Should fundraising smell good?

Don’t you love those weird experiments social scientists do? And the often wacky conclusions they draw?

Here’s a study, reported at UK Fundraising, The power of freshly baked bread to stimulate altruism. A volunteer would drop a glove on the sidewalk outside a bakery or a clothing store. They then kept track how often strangers picked it up and returned it to them.


  • 77% of the time by people outside the bakery returned it.
  • 52% of the time those outside the clothes shop did.

Their conclusion: “spontaneous help is offered more in areas where pleasant ambient smells are spread. This experiment confirms the role of ambient food odours on altruism.”

Okay that’s a little bit silly. A few dozen, or even a few hundred, observed incidents cannot yield statistically significant results. Then there’s the almost incalculable number of potential variables: what else is happening nearby, what the “dropper” looks like, etc. Direct response professionals laugh at this kind of study.

But look for the Shine Object Brigade to spring into action. They’ll look for ways to make direct mail appeals smell good. (Doesn’t work; I’ve tested it.) Or perhaps somebody will invent something called “HTMsmell” so websites can smell good.

Truth is, being kind feels good. Some people know that and benefit from it all the time. Others haven’t yet figured it out. A pleasant smell might put some fence-sitters in an altruistic mood.

But be careful how seriously you take these oddball studies that claim to give us deep insight into human nature.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.

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