In Anna Prior’s Wall Street Journal article “How Charities Can Get More Out of Donors,” I learned that the emotional ask—sharing heartwrenching descriptions of people in dire need–isn’t as effective as it once was. What is? “Trumpeting the fact that the charity got a gift from a big-name donor.” Experiments cited in the article proved the point. Bill and Melinda Gates open checkbooks. Why? “Because it’s so hard for individuals to evaluate charities these days,” Prior wrote.
The issue of the effectiveness of public recognition–even for smallish donations–show that the probability of giving was 13 percent + for alumni who were told their donations over a certain amount would be published in a newsletter vs. 11 percent for those who weren’t. Further, contributions were $8 more on average with the former group.
For those who resent paying for overhead–large executive salaries, meetings at resorts or fancy office furniture for example–a study showed that those told that every penny they donated was going to the cause, as overhead had already been covered by previous gifts, tended to give more.
“As part of the research,” wrote Prior about a study conducted by Uri Gneezy, Elizabeth Keenan and Ayelet Gneezy at UC San Diego’s Rady School of Management, “they sent 40,000 solicitation letters to people, divided into four groups. One group received a standard letter asking for money, the second got a similar letter saying a private donor had already given seed money to the cause, and the third group’s letter noted there was a matching grant available. But the fourth group got a letter telling them that the charity had already secured donations to cover its overhead costs, so every subsequent dollar donated was going directly to programs.
“According to the study, 8.55% of people in the fourth group donated, compared with 4.75% in the second group and 4.41% in the third. And total donations for the fourth group were $23,120—almost triple the first group’s $8,040, and nearly double $13,220 in the second group and $12,210 in the third. ‘The average donor doesn’t seem to care about the size of the overhead, as long as they aren’t the one paying for it,’ says Mr. Gneezy.”
Prior also covered what’s most effective for in-person solicitation. No surprise that those outside a store got more when they asked for it than those who silently stood by a bucket. The question charities need grapple with is: when does aggression become an annoying turnoff?
There’s also pressure for people to announce their gifts via Facebook, such as offering incentives via matching grants of from $1 to $5 in the donor’s name if givers promote their donations on their Facebook walls. People preferred doing this via Facebook than sending email messages to friends.
Have you been convinced to donate money to a charity based on correspondence; seeing on social media that a friend or colleague donated; via requests from friends or colleagues or promises that your name would be publicized as a donor? Do you have your list of charities from which you never waiver? Do you like others to know you are a donor? What inspires you to open your checkbook and what turns you off?