Charities play a very important role in addressing some of the world’s most pressing problems. They often do so by relying on people to give money with no tangible reward; while many people do this, acquiring enough funding is often a major challenge for many charities.
In this study the authors undertook what is called a ‘meta-analysis’, which is also known as an umbrella review, or overview of reviews. This is a very useful strategy to answer specific questions where a lot of different research has been undertaken. This article provides a summary of 1,339 studies involving over 2,139,938 participants to determine what interventions work to increase charitable donations.
The analysis found that organisations can increase donations through four methods:
- emphasising individual beneficiaries,
- increasing the visibility of donations,
- describing the impact of the donation, and
- enacting or promoting tax-deductibility of the charity.
The following shows which strategies were found to increase donations, and which did not.
Strategies that successfully increased donations
- The ‘pique’ technique: where a strategy is used that piques donor interest
This can be done by asking donors for unusual amounts of money (17c instead of 10c). People were more likely to stop and look more closely when an odd amount of money was asked. This strategy increased both the number of people who gave money, and how much they gave.
- Describing a needy recipient
People were more likely to give a larger amount of money when the recipient was shown to be ‘needy’. In addition, when the text said that the problem was severe, and calamitous (such as with a natural disaster), people increased the size of their donation.
- Identifying a victim
Donation size also increased when the request showed a single, identifiable victim, rather than statistics or multiple victims.
- Demonstrating tax deductibility
The authors found 69 studies which looked at whether tax deductibility of a donation made a difference to donation size. They found that a tax deduction of $1 resulted in an extra $1.44 being donated to charity. This was particularly important when it came to whether people were willing to give bequests. However, surprisingly, people on high-incomes were not any more or less concerned about tax deductibility than people with lower-incomes.
- Seeing others donate
When people see other people acting in socially beneficial ways they are more likely to imitate those behaviours. This holds true for donation behaviour: studies found that seeing other people donate made individuals more likely to donate as well.
- Being observed
Individuals are more likely to donate when they are observed. The more people are observed (e.g., by being seen by more people, or over repeated periods etc), the more likely they are to donate.
Strategies that did not increase donations
- Matching donations
There was no significant increase in donations when people were told that their donations would be matched.
- ‘Door-in-the-face’ strategy
This strategy is used when someone initially asks for a very high donation (e.g.,’ will you donate $1000?’) and then asks for something less (e.g., ‘how about $10?’). Studies found that while people said they would be more likely to donate if someone used this strategy, they did not actually donate any more in practice.
- Repeated opportunities
Donors actually gave less when they knew they would have multiple chances to donate.
- Asking individuals with more money
People who had more money were likely to be less generous than those who had less money. While people with more money may donate more in absolute terms, they usually donate a lower percentage of the money they have than people with less money.
- Legitimising paltry donations
When phrases like ‘event a penny will help’ were used, people were more likely to donate but actually donated less. This meant that this strategy did not result in an increase in donations on the whole.
What does this mean in practice?
The authors provided four recommendations for organisations trying to increase their donations from supporters.
Help donors feel confident
- Increase confidence by showing other people giving donations
- Particularly try to show other people who share a similar identity to the target audience. E.g., if you want scientists to donate more, show other scientists donating)
Provide donors with meaningful rationales for why donations are needed
- Demonstrate the benefit of donating
- Identify who the beneficiaries of the donation will be
- Pique a donor’s interest via odd requests (e.g., 13cents), as this seems to help prompt conversations about why the donation is needed
- If potential donors think they can make a difference, they are more likely to donate
Help donors to look good in front of others, but beware side-effects
- People are more likely to donate when they are observed
- People are more likely to donate when their donation size is identified to recipients
- However, be careful as this can also prompt guilt or social pressure
- Instead, communicate generosity as a way of facilitating pride and self-efficacy, to minimise taboos around talking about donations, and as a way of establishing a social norm towards giving.
Seek and advertise tax deductibility
- People are more likely to donate when the recipient offers tax deductibility; seek this out and then advertise it when acquired.
- Your organisation can and should raise more money from major donors: Here’s how Oxfam did it
- Tips for Fundraising
- Fundraising: Start Here