In this article, we’re going to explore ten psychological principles you can use to get your donors to give more. By understanding what makes donors give, you can optimize your fundraising campaigns. These techniques will help you increase donor acquisition, reduce churn, and hit those fundraising goals.
1. Focus on the individuals your work impacts
People are more likely to give when motivated to do so by a specific, identifiable person who is experiencing hardship.
This is known as the identifiable victim effect. In other words, people have been found to have a greater willingness to help a single individual, with a face and name, than an anonymous or vague group of people.
For example, one study, published in PLOS One, found that there was a greater willingness to donate more money "to a single named starving child than to two named starving siblings."
You can take advantage of the identifiable victim effect by being as specific as possible with your campaign materials. Another study found that gifting money to a charity led to an increase in happiness when participants understood that their donation would go specifically toward buying a bed for a child in Africa but not if they were told it would simply go toward the charity's general fund. In other words, they especially explain and show how a single person's donation will be put to work. If you're providing food to your local community, show specific names or pictures of the individuals your donor's gifts help, even if the gift helps more than just that person.
2. Avoid psychic numbing
When people are faced with a problem with a massive and intimidating scope they can start to feel indifferent. This can be an issue, especially since so many of the important causes nonprofits address affect large amounts of people. This phenomenon is known as psychic numbing.
The solution to this takes us back to our previous point of specificity.
People become more insensitive to increases in the scope of human suffering
While it might seem counterintuitive, thinking about large-scale numbers can mitigate our emotional reactions. It makes us think in a more "calculated" fashion, and less emotional, manner. By encouraging people to understand the full weight and scope of an issue might, unintentionally, undermine a donor's willingness to make a gift as a result of inadvertently undermining their sympathetic emotions.
To counteract this, use "smaller," more personal stories in your fundraising copy. Go slowly. Break your messaging up into pieces and make it clear how your donors gifts can make a tangible impact on your work.
3. Let them leave
This also might seem counterintuitive, but one study found that more potential donors gave when they were told that they could cancel their pledge at a later time. So, giving people an easy out actually made it less likely that a donor would reverse their decisions.
Now, this doesn't mean don't thank them! When potential donors were sent a thank you email, the number of people who later backed out of their pledge was cut in half.
4. The martyrdom effect
A study found that "people are willing to donate more to charity when they anticipate having to suffer to raise money." This is referred to as the "martyrdom effect." Basically, people feel better if they have to overcome a bit of adversity to help. They feel like they’re working to contribute to a cause they care about and that their actions are making an impact.
Remember the Ice Bucket Challenge. Well, it wasn't a nice warm bath challenge for a reason.
5. Angry participants donate more
One study found that when "one's donation serves a specific restorative function...as compared to a non-restorative function...angry participants donate more to charity." The condition they found was that the action that is taken would need to "restore the harm done to the victim."
An example of this they used was that a donation would be used by a nonprofit to help specialty crisis centers for women. So, if your nonprofit is able to provide a solution to a situation that makes people angry, let your potential donors know about the problem and that the solution is just a donation away.
6. A sense of belonging
People want to be a part of communities. They want to experience a sense of belonging.
Research suggests that if a person's identity is related to generosity then that may increase their generous intentions. In other words, people who see generosity as part of who they are are more likely to give. Look for ways to foster a community and a shared identity amongst your donor base. The good news is that you're already a step ahead—you all care about your nonprofit's cause.
7. Give them options
Have you been to that cafe where you're asked to vote with your tips? Gryffindor or Slytherin? Cats or Dogs? Ninjas or Pirates?
This experiment was run with online donations to the American Red Cross. Some donors were asked to contribute directly while others were asked to donate by indicating whether they liked chocolate or vanilla more.
The result? People with the choice donated 28% more than those who didn't have the option.
Why does this work? Well, people love sharing their opinion and you benefit from the boost that comes along with providing your donors with an opportunity for self-expression.
8. Giving is contagious
One study found that people who saw others make generous donations gave more themselves. This is perfect for in-person charity fundraising or events where you're asking for charitable donations in front of large groups of people.
Look for ways to demonstrate social proof. Share posts that your donors have made, shout out specific donations or highlight some of your volunteers to get those feelings of generosity flowing.
9. Goal proximity matters
The closer a fundraiser is to a goal the more likely it is that someone will donate.
In other words, goal proximity matters. People want to be a part of a winning team. You can incorporate this concept into your fundraising efforts by reaching out to current donors first and then showing potential donors how much progress has already been made. Alternatively, you might send follow-up emails to one-off donors and suggest that by becoming a monthly donor they can get you closer to your goal.
You can even create these goals yourself. Say you want to have $10,000 in monthly donations. You might currently only have $6,000, but by picking a goal you're already closer to you can increase than chances of getting there than if you picked a higher number.
10. "You" can help
People like to know how they can make a difference. This has been a theme throughout many of these points. People want to see how their gift can make an impact, and they’re more likely to give the closer they’re able to feel to a cause.
A study found that the use of second-person pronouns, such as “you, your, yours” (see what we did there in the title of this) was associated with ~10% increase in engagement.
When you use second-person pronouns, people feel like you’re speaking with them. It’s not every donation helps, it’s your donation helps.
So, use “you, your, yours.” Give the people what they want and show how their donation can make a difference in the world.
You’ve got this. We know you do.