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Donor Motivations for Giving Vary with Income and Education

Resource Center - Foundation

(Oct. 27, 2009) A new analysis by the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University has revealed that income and education have more of an impact on donor motivation than regional trends and values.

Despite some longstanding perceptions that people in different regions of the United States are more or less motivated to give to charity based on differing underlying values that might be specific to a region, research seems to prove otherwise. While there are differences in the percentage of people who select different motivations within each region of the country, those variations can be explained by regional differences in income and education, not underlying values specific to the region.

Understanding Donor Motivations was funded by CCS, a national fundraising, consulting and management firm. The report draws on data from more than 10,000 households to examine charitable giving and donor motivation for giving.

The study finds that 18 percent of donors said that the single most important reason for giving to charity is to help meet people's basic needs, such as for food, shelter, clothing, and heat. That motivation was followed by "making the world a better place," which was identified by 17 percent of donors as their most important reason for giving.

"Research repeatedly shows that higher income and higher education levels are associated with a greater likelihood of giving to charity and with higher average gift amounts," said Patrick M. Rooney, executive director of the Center on Philanthropy. "With this study, we find that the ways donors describe their giving motivations also vary with income and education. This has implications for fundraising messages in all their forms."

One of the most significant findings is that donors in different income groups identified different motivations for their giving:

  • Among lower-income donors (income less than $50,000), the phrases that resonated as a motivation for giving were helping "to meet basic needs" or "helping the poor help themselves."
  • Donors with income between $50,000 and $100,000 were more likely than donors in either higher or lower income groups to say that they gave to "make the world better."
  • Among donors with income of $100,000 or more, the phrases selected as motivations for giving included "those with more should help those with less" or "making my community better."

These income differences in the motivations selected were statistically significant and took into account differences in education level, marital status, and age so as to isolate the effect of income differences on motivations.

"With the growing diversity of donors, it's important that fundraisers learn as much as possible about donor motivations and why they want to give," said Paulette V. Maehara, CFRE, CAE, president and CEO of AFP. "This is another important piece of research that can help fundraisers develop better and more appealing communications to reach different segments of their audience."

To read more about the findings of Understanding Donor Motivations conducted by the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, visit or click here.

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