Fundamental Attribution Error and Donors

If a donor with high capacity doesn’t give to our level of expectation, it is not uncommon for some to suggest she is simply ungenerous.

Conversely, when we fail to respond fully to a solicitation from another organization, we tend to believe that the organization didn’t do enough to garner our investment.

The “Fundamental Attribution Error,” as our friends in the social psychology field term it, explains this phenomenon.  Specifically, humans tend to explain perceived negative behavior in others as being caused by their character, disposition, etc.  While our less-than-socially-ideal behavior is caused more by our situation or circumstances.

When we apply the Fundamental Attribution Error to our donors we make two mistakes.  First we assume something that could easily be (and often is) untrue.  Second, this faulty assumption can encourage us to disengage from cultivating the donor further.  Who wants to engage an ungenerous soul?  That’s a waste of time!

Instead of attributing a cause explaining why our donor didn’t give as much as we asked for, there is another powerful and easy solution.  Simply ask.  Ask your donor what drove their philanthropic decision.  You will learn not only why they made the disappointing choice to not fund your request fully, but also gain insights into how they think about philanthropy and their charitable priorities.

The social psychologists call it the Fundamental Attribution Error.  I call it the Fundamental Asking Error.

1 Comment

One Comment

  1. Part of the reason for less of a donation might be the organization didn’t do a good enough job sharing there vision.

    Maybe they might appear like they have money to give away but simply don’t have it…

    A lot of times we get tunnel vision and can’t see past our nose to realize there are a lot of more people hurting than out one non-profit group.

    The idea of simply asking is a great straight forward approach!

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