Why will some people give to your crowdfunding fundraiser, while others won’t? The psychology of charitable giving provides some clues. Use the following insights to help you create or refine a fundraising pitch that appeals to the greatest number of potential donors.
What motivates people to donate?
Having skin in the game
People are more likely to offer support when they believe they can help solve a specific problem. Merely feeling sorry for someone isn’t enough to inspire action. Even if they empathize with you, if people have no stake in solving the problem, they’ll be far less likely to make a contribution.
What gives someone a personal stake in your cause? It comes down to three things.
How much difference can I really make?
Donors usually take into account perceived benefit to the recipient, as well as any personal cost to themselves. When you ask for support, always add a cost breakdown to give donors a clear idea of where their funds will go and how they’ll be used. Seeing the impact of one’s donation can be a compelling reason to give.
Do I know you?
People help people in their social circles—friends, family, neighbors, colleagues, community members. That’s why it’s so vital to share your fundraiser with your own social network—the people most likely to donate to your fundraiser.
You’ll know if I do (or don’t) donate
Sharing your fundraiser on social media isn’t enough. When asking for a donation, reach out directly to friends and family. “Knowing that you know that they know” boosts their sense of personal responsibility. Psychologists studying why people donate to charity found that the primary reason is simply “because they were asked by someone”—someone they knew, who asked them directly.
Getting that warm glow
Beyond having a stake in the outcome, people want the warm, fuzzy feeling you get after doing a good deed. We’re wired for that warm glow. It’s a feedback mechanism for prosocial behavior, a combination of empathy and pride.
Altruism makes people happy. One study from Sage Journals looked at what happened when someone was given an allowance to spend only on others. They felt happier than those who could only spend an allowance on themselves; such is the power of the glow.
Surprisingly, those with a lower personal stake in your cause can actually get more of this feeling when they donate. If you want people outside your immediate circle to give to your fundraiser, this can be an important motivator. Make the promise of that feeling more obvious, and you can increase the chances that someone, somewhere, will donate for a hit of the warm fuzzies.
Research suggests that people will try to avoid unpleasant feelings of guilt at all costs. But even guilt can be a force for good. In fact, just anticipating guilt positively predicts several types of prosocial behavior, including “donation intentions.”
Granted, you don’t want to guilt-trip your friends and family. But you can clarify what’s at stake. The better you explain how their contributions will help, the greater their sense of personal responsibility—and the more likely they’ll be to rally to your cause.
Four psychological tools to boost donations
1. Frame the ask
Donors’ willingness to give is dependent on the frame of mind, which in turn is determined by how you ask for a donation. A Stanford study tested this theory by posing questions designed to foster two different mindsets, “one that leads to the consideration of feelings and emotional meaning derived from an action, and another that leads to the consideration of economic utility.” It turns out that asking “how much time would you like to donate” instead of “how much money would you like to donate” generates more donations from test subjects.
Why? Donors asked for a monetary contribution are put into a transactional mindset. But ask them for their time, and they think about the experience of volunteering, which conjures up feelings of altruism.
The takeaway: How you pose a question can have a significant impact on someone’s intent to give. When making your ask, try to frame it in a way that triggers donors’ philanthropic impulses – even if you’re asking for money.
2. Name names (and make it personal)
A named person (or group of people) is more likely to inspire action than a nameless one. A University of Pennsylvania study, for example, suggests that it’s easier for people to value the life of an individual who they can readily identify with than it is a statistical group of victims.
It’s far easier for donors to give when the recipients are familiar. To encourage more donations, approach potential donors on a personal level. Give as many details about yourself or the beneficiary as possible, to help donors feel emotionally invested. If your fundraiser is for multiple victims of a tragedy, try to relay as much as you can about each person involved.
3. Let them know you’re almost there
Another study found that the closer a fundraiser is to meeting its goal, the more likely people are to donate. This idea of tangibility increases perceived impact, “the perception that one’s involvement will make a difference”—and motivates people to donate.
To increase your fundraiser’s momentum, ask those closest to you to make their contributions early on. Setting your fundraising goal relatively low can also give your fundraiser a tangibility boost. Remember, you can always increase your goal at any point.
4. Complete the circle of empathic joy
To retain donors, it’s vital to post updates to your fundraising page. Updates make donors feel valued, allow them to follow your progress, and see how their contributions are helping. It all adds up to what researchers call empathic joy.
Include a breakdown of costs with each update, so donors can see how their funds are helping. And make sure to thank your donors. Your gratitude will heighten their emotional reward, increasing the likelihood that they’ll give again.
When you’re creating your fundraiser or optimizing your crowdfunding strategy, use these insights and tips to tap into your largest potential pool of donors, then activate them in an effective and meaningful way.