Why Some Don’t Give

What percentage of your database have never made a gift?  Why haven’t they given to you?

A few years ago, a report from the Economic and Social Research Council and the National Council for Voluntary Organizations, both of the United Kingdom, suggested the following reasons why people may not make a charitable gift:

  • Denial of ability:  “I don’t have enough money to make a gift.”
  • Denial of benefit:  “My gift won’t make a difference.”
  • Denial of need:  “The organization really doesn’t need my gift.”
  • Appeal to higher loyalties:  “My priority is to my family or church.”

Have you heard these objections before?  I sure have.  But it wasn’t these findings that really caused me to pause.  Instead, it was this:

. . .if using these techniques work (meaning the individual was able to feel “ok” about not making a gift), this will affect future decisions on whether or not to support charities, and make people less likely to acknowledge the moral dimension (of supporting the charity).

So, the research is suggesting that once an individual uses one of these objections and follows through with no gift, they have cleared a big psychological hurdle and will find it easier to not give in the future. Kind of like any bad deed – the first time is always the most difficult.

Colleges and universities, healthcare organizations, and other non-profit regularly talk about “developing a culture of philanthropy,” where giving is viewed as a regular, normal, good act by all those connected with the organization.  And yet, I rarely find organizations who are consistently committed to systemically and effectively answering the four objections above.

Now, that doesn’t mean that development leaders don’t answer these objections – most do!  I typically find development professionals spend time concocting individual messages in response to these objections.  For instance, they will put together a list of responses and review them with phonathon callers during training.

But what this research suggests is that these objections are not acute, independent acts with only short-term implications.  Instead, they have a chronic nature – they support a larger cycle of non-giving that should  be addressed more systemically by your organization.

So, in response to a chronic, ongoing problem we offer short-term fixes.   Not a good strategy.  Similar to a doctor identifying a long-lasting disease in a patient and prescribing an aspirin in response.

What would a more effective response look like?  In a future post, I will explore a specific program that addresses these objections in a systemic manner.  But I’ll leave you today with this thought:  If you do not have donor acquisition, sustaining, and recognition programs that directly and consistently address these objections, you’re probably taking the aspirin.

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