Service of Opening Wallets for Charity

January 20th, 2015

Categories: Charity, Fundraising

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?

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9 Responses to “Service of Opening Wallets for Charity”

  1. Jeremiah Said:

    Because of my own experience serving on not-for-profit boards and in fund raising, I have grave philosophical reservations about charitable giving in general.

    Apart from the often discussed rot, waste and corruption in the industry, and from the ego boosting and economic, tax enhanced, benefits the rich receive when they give, why should they be the ones to decide who does and does not get handouts. Wouldn’t if be fairer for “We, the People…” to decide?

    I now only give to honor someone who has died, not to please the deceased– he or she is gone — but to comfort their surviving family, and when giving provides me with a specific benefit equivalent or better in value. I also ignore fund raisers, fund raising literature and make no effort to vet the efficacy of the entity to which I am giving.

  2. David Reich Said:

    Interesting post, Jeanne.

    If I see that Bill Gates has given $5 million to a charity, it tends to make me feel that they won’t need my $10 or $50.

    Learning about what an organization does to help real people is what motivates me to give, all the research you cited aside. But I’ve become skeptical of charities, especially those who spend on fancy solicitation campaigns. It makes me suspicious about how much of my donation will go to fund future fundraising campaigns, which may be benefiting the company running the campaign more than it benefits the charity. And how much of funds raised goes to actual programs that help people, and how much is to cover administration and big salaries?

    And I do not respond well to organizations who constantly call me and then harrange me if what I pledge isn’t big enough. I hate to say it, but I won’t give a penny anymore to UJA because the last time I responded to a call and said I’d donate $50, the caller said “well, last year you gave $100 and we’d like to see you up that amount.” When I said $50 is the best I could do now, the person kept hassling me about certainly you can give more. I finally said, forget the $50. I’m giving nothing. And I don’t answer calls from UJA anymore.

    I do pledge to non-profits I get some benefit from, such as NPR and the jazz radio station I listen to. Maybe it’s self-serving, but I know they need help and I get something directly from my gift — having them remain on the air.

  3. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I tend to have the same reaction that you have–why does an organization that already has a chunk of money need my small amount.

    I end up giving money to new charities if someone I know dies–or the parent of someone I know–and I learn of another charity that the deceased person supported. I am never sorry, until I begin to get their solicitations.

    Same thing happened to me as to you David. I was hounded once by someone representing the college I went to. He insisted I give $1,000. He told me I could put the amount on my credit card [as though that meant I wasn’t spending that amount of money] and he wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. The college ended up getting nothing that year.

    I also give my time to some charities as I find that my skills can be far more valuable to them than the amount of money I would send them.

  4. Merv Kaufman Said:

    My problem is that I suddenly decide that a particular illness or affliction deserves my support, so I contribute some money. Lo and behold, within weeks I begin being hounded by charities representing diseases I’ve never heard of! Obviously, these organizations rent or sell their mailing lists; I’d be naive to think otherwise. But, I have to say, that practice has discouraged me from donating as much or as often to charities I really would like to support.

  5. Jeanne Byington Said:


    After disasters I select what I consider an appropriate broker organization that will see to it that my modest donation gets to those in dire need and then I continue to hear from them. I don’t recall hearing from others though.

    To avoid the irritating situation you describe, a charity should offer an opt-out box where you can instruct them NOT to sell your name and address to others.

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:


    When dreaming about winning the lottery I wonder whether I would share my $millions with organizations that address disease, hunger, education or the arts. It would be a difficult decision. No doubt the wealthy go through similar decisions perhaps determined by a coin-toss. Like you I don’t think that just because someone wealthy supports an organization anyone else should as well.

    And to answer my own question, when once I had a windfall and I donated what for me was a significant sum, I requested not to be identified. So that an incentive to promote my name on a list wouldn’t encourage me to donate–the opposite in fact. Just goes to show that I am statistically insignificant and off trend in this regard.

  7. Judy Schuster Said:

    I give to charities regularly. After spending six years serving as a board member for the Charities Review Council, which serves Minnesota, it seems a requirement. The Council has a strong review policy for charities and I only give to those that have gone through and passed this review. One key characteristic for me is that the charity spend at least 80 percent of its funds serving its intended audience. Minnesotans, as a rule, are generous in this area, and I’m personally very proud of that. I grew up in a family that believed in making regular donations,and I continue to do the same

    For those who don’t have access to the Charity Review Council’s reviews, I’d suggest that they contact the charity directly and request a copy of their annual report. If they do and then are comfortable with what you read, I’d recommend a donation. JBS

  8. Iris Bell Said:

    This is a newsletter I get– They also offer
    a free paper monthly magazine.

  9. Jeanne Byington Said:


    That’s sound advice especially as you studied the subject: 80 percent to the cause. Thanks.

    I knew of one charity that paid a fundraiser a huge sum that turned out to be precisely the amount of money she generated for them–$500,000. Nice work if you can get it, but not good for that charity.

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