How negative social proof persuades people not to give

The KISSmetrics blog recently posted 7 Things You MUST Understand When Leveraging Social Proof in Your Marketing Efforts. Social proof — giving people a sense of how they compare do other people — is powerful in any kind of marketing.

Of those seven things, I want to focus on one: Negative Social Proof is Horrible for Persuasion.

The classic study on negative social proof was done at Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona. People were stealing petrified wood.

To discourage theft, different signs were displayed, one of which said:

Many past visitors have removed the petrified wood from the park, destroying the natural state of the Petrified Forest.

When this sign was up the amount of theft tripled. By telling people that many visitors steal, it was making the case that stealing was normal. That made the bad behavior easier for more people. There would be less stealing if the sign made people believe that removing petrified wood was the rarest and most pitiful of actions taking only by the worst of losers, of which there are fortunately few.

We are often tempted to use negative social proof in fundraising. It’s usually statements like these:


  • Nobody gives to support this cause, so please give now.
  • Not enough people are doing their share, but we hope you will.
  • Hardly anyone cares about our cause, except for you.

That’s the equivalent of saying giving to us is a deviant behavior.

The way to use social proof correctly in fundraising is to show potential donors that there are many other donors. That giving to us is a thing lots of people do.

Tell them how much people give. How often. Why they give. How much they enjoy giving. Show pictures of donors. And quotations.

That’s how social proof can power your fundraising. Just don’t go negative!


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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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