An ode to the mostly filled thermometer

When was the last time you saw an analog, mercury-based thermometer?  Chances are, it was in a fundraising campaign, indicating how close you were to goal.  Even as thermometers go digital, their ancestors are honored through skeuomorphism* to symbolize progress.

But we come here not to bury the fundraising thermometer, but to praise it.

Specifically, we want to praise how the fundraising thermometer, or a specific state of it, can make people more likely to donate.

fundraising-thermometer-template

Cryder, Loewenstein, and Seltman took a look at how the amount toward goal already raised impacts a person’s likelihood of giving here.

They call it the goal gradient hypothesis: they think that people will be more likely to donate the closer a campaign is to goal.

So they tested this with Kiva, the microlending site that you may remember from such hits as “does being more attractive increase your chances of getting funded on Kiva”?  (Yes, it does.)

They found that when an individual fundraising goal was 0-33% complete, the average hourly progress toward goal was 6.7%.  When it was 33-66% complete, progress was 10.8% per hour; for the final third, it was 12.8% per hour.

So, having the thermometer partial full helped increase fundraising efforts.  This would tend to make sense, since the thermometer is a measure of social proof, a potent persuader.  (It’s the same reason that servers will seed a tip jar with larger denomination bills — it helps set the pressure and the anchor)

Hey, I can hear you yawning.  Yes, I know you aren’t going to be going on Kiva tomorrow.  But we’re just warming up.  The researchers then worked with a nonprofit to mail lapsed donors.  They had three separate goals that they were trying to reach and mentioned that one was 10% complete, a second was 66% complete, and the third was 80% complete.  They also had control conditions where no progress was mentioned.

Sure enough, the 10% and 66% conditions were not significantly different from the no progress control.  However, the 85%-to-goal piece significantly increased response rate (from .5% in the control to 1.17% in the 85%-to-goal version).

They even tested the “why” of this with donor surveys.  They asked people if they would be more likely to buy candy bars from a 7th grade fundraiser if the fundraiser was two bars short of goal or 32 bars short.  Two-bars-left won handily.  Additionally, the donors who chose the two bars indicated they felt like they were having a bigger impact and were more satisfied with their donation.

So, since not everyone can be the donation that pushes you over the finish line, how can you use this?

One tactic is to have a silent period of a campaign.  For online year-end giving, I’ve worked with organizations that will set their goal and their thermometer based on what it will take to hit goal starting from November 1, but only announce the goal and the effort on Giving Tuesday.  That way, their thermometer is at least 20% full when the first donor hits the form.

Another is to ask internal audiences (especially board members) to make the first gifts.  Showing them this research may help them feel like their gift is making a difference by getting others to give more freely.

Finally, you can define down your goal.  The 85%-to-goal condition mentioned above was based on being 85% toward buying a GPS unit for an international relief organization.  This is not a high-ticket item.  By setting the goal low, they were able to talk about 85% complete easily.  This type of microcampaign, repeated writ large, can help illustrate impact for your donors.

So keep those thermometers more than half full and you should be on your way to filling it up the rest of the way.
* A design based on an older version of an item to help people understand the newfangled version.  It’s the reason that email programs look like folded envelopes and your video app probably features an old-school movie clapper.

Thanks to Tim Vandevall here for the thermometer image.


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An ode to the mostly filled thermometer

When does a match light a flame?

We’ve talked about how a lead donation can be as or more effective than a matching gift campaign and how using a lead donation can also calm the overhead related concerns of donors.  

From that, it may sound like I’m anti-match.

 

mission2bimpossible2bfuse2blighting2bmatch2btv

(insert Lalo Schifrin score here:
BUM BUM BABA
BUM BUM BABA
WAHNAHNAAAH WAHNAHNAAAH etc.)

But I’m not.  It’s a widely used tool that I’ve found to be effective in several cases and, unlike most tactics, the donors I talk to also seem to enjoy matching campaigns.

Some research can help shed some light on when to use a match and when not to.  Karlan, List, and Shafir published a study in the Journal of Public Economics (and who doesn’t pick that up for a little beach reading over the summer) looking at match rates.  

Normal studies tend to focus on whether the match works overall: yes it does or no it doesn’t.  This study, however, gives some guidance on when to deploy a match.  It also cross-deployed the match with a test of urgency, which is one of the building blocks of influence.

So there were four test conditions:

  • Matching gift with urgency (with a reply device and PS that said things like “NOW IS THE TIME TO JOIN THE FIGHT!”; you can tell it’s urgent because it’s in ALL CAPS!).
  • Matching gift without urgency
  • Control with urgency
  • Control without urgency

And they did a bunch of other stuff also that is not relevant for our purposes here, including testing different match sizes and timings and such.

The authors found that urgency actually hurt the appeal in many cases (probably, they hypothesize, because there was no particular reason given for the urgency; when it was combined with a match deadline, this negative effect disappeared).

As for the matching gift, there was evidence that it worked, but it only worked for donors who had made their previous gift in the past year.  These donors were 3.2% more likely to donate with a match in place and their average gift went up.  On the flip side, donors who had last given more than 12 months prior had their response rate drop when the match condition was in place.

I mentioned earlier that the donors with whom I spoke seemed to like the tactic and that seems to be supported by this study: active donors do like a match.  However, it seems to bump into trouble when the person has not donated reanecdotalcently.

There’s likely one exception to this (and this is based only on anecdotal evidence, so take this with an appropriate-sized amount of salt).

I have found that people who have given to a match before are more likely to give to a match again.  Thus, if you are suppressing out 13+ month donors from your match campaign, I’d counsel you to leave the ones who have shown the tactic has worked for them.

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When does a match light a flame?

Ask strings and $100: It’s all about the Benjamins, maybe

I, like many, am currently obsessed with Hamilton despite the minor handicap of not having seen it or likely being able to see it in the near future.  (Not shockingly, the idea of someone writing like they’re running out of time appeals to me.)  But the Founding Father most relevant to our work is still likely Ben Franklin.

usdollar100front

Do not reproduce.

In nonprofit work, we tend to view the $100 level as a bit magical.  Once someone makes the psychological jump to three figures, they are likely weighing the effectiveness of your nonprofit and not just the emotion.  Additionally, when someone is giving in the same number of digits, it’s easier to upgrade.  That is, the jump from $100 to $200 seems easier for donors to make than $50 to $100, even though it’s more money to increase.  And $100 donors in acquisition are instant candidates for high-touch treatment, as they are showing significant support of your organization from the start.

There’s a lesser known place where $100 is magic: in your ask string.

Reiley and Samek did a study in which they tried two different ask strings). The first was $35, $50, $75, $95, $250, and other.  The second was the same as the first, but with $100 swapped in for the $95.

Revenue per solicitation went up 29%.  Average gift went up almost 20% and response rate went up 7.6%.  Let me repeat that: the ask string with the higher gift amount in it also had a higher response rate.  This is a rare thing.

The major reason for this, they hypothesize (and I agree), is fluency.  As I wrote in the piece on word choice:

People tend to prefer things, people, objects, etc. that are easy for them to understand. (study here). This is known as the fluency bias. There’s a reason that only eight names cover more than half of our presidents (James, John, William, George, Thomas, Andrew, and Franklin (which used to be a lot more popular than it is now)). Names that are more common help people rise faster in occupations. Believe it or not, stocks that have ticker symbols that can be pronounced as words outperform stocks that can’t be.

So, you would think logically that $100 isn’t the only fluent number.  And you would be right.  Another study looked at whether people were more likely to give $20 or a strange amount like $20.03 (if they graduated from the college in question in 2003).  People were less likely to give the strange amount (although this was not statistically significant at the .05 level).

So remember to create round numbers in your ask strings unless you have a really good reason to: the ease of recognizing and using these amounts will benefit your organization and get you more of those elusive Benjamins.

When you can, see if you can get the $100 into your ask string.  It increases your response rate with no loss in average gifts.  Wins like that don’t come along every day.


 

I’m working on a book on ask strings.  My goal is to make it free to subscribers of my newsletter here.  So if a round-up of the science and psychology of donation amounts sounds interesting, please sign up today.

PPS. Tomorrow would also be fine, as I won’t be done with the book tomorrow, but that lacks urgency, don’t you think?

 

 

Ask strings and $100: It’s all about the Benjamins, maybe

Building awareness versus actually doing something

OK, that headline is harsher than I meant it.  Awareness is a necessary and useful precondition for many nonprofits.  Using an example I know well, drunk driving was a late-night joke just a few decades ago.  It took awareness activities to alert a nation to the fact that it is an unnecessary, tragic, and violent crime.

But does raising awareness sell?  That is, do people want to donate money to raise awareness about an issue or organization?  Or do they want to fund efforts to remediate wrongs directly?  Robert Smith and Norbert Schwarz wanted to find out.

Actually, being good scientists, they wanted to analyze donor’s metacognition about awareness activities vis-à-vis whether the cause was already in the donor consideration set.  Which means the same thing when you translate it into English.

They found three major things:

  • When people knew more about a charity and its work, they were more likely to donate to it and the more they were likely to donate.  The researchers actually manipulated this knowledge in a cool way. They asked subjects questions about what they had read about a charity, but there were two sets of questions: an easy one and a hard one.  The people who got the easy set of questions and thus thought they knew more about the subject were more likely to donate.
  • This result reversed when the charity was engaging in awareness activities.  That is, if people thought they knew all about the charity and its aims (that is, they got the easy questions), they were less likely to want to invest in the charity’s efforts to raise awareness.
  • Looking at actual donations (not just intent to give), people gave far more to help than to raise awareness when they knew a lot about a cause.  They gave slightly more to help raise awareness when they didn’t think they knew a lot about a cause.

This makes a good bit of sense.  If you think the average person (which people usually consider to be a slightly dumber version of themselves) knows about something, why would donate money to raise awareness?  On the flip side, if you felt there was a story that was undertold, that people needed to hear, you might ante up.

This has a major implication for nonprofits as they mature: what got you here won’t get you where you are going.  In the infancy stage of a nonprofit, it is acceptable simply to point at a problem and say “this is a problem; we need to get more people like you to acknowledge the problem.”  However, as nonprofits mature and people are aware of the issue the cause represents, it needs either to adjust its fundraising efforts to focus on what it is doing to solve the problem or to find more obscure areas of its cause to reenergize its donor base.

This also has implications for donor communications: there’s a difference between what you talk about to acquire a donor and to retain one.  That is, people who are your supporters know you and your issues (or, at least, think they do).  They don’t want to support awareness activities for things they think people already know about.  On the other hand, people who are new to your organization may be willing to chip in to help spread the word.

So remember your audience when you are pitching both helping and awareness activities for greater results.

Building awareness versus actually doing something

Time value of donations: I would gladly pay you Tuesday for a warm feeling today

Are you ready to increase your monthly donations?  Can you wait until two months from now?

It’s time for a week of studies of nonprofit direct marketing.  This has quickly become one of the favorite types of post on the blog, so if you don’t want to miss the entries later in the week on ask strings, matching gifts, when to ask to support awareness activities and more, please sign up for my free weekly newsletter.

Today’s study comes to us from Anna Breman of the Stockholm School of Economics (it’s not actually a great school of economics, but the longer they keep you there, the more you believe it is*).

In it, she tries a unique approach to increasing monthly donations that, since the title of the paper is Give More Tomorrow, you can probably guess worked.

 

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Wimpy, Patron Saint of the Time Value of Money

The experiment takes advantage of one of those cognitive biases or heuristics we are always yammering on about (explanation of heuristics here).  In this case, being human means that you prefer immediate benefits and delayed costs.  This is why diets start tomorrow, plasma TVs trump retirement savings, and dentists ask you to commit to a time to come back rather than trusting that one day you will feel like a dentist visit.  It’s also why, in a famous experiment with children, the pull of one marshmallow now is strong even when there is a promise of two marshmallows later.

So what if you could commit future-you to making a monthly donation, but present-you doesn’t have to feel the pain?  It makes a lot of sense, given Benartzi and Thaler’s experience with a Save More Tomorrow plan that successfully asked employees to commit a portion of their future pay raises to savings.

Breman worked with a Swedish charity Diakonia** and their existing bank of monthly donors.  In one group, they asked their sustainers to increase their monthly donation now.  In the other, they asked sustainers to increase their monthly donation in two months.

The increase in donations was 32% more in the group asked to increase their donations in two months.  Part of this was an increase in average donation (19%) and part was an increase in the frequency of donation rate (11%).

And, looking back, the treatment donors were no more likely to cancel or decrease their monthly donation than the control group.  In fact, the long-run effect was slightly higher than the short-run effect.

This seems like a tactic that is easily implemented on the phone.  It would be harder online if you are using an out-of-the-box online solution.  I won’t mention any names (*cough*cough*BlackbaudLuminate*cough*cough*), but some programs are so inflexible you can’t even schedule monthly donations to be processed on a specific date each month, as is common practice for monthly donations.

While the study did not ask this question, I would also wager than donors who increased their giving months down the road were also happier with their decision as a result.  It’s quite common to have stress reactions to charitable asks (even when one wants to give) and knowing that you don’t have to give now in order to have the impact that you want could be soothing.

The next test, I would argue, for academia is whether this technique also works for monthly donor acquisition/conversion.  It would seem that the same logic would apply, but I don’t know of anyone who has tested it.

So, if you are among the bold and fortunate few, can I prevail upon you to share your experience in the comments or to email me at nick@directtodonor.com so that I might illuminate your fellow readers (and myself)?  Thanks in advance and hope you enjoyed reading.


* I just couldn’t help myself for this joke.  I apologize for that joke to you the audience, Anna Breman, the Stockholm School of Economics, any former or current hostages, the people of Stockholm and Sweden, people of Scandinavian extraction, and people who drive Volvos or have Ikea furniture.  Also to Tom Hanks.  He knows why.

** I should also apologize to Diakonia, which does really good work on sustainable development around the world.

Time value of donations: I would gladly pay you Tuesday for a warm feeling today

An short update on promiscuously charitable donors

First, I need to acknowledge a mistake. A much beloved former board member called me on the phrase “charitably promiscuous” on Tuesday. In thinking more about this, this probably should have been “promiscuously charitable” in order to mean what I meant to mean. As it stands, I’m probably going to have some interesting search engine implications for a while.

So I’m leaving it there — as it isn’t my goal to rewrite history — but admit my mistake here.

Second, I received in my inbox Wednesday an email from Apogee talking about results from a new study they did of ten non-profits’ donor bases. They looked at these donors’ behavior in their cooperative. Their results?

“On average, within the past year these 24-month donors have given to 3 charities. Over their lifetime in Apogee, they’ve given to 10 charities.”

“Approximately 70% to 80% of these donors have made a contribution within their core category in the past 12 months, but at least 10% of each organization’s 24-month donors donated to six other categories as well within the past year.”

“On average, only 31% of the total amounts contributed by each organization’s donors were made within category. The percentages fluctuated with 26% being the lowest and 46.5% being the highest.”

The full study is gated, but you can sign up to receive it here.  Don’t worry: there is an opt-out link should you wish it.

So, however you want to say it, our donors give to a lot of different organizations, some related to our cause, some not.  Since I was using older data on Tuesday to make this point, I wanted to give out a quick update.

An short update on promiscuously charitable donors

Breaking down “our donor” barriers within nonprofits: a modest proposal

snakes_on_a_planePeople will generally do what they are given incentives to do.  Try to curtail the snake population by putting a bounty on the heads of snakes and soon people will start raising snakes for the purpose of collecting more bounties.  Then, eliminate the bounty and people will release the multitudes of snakes, leading to the classic Samuel L Jackson gosh-darn-snakes-on-my-mother-lovin’-flying-contraption scenario. This was a real thing

What we’ve talked about this week are examples of incentives at work.  Direct marketers who are measured against a net budget loathe to give up “their donors” to major donor prospecting or try to drive them to events.  Events folks want their walkers, bikers, gala goers, etc. to keep walking, biking, going to galas, and et cetering with no “interference” from those who might try to turn them into institutional donors.  And major gift officers would prefer to have a clean field to solicit “their donors,” turning off the direct marketing that a hundred people choose to give to raise money from the one or two that come out of that portfolio.

We didn’t even mention the digital/non-digital divide, except to say that if your organization has a head of marketing and a head of digital marketing, one of these two people should not have a job or should be reporting to the other.

So how do you create incentives to share your toys with the other children?  The answer lies in transfer pricing.

This is a concept in the for-profit world to allow for transactions between and among business units.  Think of a large oil company, for example, as two different companies: one that finds oil and one that sells oil.*  In order to see how each business unit is doing, the overall company has to figure out the price at which a good is transferred (hence the name transfer pricing) from the exploration folks to the marketing folks.

In essence, the company is buying a good from itself in order to determine its value.  This is the source, as you might guess, of much debate because business unit success or failure is hinged on this number that gets negotiated out.

So the modest proposal for nonprofits is to establish transfer pricing among our various business units and people.  If the major donor officer wants a lead from the direct marketing database, they run the numbers and determine how much they are willing to pay for a lead.  Because this “money” goes into the direct marketing coffers, proper incentives are built up for the direct marketing folks to acquire and nurture potential major donors.

Similarly, direct marketers know to the ha’penny how much they pay for a potential acquisition candidate from an outside list.  How much are they willing to pay for an event donor to the event organizer?  Likewise, how much is the event runner willing to pay for a group of direct marketing donors who model out as likely walkers?  We could see a much more orderly market in these donors, perhaps where 100 walkers are traded for 80 telemarketing donors plus a 7th round draft pick and a ream of copy paper.

And forget about doing e-appends simply because a multichannel donor does better for your organization than a single channel donor.  Why would you do this when you charge the digital marketing manager per lead?  After all, in this brave new world, they would now want to charge you per online donor you try to get to give their next gift offline.

The great thing about this is everyone gets to see either where market value truly is or who the truly great negotiators in your organization are.  The market sets the price for the lead and you either pay it or you don’t.  And if you don’t like the price, then you can try to acquire some other organization’s donors.  After all, they may not have a cause connection to your organization, but it may be worth it to not have to try to pry potential major donors out of the iron grip of the person that runs your Charlotte fashion show event.

It’s only when donors are a commodity with a chattel price that we will understand how important they are to our organization or, more importantly, our various business units.

Because the only alternative – working together with your co-workers, realizing that your cause is a common good to which everyone should strive, and focusing on the donors’ wishes and what optimizes their experience and giving – seems really hard.  Bring on the markets!

* My wife, who is brilliant and has a master’s in oil policy, would want me to say here that everything that I’m saying about the oil business here is vastly oversimplified.  It is and there’s a reason for that: I don’t entirely know what I’m talking about.  To the extent that I do, there are details like the multiple business units of an oil conglomerate and the different types of oil and such that don’t bear on telling a decent story.  These details have been taken out back and shot.

Breaking down “our donor” barriers within nonprofits: a modest proposal