23/11/2021 | Opinion | Gabrielle Gean

Are Social Causes Enough to Connect with Donors?

As nonprofits, you aim to motivate others to act by eliciting emotional sentiments. Talking about what you’re fighting for through stories are some of the most powerful ways to create connections with donors. However, is that always effective? And what else do you need to include in your endeavour to get donors to donate?

Let’s have a look at African Parks, a South African non-profit conservation organisation that manages national parks and protected areas in the continent. In Q3 2021, they received the largest-ever gift made to conservation groups in Africa – $100 million, which was $35 million more than their previous largest gift.

The major donors behind the transformational gift, Rob and Melani Walton, have been lifelong supporters of conservation and sustainability activities across the world. However, let’s face it – gifts of this large scale are rarely offered to non-profit organisations without a well-known name.

Elephants in the wild

Credit: Horst Klemn

According to Giving USA 2021 Annual Report, public-society benefit is the lowest recipient of philanthropy in 2020 in the United States.

However, the giving trends in 2020 have increased in the environmental rights sector, which makes up of 11.6% of all charitable support. While there are numerous reasons why individuals contribute to non-profits – from solidarity and passion to even less altruistic incentives like tax advantages and name rights – a donation like the one to African Parks is genuinely significant and inspired. And most of all, it powers a “just cause”.

Not Any Cause Is a Just Cause

Simon Sinek, an inspirational speaker, defines a just cause as a forward-looking statement that we devote our entire lives to building because it is the world that we want to live in.

In this case, African Parks hopes to live in a world where the ecosystem and biodiversity are maintained by conserving wildlife and remaining wild areas. A world where all humans play their part to halt the wildlife extinction crisis and experience social mobility within a healthy ecosystem.

According to Sinek, a just cause must meet five criteria. It must be:

  • for something we support and not against something we oppose
  • inclusive for anyone who wishes to join and able to do so
  • service-oriented, so it provides major benefits to others
  • robust to endure economic and cultural challenges
  • idealistic, which he defines as “large, daring, and ultimately unattainable.” That’s right, you read it correctly – unattainable

Striving for the unattainable is what propels us.

In fact, it’s the desirable and honorable effort that motivates such a donation rather than the fulfilment of a social purpose. Isn’t that, when it comes down to it, what charity is all about? Is it possible to achieve a world without poverty, hunger, war, or zero extinction? The pessimist or realist in us says no. But that doesn’t mean that we’ll stop trying.

What drives donors to contribute is they believe in the social cause we’re fighting for. A cause is just when we commit to it with the expectation that others will continue the legacy. That’s exactly what these donors have done. It’s possible that the just cause of enduring protection for threatened landscapes and prevent climate change that led them to donate $100 million. But the most critical factor that fueled their donation was their faith and confidence in African Parks and its leadership.

The Indirect Feeling of Accomplishment from “A Just Cause”

Transformational gifts like these foster a sense of vicarious success of feeling the accomplishments people experience from watching, listening to, or reading about the activities of others rather than doing it themselves. For instance, a sports fan who has felt that profound sense of personal success – the surge of adrenaline and pride – after his or her favorite team wins a big championship understands how this feels. We often yell, “We won!” rather than “The team I support won!” It’s a big part of what keeps fans coming back.

In the non-profit world, many donors are inspired to make a gift because of that motivation. Feeling sorry for someone isn’t enough to motivate them to act. Even if they sympathise with you and have no personal stake in resolving the issue, they are significantly less inclined to contribute. This concept of tangibility raises perceived impact – “the belief that one’s participation will make a difference” – and drives individuals to give.

But motivation and belief alone are not enough.

Donors may be interested in how their contribution benefits anyone, but they are primarily concerned with how nonprofits are using their money and driving the programs. After all, all donations are hard-earned money that could have been utilised in many other ways. Knowing the charities we’re supporting have a passionate mission on what they’re fighting for, and a clear and sustainable roadmap of how they’re solving the social issues are what keep donors coming back to donate.

The beautiful thing about philanthropy is that it’s unbiased. Propelled by the collective generosity of individuals united in their pursuit of a just cause, it permits anyone, with even the smallest donation to have an exponential influence in this world.

Want to learn more about nonprofit storytelling and how to use a just cause to raise more money for your nonprofit? Contact us at [email protected] or drop us a message in our LinkedIn comment section.

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