Understanding The Personalities Of Your Donors

Using the detailed donor and alumni databases already available to them, for many years non-profit organisations have sliced and diced these lists to examine each possible variable: gender, age, location, affinity groups, marital status, and whatever else. This kind of analysis provides important information on “who” the organisation’s donors are, but only rarely has it helped gain an insight into “why” they donate. This is changing.

Psychographics is an emerging area in philanthropy, defined as “the study and classification of people according to their attitudes, aspirations, and other psychological criteria, especially in market research.” At the recent Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) Asia-Pacific Conference in Hong Kong I presented a section of the topic How to Develop the Legacy Donor Experience: Three Critical Strategies for using Emotion and Donor Insight to Inspire, Engage, and Reassert your Legacy Prospects.

The focus of my presentation was on the psychology of the donor and the exploration of psychographics. Psychographics, used by marketing and research companies for years, was made mainstream recently by the now defunct, as of May 1st, Cambridge Analytica, following their involvement with various elections around the world. Despite the failings of Cambridge Analytica, though, philanthropy still has lessons to learn from psychographics. Organisations understand the importance of grasping all the components of market segmentation. Market segmentation can be divided among demographics, geo-graphics, behavioural, and psychographics. Demographics related items consist of age, gender, income, marital status, or ethnic background; geo-graphics is pretty straightforward consisting of local, regional, national, and or international locations; and behavioural consists of looking at patterns, usage rates, or benefits associated for participation/engagement.

Psychographics is harder to discern because building a donor psychographic dimension profile requires a good deal of data. This type of data organisations do not typically collect. Psychographics involves the examination of activities an individual undertakes, something an organisation is able to capture via an organisation’s associated activities, but it also involves capturing attitudes, and personality and values. Collecting this data on a mass scale is prohibitive, unless your organisation is Facebook. For legacy donors closest to the organisation this type of information is captured via years of contact, but likely not categorised in a useful or useable form.

Notwithstanding the benefits of having select psychographics information available, organisations can strive to have a better understanding of donor personality dimensions through a better understanding of personality traits. A good place to start is Prince and File’s book Seven Faces of Philanthropy. The classifications of the philanthropic faces are derived in part from attitudes and values:

  • The donor who does so because it is a family tradition, i.e. part of the family’s dinner table conversation.
  • The donor who believe giving back is the right thing to do for society.
  • The donor who donates as a devout, it is God’s Will.
  • The donor who looks at an organisation as a good philanthropic investment.
  • The donor who is a socialite and donates because it is fun.
  • The donor who views giving back as repayment for benefiting from the organisation.
  • The donor is altruistic.

These are not mutually exclusive “faces.” Additionally, I know there are the donors who are motivated by the recognition they will receive so their ego is a real driver—it truly is all about them. And there are those donors who have had a life-changing experience who are suddenly overwhelmed with a sense of gratefulness moving them to be philanthropic.

Having an understanding of these various dimensions at the start of cultivating a relationship can prove very useful because there will be clues during the interaction with the individual. It is about looking at things in a new way to unlock opportunities not seen before. For example, the repeat annual donor is typically viewed as a loyal donor. The word loyalty, however, historically was defined via business jargon as a regular shopper—think loyalty card. An individual can have positive feelings without feeling loyalty or make a purchase without feeling loyal to it. Therefore, it may be beneficial to also look at annual donors through the lens of retention. Loyalty is about feelings and retention is about behaviours. Behaviour leads to actions.

Carl Jung, the famed psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, who helped develop our understanding of psychological dimensions stated, “You are what you do, not what you say you’ll do.” If you have ever taken the Myers Briggs personality test you are taking part in an exercise based on Jung’s work and his theory that is rooted in: attention—extraversion or introversion, and orientation to the world—judging or perceiving.

Professors Costa and McCrae further developed Jung’s theory with the five-factor model. The five-factor model is seen as universal, validity tested, and has remain stable for over 45 years. The five personality dimensions are Openness to experience, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism – OCEAN or, if you prefer to be on the water, CANOE.

An individual can be viewed through opposing characteristics within each dimension. Openness is described as: imaginative or practical, interest in variety or prefers routine, and independent or conforming. Conscientiousness: organised or disorganised, careful or careless, and disciplined or impulsive. Extraversion: sociable or retiring, fun-loving or sombre, and affectionate or reserved. Agreeableness: soft-hearted or ruthless, trusting or suspicious, and helpful or uncooperative. Neuroticism (emotional stability): calm or anxious, secure or insecure, and self-satisfied or self-pitying. These traits offer a meaningful system to construct a trait structure in a population. For example, people who are altruistic also tend to be modest and trusting. Altruism, modesty, and trust help define agreeableness.

Thinking of the personality dimensions when meeting a potential donor, especially when compared to an organisation’s current population of known major donors, can provide useful insight. The skill in identifying personality dimensions, however, is one to be continually honed. Because fundraising and engagement is a people business creating this skill and awareness among fundraising professionals is sure to help in the pursuant of the legacy gift.