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New research uncovers mindsets, motivations for food bank donors

In the last four years, the food bank donor demographics have drastically changed. The pandemic brought in a wave of younger, more digitally driven donors. At the same time, food banks have been working to find the right balance between need and strength-based messaging in their appeals to better speak to and connect with their donors and the communities they serve.

To better understand food bank donor mindsets today, RKD conducted a survey that asked donors questions about their perceptions, motivations and preferences. We drew insights from nine food bank clients that were diverse in size, location and donor base.

Here what their donors had to say:

How does the state of the economy impact your giving?

First, we wanted to understand how the current state of the economy impacted donors' views on helping others, especially those facing hunger.

Approximately 90% of respondents said that the current state of the economy had no negative impact on their view or on their willingness to give to food banks. In fact, 26.44% of donors said it motivates them to help even more.



What motivates you to give to an appeal?

When we asked donors what motivates them to give to their local food bank, a strong sense of responsibility or duty to help others stood out above all else.

Confidence in the organization’s ability to make a difference and accomplish their goals came in as a close second. This matches the findings from our Solid Gold research, which revealed that an organization’s competence was a key driver for trust and support.



What factors influence your decision to continue donating to your local food bank?

Effective use of resources, trustworthiness and impact ranked among the highest factors that influenced a donor’s decision to support their local food bank. More personal factors, like volunteer opportunities, personal experiences and peer involvement, ranked lower.

Again, this mirrors the Solid Gold research findings that showed donors can have a high level of trust in a nonprofit without having a strong relationship with the organization.



Which of the following scenarios do you believe deserves the most attention and support from organizations working to address hunger and food insecurity?

A child lacking regular access to nutritious meals was by far the highest-selected scenario in this particular response, indicating a strong concern for the well-being of younger populations.

Issues related to gaps in social safety nets, working mothers and seniors on fixed incomes also received notable responses.



Are there specific messages or offers that are particularly meaningful to you?

The most meaningful messages for donors are those that provide clear insight into the impact of their donation. Success stories, match opportunities and urgent appeals also rank high in resonance for food bank donors.



What benefits do you believe you experience when donating to your local food bank?

Many donors were on the same page here, with the vast majority viewing the support of their local food bank as an opportunity to fulfill a sense of purpose and make a lasting impact.



Please select the programs you are aware that your local food bank offers.

Another area we looked to explore was the general awareness of the variety of programs that food banks had to offer.

The top responses centered around emergency food assistance, distribution networks and meals for seniors.

Health screenings, personal finance and sustainability efforts ranked the lowest.



Are there specific areas you’d like to receive educational information about?

On the flip side, we asked donors if there were specific areas they’d like to learn more about. The responses revealed a strong interest in environmental and community-focused initiatives.



So, what does all of this mean for your food bank? We’ve boiled it down into four key takeaways:

1. High trust and satisfaction

Food bank donors prioritize impactful programs and financial accountability. Most respondents expressed a deep sense of purpose and satisfaction with the outcomes achieved.

2. Impact of donations

Donors love to see their impact. Emphasizing success stories and presenting matching gift opportunities resonate strongly with donors. When paired with trust-building elements like evidence of impact and efficient resource utilization, food banks can drive deeper connections with their donors.

3. Education opportunities

Respondents showed a strong interest in environmental and community-focused initiatives, like food waste, sustainability and volunteering opportunities. There is a huge opportunity to educate your donor base further on these areas.

4. Motivation for donor engagement

Focus messaging on donor motivations for heightened engagement and support, including a sense of purpose and responsibility for leaving a lasting impact for future generations.

Eddy Camas

As Vice President, Client Success, Eddy Camas has provided strategic fundraising counsel to food banks, social services and rescue missions nationwide for more than 20 years. He works closely with RKD clients to create integrated marketing plans to increase donations, attract new donors and heighten brand awareness. Eddy is a Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE).



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