• Jason C. Smith

Motivations in Giving: Using the Enneagram to Connect



Saying that fundraising is about relationships is not exactly shocking; we talk about this to the point of exhaustion. But understanding and practicing this reality are different things.


As fundraisers, our objective is to creatively cultivate relationships that are genuine and fruitful for everyone involved. We achieve this only when we take time to discover our donors and identify what Chris Voss calls “the emotional underpinnings of their position.” (Never Split the Difference).

When we really know people in this way, we can lead them to discover the missional hopes and projects that resonate most with their hearts and minds.

Always looking for a fresh tool to further discover the heart and motivations of others, we explore the Enneagram as a lens to understand donors. The Enneagram has made its way through so many areas of culture: leadership, self discovery, spiritual growth, among many others. So why not fundraising? The Enneagram provides a perspective about those with whom we interact in a way that promotes compassion, understanding and connection.

What is the Enneagram? The Enneagram is a model of human psyche that is framed as a typology of nine interconnected types of personality. Its roots are ancient and applications endless. To explore the Enneagram more, we recommend a visit to The Enneagram Institute.


What follows are some observations on how our philanthropic partners, based on their Enneagram type, might approach our mission and initiatives. This can inform the way we thank, recognize, and connect with our partners. In short, we can use these insights to customize our donor’s experience of our organization.

Type One

What excites them about a project: Motivated to edit what’s broken in their lives and the world around them, Ones will be most excited about a project that is righting a wrong. If you can accurately and clearly demonstrate how your program will fix a system that is less-than-ideal, you will resonate with this donor.

What will likely NOT matter to them: How your proposal or approach makes them feel. An extravagant gift to make them feel good could very easily be seen as wasteful.


Questions you should be prepared to answer: Is the money being used efficiently and honestly?


Type Two

What excites them about a project: Motivated by a desire to meet the needs of others, a Two will be animated by your team’s ability to serve the many needs of your constituency. The degree to which your work is holistic (meeting social, physical, spiritual, economic needs) will be compelling because it will demonstrate sensitivity to a whole person or whole community in need.


What will likely NOT matter to them: Data and the way you have engineered the program model.

Questions you should be prepared to answer: Are you treating people with dignity? Are you building an authentic relationship with me? Did you listen to me?


Type Three

What excites them about a project: Winning. If your mission is best-in-sector on a particular service, lead with that. Show Threes that the organization is willing to take risks on big solutions and are set on winning the battle for your mission. Threes will be in your corner.


What will likely NOT matter to them: Your ability to prove the integrity of your data. The feelings of competing organizations.


Questions you should be prepared to answer: How does this work compare in effectiveness and reputation to the non-profits others in their network are supporting. Can the solution go big?



Type Four

What excites them about a project: Focused on uniqueness and creativity, Fours will be moved by the way you showcase the beauty of your work. With a desire to express their own unique perspectives, Fours should be invited to share their own story and passion for your work.

What will likely NOT matter to them: Your ability to “scale up” your work. This hints at mass production and mass production is a turn-off to a Four.

Questions you should be prepared to answer: Have you considered the individual needs of those in the program? What makes this work different?


Type Five

What excites them about a project: Insightful and idea-driven, the sensibility of your project matters to a Five. Given all the noise (usually coming from extroverts) about a given social phenomenon, demonstrate to a Five that your organization’s approach is well designed and research based.

What will likely NOT matter to them: Unnecessary conversations. Appeals or narratives without ideation or data.

Questions you should be prepared to answer: How did you vet other possible solutions to the problem? How do you measure the ROI?


Type Six

What excites them about a project: As someone deeply loyal and protective, a Six will find your project and organization compelling if it offers a safeguard against risks. Insurance for micro-enterprise? Another layer of steel on a water retention area? Stronger helmets for the ropes course? Back-up pumps? All of these make sense to a Six.


What will likely NOT matter to them: Presenting your organization as the hottest, newest approach to a problem; best practices and safety matter to the Six.

Questions you should be prepared to answer: How are finances managed and protected? Questions of sustainability and stability.


Type Seven

What excites them about a project: Fun-loving and versatile, the Seven wants to see their gift result in celebration and observable joy. Engage Sevens in the celebration of life that your organization produces or evokes, and the donors will take the party (and your organization) to the next level.

What will likely NOT matter to them: Research methodology. Filling out the forms and administrative processes related to their gift. Too many of these and you’ll lose their attention.

Questions you should be prepared to answer: How are we honoring the workers in the field? Is there a way to experience the work first-hand?



Type Eight

What excites them about a project: An opportunity to stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves. If you are ending injustice or, better yet, fighting injustice, Eights will jump in. Do not mistake their no-nonsense approach for a lack of desire to be exceedingly generous.


What will likely NOT matter to them: Your efforts to tend to their feelings about a project. They will not like spin, finesse, or the indirect approach. Expect a hesitation to vulnerability.

Questions you should be prepared to answer: The questions they ask. You do not have to wonder what they are thinking or challenges they have. They like to be asked direct questions and be given direct answers.

Type Nine

What excites them about a project: Collaboration. Nines wants to draw multiple organizations and leaders together to achieve a harmonious result. Programming that requires substantive input and inclus


ion of those being served will excite the Nine.


What will likely NOT matter to them: How fast the project is moving. Competition with other organizations (Nines have less interest in winning at anyone else’ expense).

Questions you should be prepared to answer: What is your organization doing to partner with other organizations with a similar focus? How is this project bringing peace?

WHAT NOW?

There are many models available to better understand people and the Enneagram is a powerful tool in the tool box. The Enneagram is not the only way and it does not exist in a vacuum. It is not even precise! But it’s an insightful approach to help you grow in relationship with others (and better understand yourself). Ultimately, it should help you serve your donors in a way that honors them best.

Finally, a fundamental question you may be asking: how do you find a donor’s Enneagram number? Great question. Like any person about whom you want to learn more, the process of learning a donor’s Enneagram type grows the relationship in and of itself. Your efforts here will demonstrate a desire to know a donor as a unique individual with a particular lens on their giving.


Want to chat about using the Enneagram in your fundraising work? Email me directly at jsmith@seedfundraisers.com


Cron, Ian Morgan. The Road Back to You: an Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery. InterVarsity Press, 2016.


VANCIL, MARILYN. SELF TO LOSE, SELF TO FIND. WATERBROOK PRESS (A DIVIS, 2021.

Voss, Christopher, and Tahl Raz. Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as If Your Life Depended on It. Random House Business, 2017.


Enneagram Assessment - Your Enneagram Coach, assessment.yourEnneagramcoach.com/.

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