How does the hierarchy of needs affect philanthropy?


I will go on record explaining that I am not a psychologist.  However, I came across the work of Abraham Maslow again recently and it got me thinking about people’s desire and motivation to be philanthropic.  In 1943, Maslow developed a theory of the Hierarchy of Needs.  The hierarchy is sequential in nature.  These needs build upon one another and move from basic to increasingly higher-level needs.    Humans focus on basic needs (called Psychological by Maslow) food, water, rest, etc. as their primary needs.  It is only when those needs are met that we move to the next level within the hierarchy, safety.  At this level, thoughts turn to security, health, employment etc..  Once the needs at these two levels are met, you move to the next and so on.

 I had studied the work of Maslow and others back in my college days as part of my education training, but now I began thinking of how the Hierarchy of Needs might affect a person’s philanthropy.  If we were to use Maslow’shierarchy as a tool, we could not effectively reach people in the first two levels of giving with a fundraising appeal.  Their focus is still on basic fundamental needs.  Ideally, we would target those at the top two tiers of the pyramid.  However, this is the smallest group and many never make it to the highest level of development.  So how might a nonprofit use this hierarchy to help improve their advancement program?  A nonprofit should take a multi-pronged approach to donor-base building.  Identifying the Esteem and the Self-actualized donors is important.  These will be those donors with a strong motivation behind their donations.  Beyond identifying this group, work with your donors to fulfill some of the critical needs necessary to move up the hierarchy.  I believe people innately strive for improvement beyond basic needs.  Maslow called this motivation “Metamotivation.” We can foster this metamotivation within our donor base by engaging them at various need levels.  For example, we can help build at the love/belonging level by creating a true community at our institutions which engage, involve, communicate and appreciate.  We can supply the love and family atmosphere that they desire. Beyond that we can treat our donors with respect and show them how their involvement can mirror their need to respect others.  By connecting with the donors needs, we can supply them with their needs, that will help them move up the hierarchy which in turn will put them in a better position to hear and respond to our nonprofit’s needs.

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