Inspiring Generosity: Insights on Givers and Volunteers


The Generosity Commission is a nonpartisan group of leaders from organizations across the charitable sector who came together to address a sharp decline in the number of donors and volunteers for nonprofit organizations by the U.S.public. In 2021, financial donations dropped to an all-time low, with only 50% ofAmericans giving to nonprofits.

In 2022, Hattaway Communications worked with The Generosity Commission on comprehensive audience research about the current state of generosity in the post-pandemic United States. Although generosity is extremely important to Americans, research showed that giving and volunteering to the charitable sector had been decreasing over the last 10 years.

Our work set out to understand how and why Americans acted upon their generosity and the motivations and barriers to donating and volunteering as well as mapping Americans’ mindsets about giving and volunteering. This work was intended to equip philanthropic leaders and others in the field with tools to better engage new audiences around increasing generosity.

Logos of organizations involved in The Generosity Commission


Hattaway Communications led qualitative and quantitative research for the Generosity Commission that mapped Americans’ mind sets around donating and volunteering. This research explored not only the ways in which people practice generosity but also what generosity means to them, what motivates them to donate and volunteer, what gets in their way, and how people and organizations can better connect with current and potential givers based on what matters most to them.

We produced a comprehensive insights report detailing these findings: How and Why WeGive: Research Insights on the Aspirations and Motivations That Inspire People to Give and Volunteer, which the Generosity Commission made publicly available in May 2023.

Our work is guided by the Aspirational Communications model, which provides a science -based framework to help people communicate with maximum motivating power.

Drawing from motivational, cognitive, and social psychology, the model suggests that people achieve greater levels of interest and engagement when they connect with others on multiple levels: appealing to their hopes and values (aspirational), putting people in the picture (social), speaking to both the heart and the head (emotional), and offering benefits that people understand and value (functional).

Aspirational: What aspirations motivate people to donate and volunteer?

Social: What personal traits define the people who donate and volunteer?

Emotional: How does donating and volunteering make people feel?

Functional: How does donating and volunteering benefit people and the planet?


We conducted a survey that identified audience segments that offered a new way to understand the various mindsets people bring to donating and volunteering and fresh ways to inspire different people to participate based on their attitudes, aspirations, and actions.

Our segmentation study mapped public mind sets toward donating and volunteering to provide fresh, innovative ways of engaging the public in conversations about and actions for generosity in the UnitedStates. Rather than seeing our audience through broad demographic categories, a segmentation study reveals new audiences—defined not by their partisan identification or demographics but rather by their unique motivations, aspirations, and concerns. This helps us tailor and target messages that actually break through the noise, capture attention, and motivate target audiences to meaningfully engage.

These segments were developed based on a series of nearly 50 mindset questions in which respondents were asked to rate on a scale of 1 to 7 how much they agreed with a variety of statements related to donating, volunteering, and other social and civic behaviors, such as:

●     I see myself as a very religious person.

●     I aspire to be a very generous person.

●     Ordinary people like me can’t give enough money to make a real difference.

We identified six distinct giving identities with different mindsets and motivations toward donating and volunteering. Of the six groups, three groups—Connection Seekers, Next-Generation Doers, andCivic-Minded Hopefuls—emerged as especially ambivalent audiences: They held positive attitudes about generosity or took some actions that showed that generosity mattered to them, but they also revealed barriers that held them back from being as generous as they wanted to be.

We chose to focus additional attention on understanding ambivalent audiences—or in other words, those who are “of two minds”–-because guiding people to address, rather than avoid, an issue that creates inner conflicts might encourage them to reconsider their opinions on atopic or make profound changes in their worldview. Therefore, those who feel conflicted about their personal donating and volunteering behaviors might be low-hanging fruit for increasing engagement.

We held focus groups with these three groups to better understand the why behind their mindsets around donating and volunteering and ways to motivate them to act.

Connection Seekers

Our first ambivalent segment, ConnectionSeekers, has a strong desire to be generous, and they aspire to give more in the future. However, their current capacity to donate and volunteer is limited.Their main motivations for donating and volunteering are to make social connections and an impact on the lives of others.

Connection Seekers have some skepticism around philanthropy as well as their own ability to make a difference through their giving. They are the least politically engaged of all the segments, yet they are optimistic about the future.

One recommendation we made was for organizations to better engage Connection Seekers by leaning into their desire to make social connections through fun opportunities to come together. For example, this could include hosting a volunteering event that anyone can join and that includes time for team-building, conversations, or icebreakers beyond the volunteer activity itself.

Next-Generation Doers

We found that giving and volunteering are major priorities for Next-Generation Doers. They are motivated to donate and volunteer by religion and tradition but do not shy away from recognizing the personal benefits of donating and volunteering. They are the most likely of all groups to say they give for self-interested reasons such as impressing others, gaining recognition, meeting new people, gaining new skills, building their résumés, and receiving tax breaks.

Next-Generation Doers see themselves as educators and leaders—wanting to educate both others and themselves. They have a high level of trust in nonprofits, and they rely on trusted sources to figure out how best to donate their time and money.

One recommendation we made was for organizations to draw on Next-Generation Doers’ aspirations to be leaders and their desire for recognition by uplifting their leadership roles within their organizations. For example, organizations could celebrate and reward people for bringing new volunteers to an event or recruiting new supporters.

Civic-Minded Hopefuls

Civic-Minded Hopefuls try to help where they can, and they aspire to get more involved with donating and volunteering in the future. They see the importance of generosity, but they have a hard time translating it into action. It is difficult for them to give due to financial constraints and feeling unsure about how they can make a difference. That said, they are supportive of nonprofits and philanthropy.

Civic-Minded Hopefuls are politically minded and are very supportive of social issues and believe that people should challenge the status quo. They are civically engaged, being one of the most likely segments to participate in activities such as voting, protesting, and other forms of civic action. They believe giving and volunteering are ways they can contribute to expanding social justice. Despite their political concerns, they are optimistic about the direction of the country.

We recommend organizations to lean into Civic-Minded Hopefuls’ passion for social justice by emphasizing ideals and issues that resonate with this segment. Organizations could tell stories about how donations contribute to green policy change or racial justice action to show they are working to make a better world.


Our donor segments offered the Better Business Bureau’s (BBB’s)Wise Giving Alliance the tools they needed to explore donor engagement more deeply in their own research.

BBB’s Wise Giving Alliance survey respondents across the United States and Canada to explore how they feel and think about charity trust and generosity. In light of the significant decline in the number of American households contributing to charities, the 2023 Donor Trust Survey aimed to gain insight into why some donors disengage with charities and explore possible ways to encourage greater participation moving forward.

We worked with BBB’s Wise Giving Alliance to incorporate our donor segments into their survey, adding depth to their results and contributing to the sector’s understanding of the decline in donor participation. By analyzing their results using our donor segments, they were able to see that younger generations are disengaging from charities, and the decision may be driven by their generosity outlook rather than generosity potential. For example, they found that younger participants in the “Next-Generation Doers”segment are relatively less likely to want to give money to a charity, but they are relatively most likely to say they hope to attend charitable events, raise money through their networks, or raise awareness by engaging their networks.

While the problem is complex and there is much work to be done, Hattaway donor segments can spark ideas to engage nontraditional donors…and will help some charities rethink how they engage future givers.
–Elvia Castro, BBB Wise Giving Alliance.

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