What motivates individuals to donate and what doesn’t?

We see it at the end of every year. Pictures of children living in abject poverty. Heart wrenching stories of mothers desperately trying to help their families. But according to an article recently published by the Wall Street Journal, researchers are finding that the emotional appeal isn’t as effective as others to inspire people to donate.

Publicizing contributions from well-known donors.

Research showed that listing the name of a recognized and respectable foundation that gave matching funds improved chances of individuals donating by 22 percent. It also served as a quality check for people who often do not have time to research nonprofits they would like to donate to.

Public recognition for smaller donors.

A study showed that an offer of public recognition drives gifts from smaller donors. Researchers offered to publicize donors in a newsletter that contributed a certain amount to one group and did not give the option to another second group. The group with the publicity offer had a probability of donating at 13.7 percent with an average gift size of $66. On the other hand, those that did not get the offer had a lower chance of giving at 11 percent with an average donation of $58 – a 12 percent decrease.

Stating that donations will not pay for overhead costs.

In the nonprofit realm, we often hear from many individual donors that they want to make sure their hard-earned money will go directly to those that need it, not to pay for executives’ salaries. To test this theory, researchers sent four letters with differing messages to people – totaling 40,000 letters. (1) The first letter had boilerplate language asking for donations, (2) the second letter added that an anonymous person donated to the charity, (3) the third letter wrote there was a matching grant, and (4) the fourth letter said that all of the nonprofit’s overhead costs were already covered and that their donation would go solely to the organization’s program work.

The results showed that 8.55 percent of those that received the fourth letter donated – almost double the second highest letter (letter number two) with 4.75 percent. Further, the total amount received for the fourth letter was $23,120 – virtually double the second highest, letter two at $13,220 and nearly triple the first letter’s total of $8,040.

I hope that these studies help your worthy cause get the necessary funding it needs.


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