Why People Donate

As a nonprofit, you probably long to understand the behavioral science behind why people donate in order to appeal to those factors and increase your donations. To help with that, we have compiled a short list of such factors in the hopes that you can transform them into successful marketing strategies.

Social Influence

  • Friends & Family

People are much more likely to donate, and donate more, if they are asked to by a friend or family, as this adds a dimension of trust and legitimacy. In fact, you are four times more likely to donate if you are encouraged by a prominent person in your life. A study has also shown that individuals will donate more to their university if they are asked to donate by their former roommate.

  • Other Donors / Celebrities

Naturally, someone is more likely to give to charity if they see other donating. Studies have also shown that if donors see that a large donation was made before theirs, they will make a larger donation as well. Celebrity endorsements and donations are also effective in motivating the general public to donate, as they once again as a dimension of legitimacy. However, this mostly affects people who have donated to the charity at hand in the past.

Personal Experience

Humans are creatures of habit, including when it comes to donations. In fact, individuals who have donated before are much more likely to donate, as they are familiar with the experience. This also applies to individuals who have volunteered for a charitable organization, as they are more likely to volunteer again.

In addition, people are more likely to donate to organizations and causes to which they have personal connections. For example, someone with a relative diagnosed with cancer might be more likely to volunteer for Relay for Life.

Emotional Appeal

Donors are more responsive to requests for donations that identify one clear beneficiary, as opposed to statistics about the overall scale of the problem at hand. A single donation is not often likely to have an impact on a widespread issue, but it could, however, have an effect on one individual suffering from this problem. Remember, donors like to see the impact that their donation can make.


People are also motivated to donate by the need for recognition. They want to be acknowledged by their peers as someone who is charitable and whose values align with that of the organization they are donating to. As such, many charities publicly recognize their donors on their websites or at events, and offer their donors the opportunity to share their contribution on social media sites.

Charles Z is the Founder and CEO of Donorbox. He has been starting companies and numerous web applications since college. Nowadays he is immersed and wildly excited about the the future of the social impact sector.

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