Donors are nutty! This might help explain why

by guest blogger George Crankovic, Senior Writer at TrueSense Marketing.

In a logical world, the bigger the problem is, the more donors would give to solve it.

But people aren’t logical. That’s part of what makes us so much fun!

You’ve probably heard about the identifiable-victim effect. It tells us that donors will give more to help a single victim than to help many victims.

The typical explanation is that statistics blunted the emotional impact of the story.

What’s really at work, according to recent research, is donors’ feeling about how much their gifts will do.

In one test, the first group of donors got a photo and story of a poor child. The second group got photos and stories of two poor children and told they could give only to help one child or the other, not both.

Those who got two stories gave less.

The conclusion? When donors get information about more than one person needing help — whether it’s two, seven, or statistics about millions of people — that information discourages them from giving. Donors consider the people who won’t be helped, feel less good about giving, and conclude that their gifts won’t matter. So they don’t give.

What to do? Here are two approaches.


  1. Focus on the human drama, not the scope. It’s a natural reaction to want to make the problem seem big by citing statistics, referring to others in need, showing images of people in crisis, and so on. But that doesn’t work. It doesn’t even work in disaster fundraising.
  2. Present the right offer. The offer you present has to be calibrated to donors’ sense of proportion. If possible, be specific. Say $XX does a specific thing, and make sure that the specific thing is reasonable to your audience. You can’t expect a donor to solve world hunger. But you can expect a donor to help one hungry child when the gift will make a clear, defined difference.


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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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About the blogger

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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