renata Rafferty’s Posting of June 8: see “The-Politically-Incorrect-Guide-To-Donors”

    Renata’s method of “classifying” donors by motivation, which revisits a subject that doesn’t get enough attention, reminded me of a series of articles I read, many years ago, in The Chronicle of Philanthropy.

    Those articles, based on the book, “The Seven Faces of Philanthropy,” by Russ Alan Prince and Karen Maru File, focused on their version and description of seven types of people/mindset as related to who donors are, what types of organizations they support and why they support those organizations.

    Since I read those articles, 10-15 years ago, whenever I’ve worked with clients to create or expand a major gifts fundraising program, I’ve emphasized the need for the entire staff (and board) of the nonprofit organization to understand why their donors give to them, and I’ve referenced that book as a means to stimulate their thinking.

    When we first have the conversation, the vast majority of board members and staffers (at all levels) are pretty sure that their donors give to them because of the wonderful things they do.

    That’s like believing that the wizard is the source of all those things (especially contributed income) that make it possible for the organization to do all that it does.

    Nonprofit staffers and board members must learn to think about the various motives that move donors to give, motives that are as varied as the population at large. Those nonprofit folks need to learn/understand what really moved their donors to write the check. With that understanding will (hopefully) come the ability to see what would make a potential donor take out his/her checkbook.

    As I’ve said on many occasions (and will, no doubt, continue to say as often as I can get people to listen, “It’s about the needs (and motivations) of the donor!!”

    Considering copyright restrictions, I can’t reprint the articles from the Chronicle, nor can I excerpt from the textbook, so here’s a link to a description of the book: “Seven Faces of Philanthropy.” I don’t get a commission, but I do recommend the book to clients and students, and from now on, I will also recommend Renata’s article (and hope she expands on it in a future blog or book !!).

    I (will) recommend both because those resources can make the reader think about donors, who they are, and the real reasons why they give … without the rose-colored glasses (or ruby slippers).


    Have a question about starting or expanding your fundraising program?
    Email me at AskHank@Major-Capital-Giving.com. With over 30 years of counseling in major gifts, capital campaigns, bequest programs, and the planning studies to precede these three, we’ll do our best to answer your question.