The Psychology of Giving

In the New York Times recent section on giving, you will find the transcript of a conversation with Dr. Jen Shang – the world’s first Ph.D. in philanthropy and only philanthropic psychologist.

The conversation focuses on understanding donor behavior and reiterates the most basic truth about fundraising: once you have a donor’s attention, you must find a way to get them to “commit to supporting to your organization in such a way that the commitment itself is meaningful to the donor as individuals.”

How do you accomplish that?  Universities can offer donors a seat in the luxury box with the president on football Saturdays.  Conservation organizations with large budgets can offer donors tours by helicopter over the areas they are working to protect.  Hospitals can let donors in on cutting-edge technologies and research.

What if your organization doesn’t have a multimillion dollar budget or access to football tickets and helicopters?  There are still many things you can do.  With a little creativity, you can develop a stewardship program that brings in more money.  A few ideas:

– Identify a donor’s main interest in your organization and ask them to host a lecture given by an expert on the subject at their home.  The donor will invite their peers, who will see how excited their friends are about your program – you may even develop a new donor relationship or two!

– Tap into the social aspect of volunteering.  Bring together a group of donors interested in one program and ask for their help with a piece of the work.  They will feed off of each others’ enthusiasm and get a more intimate look into something they care about.

– Pick up the phone and ask for feedback.  For example, if you are cultivating a marketing executive, ask them to look over the speech you’ve drafted for your organization’s annual gala.  Ask an investment banker to look over your organization’s endowment returns.

Have other stewardship ideas?  Share them in the comments below.

Have a question about stewardship?  Ask Hammond.