File this under “inscrutable donor behavior”

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

It’s hard to find rhyme or reason to donors’ response to our fundraising. But occasionally, there’s an insight. And this is one of them — moral licensing.

Moral licensing says that when people do something good or altruistic, they’re more likely to then do something that’s less good — or even bad. They feel that their good behavior today gives them license to slack off tomorrow.

Think about it. You might tell yourself, “I went to the gym every day last week, so if I feel like doing nothing for a few days, I deserve it!”

Let’s say that someone who has just helped his neighbor change a flat tire suddenly receives your fundraising appeal. Moral licensing may give him “permission” to ignore it.

There’s also a countervailing force to moral licensing, and it’s moral cleansing. In this case, someone who has done something bad will be more likely to follow that act with a good deed.

So, the guy who pretended not to see his neighbor struggling with the flat tire may be more likely to give when your fundraising appeal arrives.

The takeaway is that no matter how persuasive a fundraising appeal might be, we can’t know what’s going on the donors’ heads. This is why fundraising is hard.

But we can test.

For example, some appeals spend too much time flattering the donor with “you’ve been so generous” language. This could get donors thinking, “If I’ve been so generous, no need to give now!” Try cutting back on that kind of language, and instead focus on the need and offer, and see what happens.


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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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