Behavioral Science Could Help Nonprofits Be More Effective in Donation Appeals


donationappealBehavioral science studies may be the key to improving rates of charitable giving, a nonprofit organization has said.

The Charities Aid Foundation, which has a behavioral science team performing such research, published a summary of its findings to date in The Guardian on March 23. Its team has found several key points the charity says all nonprofits can use to better solicit donations.

It is important charities understand that donation decisions are emotionally, rather than logically, driven, according to the researchers.

“Many people are … aware that they should donate to the causes that have the highest impact, but facts and figures are less attractive than narratives,” researchers Michael Sanders and Francesca Tamma wrote in the summary. A series of CAF experiments showed that potential donors are far more likely to give when a plea features a single, identifiable beneficiary, rather than statistical information demonstrating the scope of a problem.

Furthermore, the researchers found that statistics on efficacy — attempting to prove that a charity actually alleviates the ills it claims to — do not have a positive effect on giving.

The charity also recommends leveraging personal connections and recognizing the social nature of philanthropy. Other researchers found, for example, that being called by a former school roommate greatly increases the chance that an alumnus will donate to a university.

CAF’s research found that celebrity endorsements, too, can encourage donations. However, this appears to be more effective in drawing in repeat donors who are already involved with a certain charity, rather than in recruiting new donors.


Closing the Gender Gap in Giving

Of course, people have a wide range of motivations for charitable giving. Recent research has focused on, in particular, what can encourage men to be more charitable — since women are currently far more likely to be willing to make charitable donations than men.

One new study, noted in the Chronicle of Philanthropy March 24, found that men tend to favor charitable efforts that focus on children.

Another recent study, carried out by Stanford University researchers and published in the journal Social Science Research, found that men are far less likely to respond to empathy-based appeals. Instead, men are more likely to give based on a principle called “aligned self-interest,” which recognizes how societal problems such as poverty or crime hurt everyone in an interconnected economy.

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