annual fundraising

In 1984 Robert Cialdini wrote a groundbreaking book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, outlining principles of influence that affect human behaviors. Today these principles have been well documented. Trail-blazing research added by behavioral scientists like Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky supports and expands on Cialdini’s principles. No matter how much technology advances, the triggers behind human behavior and decision making remain the same.

These triggers can be incredibly useful to fundraisers.

Ever hear that fundraising is both art and science? It’s true. People won’t generally give just because you’re a nonprofit and do ‘good’ work. There are a lot of nonprofits out there. To get someone to say “yes” in today’s competitive environment means you need to push a few buttons. With intention.

This is not manipulative or sleazy. It’s just smart.

Here are six triggers and some suggested strategies for using these principles of influence in your annual offline and online relationship building and fundraising. For more ideas, join Claire Axelrad for Amp Up Your Fundraising Appeal’s Persuasive Power: Research from Psychology & Neuroscience [free webinar, 9-20-18], where we’ll take a deep dive into smart, research-based tools from the fields of psychology and neuroscience you can use to improve fundraising results.

1. Reciprocity

This is the simple notion that if you scratch my back I’ll scratch yours. Human beings are simply wired to return the favor. In fundraising, this often translates as giving back. When you remind folks they benefited from your services, they’re inclined to pay back the debt they feel they owe. If you suggest to folks they might benefit from your services in the future, they’re inclined to pay the debt forward. It hearkens back to variations on the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Offline Tips: Don’t just take; also give. After a donor makes a gift, and before you ask them for another, offer up some ways they can engage with you that don’t involve money. Do this now, before your year-end appeal is in the mail. Invite folks to a tour. Offer meaningful volunteer activities. Encourage folks to sign petitions or pledges that demonstrate their values. Send them a list of things they can do to serve as ambassadors for the cause. These are the kind of things that will pre-dispose folks to say “yes” to your fundraising call to action.

Online Tips: Help, don’t sell. Give little gifts of content. Think in terms of what Jay Baer calls youtility.” How useful is your content? I’m sure if you look around you’ll find all sorts of valuable, underused content. Stuff your constituents could use. Maybe it’s “Tips to Babyproof Your Home” that you use in a workshop. Or a “Recommended Reading List” you share with participants in one of your programs. Or even healthy recipes your staff shares with one another. Get creative!

2. Commitment, Consistency, Foot in the Door

Folks are social creatures bent on creating and sustaining social bonds. If they’ve said “yes” to you once they’re more likely to do so again to demonstrate their consistency and commitment. Smaller “yesses” turn into larger ones.

Offline Tips: That to which folks commit becomes congruent with their self-image. The simplest thing you can do is remind folks they’ve given to you (or attended your event… or volunteered… or signed your petition) in the past. When folks are reminded they’ve already gone through this decision process they’re more likely to do the same thing again. The human desire to stay committed and consistent acts as a decision-making short-cut you can use to your advantage.

Online Tips: Ask for written pledges. When folks take a stand in writing, it has magical power. So once folks have said “yes” to joining your mailing list or following you, ask them to do something else like making a pledge, signing a petition or contacting their congressperson.

3. Social Proof

When folks believe their peers approve of you they’ll be more likely to approve of you as well. It’s a built-in decision-making shortcut. When everybody (especially those perceived as important and trustworthy) is talking about something, others want to get in on it.

Offline Tips: My favorite strategy is simply asking volunteers and donors to write little notes on your appeal encouraging folks to join them in supporting your cause. Also ask board and committee leaders and existing donors to invite friends to attend your events and give testimonials as to how they first got involved with your organization and why they continue to support you. Include testimonials in your appeal, as appropriate. People will more likely say “yes” to people they know and like. 

Online Tips: Ask current supporters to “talk” about you in their personal social media channels (e.g., Twitter, Facebook, G+, LinkedIn, Instagram and Pinterest) and to share your e-newsletters and blog posts with friends via email and social media. Carry supporter testimonials sprinkled throughout your website, and even on your LinkedIn profile (e.g., “This is the greatest investment I ever made. The staff really knows what they’re doing and use my money wisely. I know it goes directly to help people in need and I always receive reports demonstrating the impact of my giving.”).

4. Authority

Folks inherently trust authority figures. These may be folks perceived as experts on a subject or as having social status.

Offline Tip: Invite respected authorities to attend your events and address the crowd. Caveat: These should be folks who are truly admired, and not politicos who will attend any and every event at the drop of a rubber chicken thigh.

Online Tips: Establish your organization as a thought leader in your field by writing and sharing blog articles and initiating discussions on platforms like LinkedIn. Include your staff’s credentials in listings on your website, and perhaps include a short bio of each of your senior staff. Link to published articles and research papers written by your staff. Seek out influencers in your community or area of work and expertise; ask them to promote your content.

5. Loss Aversion, Scarcity Principle or ‘FOMO’

When folks have FOMO – Fear Of Missing Out — they are wired to do anything they can to avoid this loss. They want more of what there is less of. Scarcity adds value.

Offline Tips: Show donors what they have to lose by not giving. There are numerous ways to accomplish this. One is simply to imply they’ll be failing to fulfill a moral or religious obligation – and won’t get that warm and fuzzy philanthropic feeling. More directly, you can create a sense of scarcity by highlighting a time-limited matching grant, a fundraising deadline, and so forth.

Online Tips: Note that the first 25 people who retweet your advocacy alert will be entered into a raffle to win a prize from your sponsor. Or suggest that everyone who pins a photo of themselves wearing or displaying anything with your name on it will be eligible for a prize.

6. Anchoring

The human brain compares subsequent options with the one that came first and uses this as a means to get the best deal. Kahneman and Tversky found in Judgement under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases anchoring works best when consumers lack solid evidence or knowledge (e.g., what is the appropriate or expected donation amount). It’s really important you give supporters a clue what you need from them.

Offline Tips: Suggest an ask amount or a range of amounts. There are a number of ways to do this. You can base your amount on the donor’s last gift or the average giving within a segment of donors. Or let people know what most people like them give. Another different type of anchoring tip would be to secure a one-to-one matching grant for this year’s appeal and say “This year your $100 goes twice as far!”

Online Tip: Customize gift amounts on your online giving forms. Use different forms for different target audiences. Consider pre-populating an ask amount using a radio button. Test out sorting ask amounts from high to low rather than low to high.

Don’t Just Work Hard; Work Smart!

If you use these principles of influence and persuasion they will significantly increase the likelihood your constituent’s response to your call to action will be “yes.”

Do you have tips for using principles of influence to persuade folks to say “yes?” 

Don’t forget to join us for a free webinar 9-20-18: Amp Up Your Fundraising Appeal’s Persuasive Power: Research from Psychology & Neuroscience.

annual fundraising appeal

Claire Axelrad

Claire Axelrad

Fundraising Coach at Bloomerang
Claire Axelrad, J.D., CFRE is a fundraising visionary with 30+ years frontline development work helping organizations raise millions in support. Her award-winning blog showcases her practical approach, which earned her the AFP “Outstanding Fundraising Professional of the Year” award. Claire runs “Clairification School” online, teaches the CFRE course that certifies professional fundraisers, and is a regular contributor to Guidestar, NonProfit PRO and Maximize Social Business.