Motivation Social Psychology

Ep 204: The Psychology of Fundraising

How do you use psychology persuasion techniques to get people to contribute to your cause? That’s what I discuss in this episode of The Psych Files – the psychology of fundraising. I’m trying to help my friend raise money and in doing so I employed a number of persuasion strategies to get people to help him out and I’m sure these ideas will be helpful to you as well. We’ll look at how Robert Cialdini‘s ideas can be applied to fundraising and we’ll look at other topics you may have studied in a psychology class: goal setting, bystander apathy, and the need to generate excitement in order to persuade people to part with their money (social contagion). I’ll also look at the ethics of all this. Is it okay to use these strategies on people? When is it not okay? Hopefully an interesting and useful episode up ahead.

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Robert Cialini’s Principles of Persuasion Applied to Fundraising

    • Consistency: Remind people of the things they like, things they value, that are similar to idea behind your cause. Ex: Hello sir/madam. Have you ever had a pet? (allow the person to bring up memories of their favorite pets. Well, we’re raising money for the XYZ Pet agency!” people like to be consistent with other things they have said or done in their lives. Also: in the middle of your campaign you might want to return to people who have already contributed: “You’ve contributed before, so clearly you value [our cause] why not contribute again?”
    • Liking: We all are more likely to do favors for people we like. Projecting a likable persona is important to anyone who is trying to persuade other. Make sure that the people doing the fundraising are likable folks who are, if possible, also similar to the people you’re asking money from.
    • Authority: We feel better contributing to a cause if we hear that some other, well known and knowledgeable person has already endorsed it.
    • Scarcity: Make sure to have time limits on your campaign by which time people have to contribute. You can even set “subgoals” for your campaign: “Our goal by the end of the campaign is X thousand dollars but tonight we’re trying to raise X hundred dollars by midnight. There’s only Y hours to go – contribute now!”
    • Social Proof: Mention how many people have contributed, see if you can get “phones ringing in the background”, everybody is doing it!
    • Reciprocity: see if you can give away even a small, insignificant gift. People feel compelled to return the favor.

Tag and Thank“: a) shows you that similar to you (or perhaps even your friends) have contributed and b) adds in a little social pressure: “My friends are doing it so I guess I better because it’ll be embarrassing when I meet them and I haven’t contributed or we’ll have something to talk about when we meet.”

Prime the tip jar”. Priming the tip jar with money is an example of social proof at work. If your cause needs more than just change – and people have contributed $5, $10, $20 or more -then you might want to put large bills in that jar. This creates a social norms indicating that larger sums of money are what other people are doing and is the amount that is “expected” in this situation. More info on how to increase tips can be found in this episode: The Psychology of Tipping

The Fundraising Methods That Worked Best in 2010 and Could Work Best in 2011

Goal Setting Theory and Fundraising

    • Set high but achievable goals
    • Set specific goals
  • Get feedback on how you’re doing toward your goal

Indiegogo is a fundraising site similar to Kickstarter (though more oriented toward musicians) which tries to help people set realistic goals: Indiegogo takes 4% of the amount you raised.  If you fail to reach your goal, then they take 9% of whatever you raised. Why? To get you to set a realistic goal.  If you say you’re going to raise $10,000 even though you know you won’t get that much, Indiegogo will take more of your money than if you set a more realistic goal like, say $10,000. Example: goal is too high: $10,000. You raise $5,000. Indiegogo takes 9% = $450. Goal is realistic: $5,000. You raise $5,000. Indiegogo takes 4% = $200. “If I put in a lot of effort to raise money I’ll be rewarded (by the money of course), but I’ll also avoid a punishment (the 9% I’ll have to pay Indiegogo)”


    • Foot in the Door: “Thanks so much for contributing $5! Clearly you share our values about…we’re almost closing in on X$, since you’ve contributed 5 would you consider contributing $10? (connections to Cialdini’s idea of consistency as well)
    • Door in the Face: “Will you contribute $100? No? Okay, how about $20?

Those with the necessary social leadership skills might find it easier to use their persuasion skills during a fundraising campaign. These skills give you a better understanding of how people react to different scenarios. If you have earned a Bachelor of Arts in Human Services Administration, for example, you would have the management and organizational skills needed to run a campaign and appeal to people in the right way. A degree such as this helps you to better understand your donors, giving you the opportunity to better relate to everyone that you speak with as you raise funds for your cause.

Emotions and Fundraising

  • Emotional Contagion (Hatfield, Cacioppo, and Rapson): plan a big event with lots of people and get them excited (have a band perhaps).

Ethical Considerations with the Use of Persuasion Techniques for Fundraising

    • Ask Yourself: What’s your intent?
    • Ask Yourself: Will what you’re doing make that person feel good about their interaction with you? Or will they feel bad about it?
    • Are you using the techniques to move people to do something that they might have already done? Or that they feel good about having done?

Also Mentioned in this Episode

    • I used a new and very cool writing/brainstorming/thought organization tool called Ginkoapp during the recording of this episode. What a neat tool. Check it out.


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1 Comment

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    September 26, 2013

    Your article is really insightful! Thank you! Picked up some really good pointers. While your insights on reciprocity may partially answer my question, would love to hear your thoughts on the below scenarios.
    1) Is it more effective doing a fundraiser using fund models like say, than straight up asking people to donate money. (I have to give some money back to pay for the tshirts.)
    2) If i offer people the following options, do you think i can raise more money than just without incentive to dish out more on the last option. eg: Option 1: Basic Donation $10, Mid tier donation $20 and VIP donation $50 (With VIP donation we will give you a free t shirt (Value $20) to show our gratitude.)

    Really appreciate your feedback.

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