The Summer Olympics are a worldwide celebration of physical fitness, sportsmanship, and athletic achievement. While the entire multi-week event is unified under the Olympic brand, the Games themselves consist of a spectrum of activities, providing something for everyone to watch and enjoy. We might sometimes tune in because it’s the Olympics and we just want to see what’s on. Other times, we tune in to watch a sport we care deeply about.

This Olympic structure brings to mind one of the central principles of donor motivation. Research shows that donors make contributions out of a combination of loyalty and passion. In other words, all contributions are at least in part due to the fact that donors feel a degree of loyalty or commitment to the organization. But contributions that fall on the passion-based side of the spectrum tend to be directed toward something specific, and they are usually driven by meaningful life experiences that have created strong emotional connections. Donors find greater joy and meaning from contributing to projects and programs that relate to their areas of philanthropic passion.

When donors are contributing meaningfully, it tends not to be TO the organization, but THROUGH the organization.

If the Olympics didn’t exist, some of us might have little inclination to watch diving, or fencing, or badminton. But during the Games, we may take time to watch them simply because they are part of the Olympics. Yet, others of us care deeply about these same sports; they may remind us of childhood or college experiences, personal achievements, important friendships, and more.

The same concepts apply to philanthropy. While the organization is important, the specific project or program is what drives passion and meaning.

As you share the amazing work your organization accomplishes daily, remember that different projects will inspire different potential donors. Therefore, it is essential to learn what each donor finds meaningful and tailor your approach so that each is able to make a difference, be inspired, and find true joy in giving.