Fundraising Psychology 101: What Is It? Plus 3 Strategies You Can Use

As nonprofit professionals, we “make the ask” at one point or another. But asking someone to donate to your organization can feel overwhelming.

That’s especially true when we don’t know why someone says “yes” or “no.” When we feel left in the dark, the process becomes infinitely more intimidating. 

So that begs the question: what is fundraising psychology? And how can you use it in your nonprofit fundraising campaigns? 

We’re diving into it here:




Is There a Psychology Behind Fundraising? 

It seems like such a simple concept, right? Someone asks someone else if they wouldn’t mind giving some of their dollars. 

But what if it stopped there? 

What if there was nothing else that came after saying, “Can you spare a few dollars?” 

Nothing like “for a good cause.” Or “it’s for charity.” 

Odds are people are more likely to hang onto their money if they don’t know what the few dollars are going toward. 

That in and of itself is the psychology behind raising funds. 

And just like there is sales psychology in the for-profit world, there is charity psychology in the nonprofit sector.


But Why Does Knowing About the Psychology of Giving Matter? 

When you are aware that there is a psychological premise behind fundraising, raising income for your organization becomes much easier. 

That’s because you understand why something is happening! 

And once you know what does drive someone to donate, you can use that information within your fundraising campaigns. 

Don’t worry! It’s not unethical. It’s simply using the science of the human brain to effectively convey the needs of your nonprofit organization. 

But fundraising psychology is powerful stuff. So be sure to only use this power for good! And as a nonprofit, you’re doing just that as you use the funds to make more of an impact in the world. 


Fundraising Psychology 101: 10 Reasons Why People Decide to Donate to Nonprofits

There are multiple reasons why someone might decide to donate. And because the human brain is a complex place, the reasons may change from one person to another.

But psychologists have done a lot of research, and they’ve honed in on the major reasons why people choose to give to a nonprofit organization. 

Those usually come down to: 

  1. They know of the nonprofit’s mission and projects, and they know it does great work. 
  2. They’re aware of the nonprofit after seeing it online.
  3. They believe that their donation will be used to further specific projects or programs in the nonprofit.
  4. The nonprofit is crystal clear on who they help.
  5. They know someone who has benefitted from the organization. 
  6. They want to memorialize a loved one.
  7. They want to find a community within the nonprofit, including through a monthly donor program.
  8. Someone they know who already gives to the nonprofit has asked them to give, too. 
  9. They want the tax deduction from donating.
  10. They feel good or better if they’re able to help. 


3 Fundraising Psychology Strategies You Can Use to Connect with Your Donors and Drive Donations:

It’s one thing to know why someone donates. It’s another thing to determine fundraising psychology strategies throughout your nonprofit organization to boost donations. 

Try using these 3 strategies to start: 


1. Lead with Emotion, Then Follow Up with Logic

Humans innately make decisions based on emotion first. Emotion is the driving force no matter if they’re purchasing a product or they’re donating to a nonprofit.

But, before they hit that “buy now” or “donate today” button, there’s always a pause. Because while emotion drives them first, logic quickly follows behind. And their logic makes them take a second to understand what they’re spending their money on. 

You can use this on your nonprofit website, on your donation landing pages, in your social media captions – everywhere you show up! 

Appeal to their hearts, first. Then back up those emotional claims with proof. Use statistics and testimonials where possible to communicate clearly how your emotional claims are true. 


2. Get Specific to Paint a Clear Picture in Their Head

So, how do you appeal to their hearts? By painting a clear picture in their heads of what’s happening as it pertains to your nonprofit’s mission.

Are people going without clean drinking water? Are children unable to get quality education because there aren’t programs in their communities? Are dogs facing euthanasia and in need of adoption? 

Whatever it is, here’s what you do: you take the problem your nonprofit is addressing. Then, you narrow in on one aspect of it. 

So get as specific as you can for two reasons:


1. It paints a clear picture in their minds. People, whether they want to or not, tend to live in bubbles. So if someone has clean drinking water, it’s hard to believe that others in the world do not. Paint that picture so they can see what you’re talking about. 


2. When you get uber specific in your painting, you reduce the possibility of “psychic numbing.” This is the idea that a problem is so large that makes your reader feel overwhelmed. That keeps them from connecting with the situation at hand, and they “numb it out.” 


As an example, rather than talking about an entire nation of people who are going without clean drinking water, talk about one community. Or even one family. That’s easier for your potential donor to wrap their mind around the problem. 


3. Find Words That Spark Drive for Your Nonprofit Copywriting

We’ve talked about it in our article on copywriting for nonprofits. And it’s true here, too. There’s a good reason for that! Copywriting actually uses a lot of fundraising psychology strategies, too. 

So, as you’re writing anything for your nonprofit, like blog posts, the organization’s website, social media captions, and emails, try using words that spark drive and motivation. 

But what are the words that encourage that motivation to give? They typically belong to a few categories: 



People are procrastinators by nature. So without a time limit, they’ll think, “Oh I can do this later!” 

The problem with that is they won’t. That might be because of a few reasons like they got busy and forgot or they talked themselves out of it (remember that logic we talked about?). 

So, let them know you need help sooner rather than later. Use words in your nonprofit copywriting like: 

  • Give today
  • Donate now
  • Don’t wait
  • Immediate attention
  • Hurry
  • Latest
  • Against the clock 



As we mentioned in our article on what to consider for a monthly giving program, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs says that a sense of community is important for humans. 

To give your readers a feeling of exclusivity for being a part of your community, use words like: 

  • Exclusive content
  • Members-only
  • Insider
  • Founding member
  • VIP



And many people want to know that they, especially if they opt for recurring giving, can change their minds. These words also imply that your nonprofit is trustworthy! 

So try using words like these in your nonprofit copywriting:

  • Trusted by
  • Easy
  • Cancel anytime
  • Change your donation amount anytime
  • No questions asked
  • Endorsed
  • Backed by

Understanding why someone makes donation decisions makes fundraising much easier. And using fundraising psychology strategies for your nonprofit can lead to more connected supporters and an increase in donations!

Topics: psychology of fundraising