What Really Motivates Your Donors to Give? Listen. Carefully!

An experienced major and planned giving officer called me the other day. He was preparing for a lunch-and-learn with his front-line fundraisers and wanted a refresher on the ‘buying signs’ of a likely planned giver. “You know, the things to look and listen for: retirement age, absence of children, loss of a spouse, recent sale of a business, vacation properties, etc.” Yes, that is the perfect prospect profile, but are they the reasons why these older, wealthy, heirless donors would make a planned gift to your org?  Of course not.  

“You’re an experienced sales guy”, I reminded him. “Fundraising is selling, and we’ve both been through enough sales training to know that to find out what really motivates our prospects giving (buying) decisions, we need to listen. And listen well because at first, they ain’t telling us the truth! Now, just because they aren’t telling you the truth doesn’t make them liars.  They’re just human and the first things they tell us are the things they think we want or need to hear. The good stuff is coming. Just wait and LISTEN.  

It reminded me of a story this same planned giving pro told me about one of his visits just a few weeks earlier: The donor fit the profile.  When they met, the donor quickly got in the weeds: How much for naming opportunities? How much must he give now and how much could he defer? Would it qualify for reunion giving and count towards the capital campaign?  

“Wait!” the PG pro interjected. “All great and important questions. More importantly, why don’t you tell me what you want to accomplish with your gift. Paint your masterpiece. Tell me what that looks like. That’s what’s important. The rest is just details.” And the real reasons (and listening) began… 

Tax advantages, life income and naming opportunities are benefits. They aren’t reasons (at least not reasons at the top of the list) for being philanthropic. Listen long enough and you’ll pick up the cues.

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