That is a question being asked in this informative article in The Nonprofit Quarterly about "What Donors Want."It is a look at calls for more objective data about charity and nonprofit operations and the effect that data has on giving habits. The article makes no definitive conclusion about whether knowing more statistics about how nonprofits operate changes the way people donate, but it does suggest, at least in part, that more stats and numbers about charities is not necessarily going to impact how or why or how much someone gives.
Why? Because studies show that people often give for reasons related to emotion. Here's an excerpt from the piece:
The Center on Philanthropy study, which was sponsored by Bank of America’s Philanthropic Management practice, found that the most important motivationsvii for charitable giving by high-net-worth households were “meeting critical needs, giving back to society, and social reciprocity,” while “charity as making good business sense” was ranked lower on the list.iii A Center for High-Impact Philanthropy study comprised a sample of only 33 individuals—too few to carry any statistical significance.iv Meanwhile, a 2004 attempt by Harvard Business School students to determine what constitutes “rigorous performance metrics”viiiended up being scrapped because the investigators found little evidence to support their initial hypothesis that donors want this sort of information.Organizations like the Better Business Bureau and Charity Navigator rank and rate charities and nonprofits using statistical data to give potential donors objective information about where their dollars will go. And many donors choose charities based on how much overhead the charity may have, how much they spend on fund raising or how often they are "in the red." But one should not underestimate the draw of sheer emotional impact--a big reason why many reach into their wallets to give.
A forthcoming book by Princeton University’s Daniel Oppenheimervi summarizes the research of several prominent social scientists on the determinants of giving behavior generally and finds that “no matter what objective information is available, the large majority of donors will give as a result of emotional or relational factors.” A recent article in The Economist cites a study that found that donors “do good because it makes them look good to those whose opinions they care about”—what researchers call the “image motivation.” And a recent study of 4,000 donors conducted by Hope Consulting found that few investigate nonprofits’ performances, with only one-quarter of them saying they would consider switching their support to different charities if those groups improved in areas donors care about. Only one-third said they’d be interested in giving more if the nonprofits they supported improved their performance.
Nonprofit leaders tend to agree. According to interviews with a diverse group of high-performing nonprofits conducted by one of the authors of this article, nonprofit leaders said that “while it’s nice to have data,” most of their donors continue to give “because of the relationships we cultivate with them.” In fact, almost all said while high-performance data helped enhance their credibility in the business community, it wasn’t instrumental in attracting donors, especially new individual donors. They also said that they continued to believe that ultimately, their financial support was going to come from relationships and “emotional connections,” rather than from data about performance and impact.
So, let's hear from you: Why did you, if you are a Modest Needs donor, choose to give to our organization? And if you donate to other charities, what compelled you to choose those particular nonprofits?
Tell us in the comments.
[Photo by rabbitmatch.org]