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Most people who do not financially support any non-profit organizations believe the wealthy need to step up and give to charity so they don’t have to.  A majority of non-donors also have concerns that most non-profits aren’t really solving any problems, and that too much of their money would go toward overhead and expenses to make their gift worthwhile.

At the same time, some desire to help still exists:  most non-donors claim they wish they had enough money to be able to give to non-profit organizations.

Grey Matter Research (Phoenix, Arizona) surveyed a demographically representative sample of 458 American adults who have not made any financial contributions to a non-profit organization in the past 12 months.  (Local houses of worship, such as churches or synagogues, are excluded from the definition of “non-profit organizations” in this study.)

Rather than asking non-donors to detail why they don’t give, the study explored their perceptions of non-profits and giving.  Ron Sellers, president of Grey Matter Research, explained that this is because “People can pretty accurately tell us their opinions, but most people don’t even fully understand exactly what motivates them to do the things they do.  Behavior is often such a mix of different factors that it can be difficult for consumers to explain or even comprehend exactly why they behave a certain way.”

First, note that many non-donors do express a desire to be donors.  Eighty-three percent agree that “I wish I had enough money to be able to give some to non-profit organizations,” including 42 percent who agree strongly, and 41 percent who agree somewhat. 

This may not just be an empty sentiment, either, considering that 37 percent of all non-donors have some type of charitable involvement:  20 percent have made a financial contribution to a place of worship, 19 percent have volunteered with a place of worship, and 15 percent have volunteered their time with a non-profit organization during the last 12 months. 

However, perceptions of what “enough money” means may also vary from one person to the next, considering that non-donors from households earning $100,000 or more annually are just as likely as those from households earning under $20,000 to wish they had enough money to donate some.

Although many non-donors wish they could support non-profits, most also believe the onus should not be on people like them to provide this support.  Eighty-one percent of all non-donors agree with the statement, “People who have a lot of money need to step up and support non-profit organizations, rather than people like me providing the support.”  Forty-five percent agree strongly with this statement; another 36 percent agree somewhat with it. 

This perspective does vary considerably by household income; while 61 percent of the lowest-income non-donors agree strongly with the statement, only 16 percent of those earning $100,000 or more share their belief.  People under age 35 are particularly likely to feel this way, and politically liberal non-donors are far more likely than conservatives to hold this opinion strongly (55 percent to 32 percent). 

Four out of ten non-donors agree with the statement, “Any gift I could afford to give to a non-profit organization really isn’t enough to make a difference.”  Only 10 percent agree strongly, while another 29 percent agree somewhat with the statement.  Again, people from households earning under $20,000 annually and those from households earning $100,000 or more are equally likely to hold this perspective.

Non-donors also express a number of concerns about non-profit organizations.  For one thing, 61 percent say “So many non-profit organizations are asking for money that it’s just a turn-off,” including 20 percent who agree strongly with this, and another 41 percent who agree somewhat.  Complaints about this increase as age increases.

Fifty-eight percent of non-donors also believe “If I gave to a non-profit organization, too much of my money would go toward overhead and expenses to make my gift worthwhile.”  Twenty percent feel strongly about this, with another 38 percent agreeing somewhat. 

Efficacy also concerns many non-donors.  Fifty-seven percent worry that “Most non-profit organizations don’t actually solve any needs or problems – they just provide short-term solutions and the needs or problems are still there.”  Eighteen percent agree strongly with this statement; another 39 percent agree somewhat with it. 

In total, 34 percent of all non-donors agree strongly with at least one of these three concerns about non-profit organizations, while 85 percent agree strongly or somewhat with at least one of these statements.

With so many people harboring concerns about non-profits, it may be no surprise that only 34 percent feel strongly that “If I wanted to support a non-profit organization, I am confident I could find one that would use my money wisely.”  Another 47 percent are willing to agree somewhat with the statement.

While over eight out of ten non-donors want people with “a lot of money” to step up and help out, much less common is the perspective that this is the government’s job.  Thirty-eight percent feel that “I pay taxes to provide government services for people who have needs, so I don’t also need to give money to non-profit organizations” (12 percent agree strongly, while 26 percent agree somewhat).  Non-donors who describe themselves as politically liberal are far more likely than others to hold this opinion (26 percent agree strongly, compared to 5 percent of moderates and 10 percent of conservatives).

Also relatively uncommon is the perspective that “In general, people need to get through challenges on their own without help from non-profit organizations.”  Just 6 percent agree strongly with this, while another 24 percent agree somewhat.  Still, only 25 percent disagree strongly with this statement, showing that many people harbor at least some doubts on this topic.

Ron Sellers, president of Grey Matter Research, noted that the findings in this study demonstrate that reaching non-donors is a highly complicated matter, given all the various obstacles their perspectives present.  “There are some industry consultants who act as though they have a magic bullet for attracting people to give,” Sellers said.  “Maybe that would be possible if there were only one perceptual obstacle.  But non-donors often hold a combination of opinions that act as barriers to getting them to give.”

“A majority of non-donors feel it should be someone else’s responsibility to support non-profits; someone with more money.  The problem is, even the people with more money often claim they don’t have enough to give, or that whatever they could afford to give wouldn’t be enough to make a difference,” he continued.

Sellers also pointed out that non-profits themselves may not be blameless for the fact that many Americans aren’t providing any financial support.  “Most non-donors have at least some concerns that non-profits aren’t really solving any problems, or that they’re not using the money efficiently.  And only a third feel confident they could find a good one to support should they wish to do so.  The industry needs to address these perceptions if organizations hope to have much success turning these non-donors into donors.”

The study was conducted by Grey Matter Research, a research and consumer insights company located in Phoenix, Arizona.  Grey Matter has significant experience with research related to non-profit organizations, with numerous donor-supported organizations as clients.  The sample of 458 adults is accurate to within ±4.6 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level with a 50 percent response distribution. 

The study was conducted in all 50 states.  Respondents’ age, education, household income, geography, racial/ethnic background, and gender were carefully tracked and weighted to ensure appropriate representation and accuracy.

Copyright ©  Grey Matter Research
All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Author Biography

Ron Sellers
Web site: Grey Matter Research
The primary research mind behind Grey Matter is Ron Sellers. Ron has 24 years of experience designing and conducting research that makes a difference. Thirteen of those years were spent running Ellison Research, which he acquired in 2008 and rebranded into Grey Matter.

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