Get Inside Donors’ Heads On #GivingTuesday

December 1, 2014       Andrew Rothman      

The Tuesday after Thanksgiving is a wonderful charitable antidote to the shopping frenzy of Black Friday and Cyber Monday — with big results. Here are a few tips from the world of behavioral science that will help you make the most of this critical day, #GivingTuesday.

1. Fight Procrastination With Urgency

Let’s face it: People procrastinate. To push them to give ahead of the tax deadline on Dec. 31, create a 24-hour #GivingTuesday goal and inspire your community to reach it. Last year, for one nonprofit, a single goal-focused email outperformed two storytelling emails by 36 percent. And just recently, a dynamic countdown clock embedded in an email for one organization boosted donations by 18 percent.

2. Show That Everybody’s Doing It

Behavioral science tells us that people take cues from what others are doing. It’s called “social proof.” Don’t believe it? Ask yourself how many people you know poured ice water on their heads before this summer’s Ice Bucket Challenge.

You can demonstrate social proof in many ways. The National Philanthropic Trust found that 95.4 percent of American households give to charity, so make sure your supporters know that charitable giving is the cool thing to do. Better yet, show them how many people are donating specifically to your organization with contribution updates in your emails and social posts, or even a live counter on your website.

Even better, show how many people are donating to your organization from their own city or state. If you can localize the social proof, you’re not just showing them that lots of other people are supporting you, but that lots of other people just like them are doing it.

3. Encourage the consistency people crave

People generally have a deep-seated motivation to be consistent with their own past actions and values, or improve upon them. Don’t miss opportunities to remind them of their past support for your organization.

“Supporter record” blocks have become common in political emails, providing info about supporters’ recent contributions (or lack thereof). One organization recently had up to a 200 percent lift in donations from past contributors when including a supporter record block in a fundraising email.

There are also more subtle — yet still effective — ways of reminding people of their past support. Another organization’s most successful email targeted donors from the previous year’s holiday campaign who hadn’t yet given in 2013. A gentle reminder that the organization was waiting for them to continue their annual tradition of support proved to be the nudge they needed.

4. All you need is love

INFLUENCE AT WORK devotes a chapter in the new book, The Small BIG, to the power of invoking love in charitable donation appeals. In one experiment in a restaurant setting, when a server presented diners with their bill on a heart-shaped plate, it increased the average tip by 17 percent compared to a round plate.

Even more relevant to charitable fundraising, an organization that tested the words “donating = helping” and “donating = loving” on collection boxes found that the word “loving” boosted revenue by 90 percent, compared to a 14 percent increase from the word “helping.” During #GivingTuesday, when the focus is on selfless giving as a respite from holiday commercialism, the message of love is particularly potent.

5. Show some gratitude

While Giving Tuesday is all about giving, you should still make sure to show thanks for the support of your donors. A little gratitude can go a long way: Another experiment highlighted in The Small BIG found that a sincere, personal “thank you” from a development director led to 50 percent more fundraising calls made by call center workers during the rest of the day.

Now, the words “thank you” get thrown around quite a bit during the fundraising season, so make sure your efforts to thank supporters are authentic, sincere, and unexpected. When thanking them, don’t ask them to do anything else. Just say “Thanks” with no agenda. Send your thank-you email from an actual person, and make it sound human and authentic. You could even include a special gift or experience, like a video illustrating the impact of your work or thank-you notes from the people helped by your organization.

Once you’ve made your earnest thank yous, don’t be afraid to gently ask donors to give again. Many people are willing to make multiple gifts, especially as the year-end tax-deduction deadline approaches. By showing your gratitude, you’ll make it more likely that they choose to support you again and again — not just on #GivingTuesday, but all year round.


Andrew Rothman is director of communications for Blue State Digital.