McCracken Consultancy
Strategic Consultancy for charities and third sector organisations


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McCracken Consultancy

What do monthly charity donors get back? The psyche of the donor

This is a very important question to consider as every charity wants the highest proportion possible of their public donations to be monthly, rather than a one-off reaction to one-off fundraising appeals that are costly to run. The higher the ratio of one-off donors to monthly donors, the higher the cost per pound raised, and vice versa. 

The accepted wisdom is that one-off donors gradually learn more of the charity’s work and begin to want to form a relationship, give monthly, and hopefully increase their monthly giving over time.  But even when first-time donors are successfully converted, retention rates remain frustratingly poor.  I think we need to look at things differently.  We should be focussing on how to attract the kind of donors who will actively want to be monthly donors from the very first campaign rather than maximise instant donations and then think about conversion later.  These donors will actively want to be regular donors because it fulfils a need for them – they get something back.

To understand how to identify these donors, seek them out, and let them find us through targeted communications, we need to look at the human psyche and its relationship to giving…..and it’s a complex place. 

So, what are the motivators for giving?  Let’s compare one-off donations and regular giving.  You only need to look at the marketing communications of the large charities who ‘do’ emergency appeals well to see the motivators they tap into: mainly shock leading to intense compassion, or the natural human propensity to ‘pull together’ in the wake of disasters.  Yes, compassion for the individual and protection of our tribe or species, thankfully, seem to be well and truly hard-wired, and this is where a well-managed campaign and good coverage leads to high levels of one-off donations.

But independently of that physical hard-wired reaction to an emergency, why do monthly donors give on a sustained basis sometimes throughout their whole life? To say they want to ‘give something back’ I think is wholly inadequate and unhelpful from the fundraiser’s point of view.  I think we need to understand what they get back from giving. Here are some ideas:

  • To be or feel part of a community: a community of givers with an identity they find attractive. To join the ‘club’ even if it is a notional one that gives no material reward to them.
  • To reinforce a sense of self-identity as somebody who makes a commitment and is perhaps better informed than average about an issue they think is important.
  • To alleviate a sense of guilt for a relatively comfortable existence or perception (or judgment of others) that they do a ‘morally meaningless’ job or indulge in a ‘life of leisure.’
  • To feel significant.
  • To show love, commitment to and sometimes in memory of someone they care for.

This isn’t to say that some of these motivators are not present in one-off giving, but they are particularly likely to be subliminal factors in monthly giving.  Thinking like this may help you enhance your marketing communications considerably and ‘map’ the right donor targets to your charity type.

A few pointers to get you on your way:

Brand projection is vital. Just like people are given and often give themselves an identity based on the newspaper they read if a donor makes a commitment to you what does that say about them? Amnesty, the National Trust, and World Wildlife Fund are examples of national/international organisations which can deliver a very strong ‘self-identity’ and sense of community to donors. However, regional, local, and specific-issue charities can tap into this need particularly effectively.  In your fundraising communications try and get the attention of people who might see themselves as on the edges of your ‘club’ already or who may want to look like your average donor.

Some charities may be primarily campaigning organisations with an intellectual viewpoint such as the British Humanists Association. Others support quality Arts performances and spaces.  However, those charities which support people who are the most vulnerable in society or have endured trauma and hardship may be most likely to appeal to ‘guilt givers.' What psychological ‘need’ would giving to your charity fulfil from the bullet-point list above? When you know this, you can begin to ‘map’ your charity to potential donors and design your communications to appeal to them.

I’ve only just scratched the surface of the fascinating topic of psychological mapping of donors to a charity for regular giving, but if you’d like to have a no obligations conversation about how this concept could help you, do get in touch by calling 07792 503 815 or email



Natasha McCracken