Donor Motivation not Donor Education

DownloadedFileMotivation not Education“.  I found this saying while at the website doing some research on a new presentation on Activism and Fundraising.  In my opinion, there are many parallels between activism and fundraising but this saying struck me as perhaps the most apt.  Our job as fundraisers, much like the job of the activist, is to get people to do something.  To act.  In the case of an activist campaign that action might be to show up for a protest, or sign a petition, or call their congress person.  As fundraisers, we want people to give money, volunteer, call their friends and get them to attend an event.  Through cultivation we lower the barriers to act until the desired action takes place.  We motivate.

However, all to often we spend the bulk of our time educating people and hoping that education will lead to motivation and action.  We give them facts.  We give them things to read.  We sit down with them and try to persuade them.  We generally push information at them.

As campaignstrategy.or points out in reference to activist campaigning:

Education…is a broadening exercise. It uses examples to reveal layers of complexity, leading to lower certainty but higher understanding.


Campaigning maximises the motivation of the audience, not their knowledge. Try using education to campaign, and you will end up circling and exploring your issue but not changing it.


Fundraising works in the same way; it’s not an educational experience or an “oral argument”.  Yes, people will almost certainly be educated about our cause as we cultivate and build relationships with them, but education is not the primary purpose.  Good fundraising is action oriented.  As fundraisers, we get our best results not when we try to persuade and provide endless amounts of information, but when we “show” and motivate.

So, how do we motivate people?  People tend to believe and place the most value on their own experiences.  If they can see that your organization is effective because they have met your clients, your families, etc. that is much more valuable than reading about them or watching a video.  Likewise, if you can let them see and experience for themselves the impact of a previous donation this increases the motivation to give more.

Finally, “the act of doing” is in itself motivational and leads to more action.  Always give your donors a clear action they can take whether that’s donating, a Facebook like, or volunteering.  Don’t just send them an endless stream of information but provide no way to act.

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