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Faith & Fundraising: Lessons from Philanthropic Psychology - A Talk by Dr. Adrian Sargeant

In this episode, we feature Dr. Adrian Sargeant, co-director of the Institute for Sustainable Philanthropy, as he gives his keynote address at the Petrus Development Conference in June.  Dr. Sargeant shares his research about donor motivation and identity, and he discusses how we, as development professionals, can use his findings to increase giving to our parishes and ministries.  

Show Notes


Dr. Adrian Sargeant comes to the Petrus Development Conference to share his experience in harnessing the power of donor motivation and identity in fundraising.  Dr. Sargeant has significant experience teaching about philanthropy and fundraising, and he has authored several fundraising books including Building Donor Loyalty:  The Fundraiser’s Guide to Increasing Lifetime Value.  


NPR Experiment

Dr. Sargeant explains the donor motivation research he conducted with NPR.  By changing the scripts NPR team members used with call-in donors, Dr. Sargeant’s team was able to isolate word choices that encouraged larger gifts from donors.  By telling callers that a supporter similar to themselves had just made a specific generous donation, the NPR station received larger gifts.  To create successes similar to those in the NPR experiment, Dr. Sargeant encourages organizations to determine key identities that are important to their donors and to then highlight those identities in all manners of their fundraising (e.g. direct mail, telemarketing, etc.). 


Moral Identity

After listing all kinds of identities that might be important to donors, Dr. Sargeant spends a lot of time discussing the power of moral identity in fundraising.  Moral identity has two parts, one grounded in how moral donors feel at the time they make their gift AND a second grounded in how moral they would ideally like to be.  Dr. Sargeant shares data from additional NPR experiments to demonstrate how moral adjectives (e.g. caring, compassionate, generous, honest, hardworking, kind, etc.) in fundraising inspire donors to be even more generous.  


Emphasizing Donor Wellbeing

When organizations emphasize and understand donor wellbeing there is again potential to increase donations.  New donors gain satisfaction by knowing their gifts are making a difference for the people who are served by the organization.  As donors mature in their giving, however, they also benefit from connecting their gifts to their own personal wellbeing.  Dr. Sargeant shares ideas about how ministries can deepen relationships with donors by focusing on what donors need in terms of connection, autonomy, competence and other aspects of wellbeing.    


Integrating Identity and Wellbeing

Dr. Sargeant offers specific tips on how to integrate identity and wellbeing in our fundraising efforts.  When we know who people are when they give, we, as fundraisers, can tailor our development campaigns to help that kind of person experience wellbeing in their giving.  To close, Dr. Sargeant highlights the importance of love.  Love of mankind is the root of philanthropy, and successful fundraising campaigns emphasize love over money.  


Closing Notes

To view Dr. Sargeant’s slides from his conference presentation, please click here.


For more information about Dr. Sargeant and the Institute of Sustainable Philanthropy, check out the Institute’s website at  


If you’d like to join Petrus for its next annual conference, RAISE23 in the summer of 2023 in Louisville, KY, visit the following link for more information:  Register early for a discount. Now through July 15th, you can save 15% off of your registration to RAISE23 by using the coupon code GROW 23.  We hope to see you there! 


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