Understanding donor Psychology – a new natural language processing technique

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Kayleigh Philps

Written by Wood for Trees Analyst, Kayleigh Philps

Who gives to charity? Don’t overthink it, just say the first thing which comes to mind. Perhaps your first thoughts are about what they look like; maybe someone older, female and has a certain “well-off“ appearance which comes with living in a Sonar affluence category 1 (“Affluent”) postcode. Alternatively, maybe you thought about what they do; perhaps they’re your core regular givers who began supporting in the 1980’s and have paid £5 a month ever since or they’re your serial eventers who turn up to every local event come rain or shine.

At Wood for Trees, we put a lot of effort into understanding who supporters are; what they look like (geodemographics), how they like to give (financial data) and what else they do (additional data sources; using the service, rehoming pets, volunteering etc.). Transforming this data into actionable insight is essential for boosting fundraising potential (good for charities) and helps craft a great supporter experience (good for supporters), which in turn helps sustain a longer relationship between charity and supporter (good for charities and supporters).

Understanding how someone behaves when they support a charity is essential, and yet perhaps this is only one piece in a larger puzzle. How did they come to support the charity in the first place? What was the reason for making that gift? What drove them to volunteering? Why did they take part in that event? Understanding these ‘why?’ questions can unlock crucial insight into donor behaviour. If we understand the primary motivation for giving to the charity in the first place, we’re better equipped to craft a supporter stewardship program which aligns with their initial reason for joining. A better supporter program leads to happier supporters, which leads to continued giving, which leads to more fundraising income, resulting in a big jump towards the charity’s goals.

To answer those ‘why?’ questions, we turn to Philanthropic Psychology. This relatively new branch of Psychology seeks to understand the science around why people give to charities. Broadly speaking, it states there are three key drivers.

Firstly, our personal identity, how we see ourselves and how we want others to see us, motivates us to act in certain ways. Those who see themselves as a “cat person” or “dog person” may give to animal charities as a way of supporting a charity they love. which speaks to who they are as a person. Animal charities may benefit from appealing to these personas as they act to celebrate the individual donor and promote the charity mission in unison.

Alternatively, our relationships with others may drive our charitable behaviours. Supporters may take part in an event to fundraise for a loved one who has benefited from a charitable service in some way; be that a friend or family member, or even a pet who’s received some form of treatment. That close relationship with another has driven some sort of charitable behaviour and in turn helps us feel more connected with that individual; benefiting the relationship and charity simultaneously.

Lastly, the environment around us can stimulate charitable behaviour. In reading a particularly powerful piece of mail or watching an impactful TV campaign episode we may be drawn into the content, recognise the need of the cause and understand how we can help make a difference by following the call to action. Perhaps we’ve spoken with an incredibly engaging, knowledgeable face-to-face fundraiser who’s convinced us to start a regular gift. These situations we’ve found ourselves in were the drivers behind our actions, without them we wouldn’t have engaged with the charity or mission.

Gaining insight into the key motivator for each supporter enables the creation of a better supporter experience. For example, if we understand certain supporters take part in our events to fundraise for parents who’ve been affected by certain conditions, we can tailor communications to align with this motivation and make explicit how their fundraising is helping their parents, and many other parents just like them. If a portion of our regular givers support because they’re a dog person through and through and want to campaign for the welfare of all dogs; celebrate this persona in the messaging they receive.

To get under the skin of motivations in more detail and explore how we can unlock this key lens, at Wood for Trees, we’ve been undertaking a feasibility study in the realm of event supporter motivations. We’ve used JustGiving stories from a range of charity supporters and crafted our own, first of its kind, natural language processing technique. This method taps into the core elements of each of the three key motivations and scores each supporter story to understand the key driver for participation.

We’ve written a detailed whitepaper on this new text analytics process. It contains more information about working with text data more generally as well as specific findings from our study on motivations, and how this insight can be used at both strategic and tactical levels. Still want to hear more about this new text analytics process or just want to talk about supporter motivations and donor behaviour more generally? Please brighten up my inbox with a note, I’m by my own admission a bit of a data geek but do love to chat! Contact me, or the rest of the team, here.