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What motivates people to give?

kevindixonWhen my father died, a student bursary at Huron University College was established in his name. It didn’t take long until the fund had grown to an amount that surpassed our family’s expectations.

Interestingly, many of the people who contributed to the fund had little connection to the school, but a strong connection to my late father. This fact is consistent with what we know about charitable donors’ motivation to give: the most important reason for giving is the relationship with the person who is asking. Although, in the example of my father’s bursary fund, it wasn’t he who asked personally, it was in his name that the request was made. The fact that it was a named fund made a difference. People knew they were giving to the school, but they felt they were giving in my father’s honour. There was a relational, and also legacy, component to their gift.

In another similar example, a woman I knew who was dying of cancer urged her friends and relatives to support a research fund that she established before her death. The fund grew to a staggering figure after her death because the donors knew the cause was important to her. Emotional connection is a well-known trigger for giving.

There are other motivating factors, too. For instance, donors favour one charity over another depending on their experience of being well-served by the charity. This can be especially true of pastorally attentive churches. Also, churches can help to motivate donors by helping them to see, in specific ways, how their generosity will make a discernible difference in the lives of others. In this regard, it is important for preachers to be bold in highlighting the connection between conviction and giving.

People have the innate desire to perceive themselves as good, to show compassion, to support others in need. The church, through its various ministries, can support these desires by providing opportunities for generosity.

Of course, there’s always the good old motivation to give to charity as a means to save on taxes. Remarkably, however, many churches are unprepared to show donors how to make a tax-advantaged gift: appreciated securities, life insurance, charitable annuities, etc. Even a few basic brochures, prominently displayed, to encourage people to remember the church in their will can make a big difference.

Take a moment to reflect on what motivates you to support the charities of your choice. And, put yourself in the shoes of potential donors to your parish or diocese: what does your church do to motivate them to give?

Often, people are just waiting to be asked.

Kevin Dixon

About Kevin Dixon

Kevin Dixon is Dean at St. Paul's Cathedral in the Diocese of Huron. He has a passion for stewardship. For many years, while living in Vancouver, he chaired the Stewardship and Gift Development Committee for the Diocese of New Westminster. Now he is engaged in stewardship education in Huron, and having a lot of fun doing it. Kevin is also active through the Cristosal Foundation in human rights and community development work in El Salvador.
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