“Glow” Beat Benefit In Fundraising Test

Households whose donors received a “warm glow” message were about 5 percent more likely to give and contributions were 20 percent larger than those who received an appeal highlighting benefits to recipients.

Findings come from the study, “Do Appeals to Donor Benefits Raise More Money Than Appeals to Recipient Benefits? Evidence from a Natural Field Experiment with Pick.Click.Give.” Authors of the study were John List, the Kenneth C. Griffin Distinguished Service Professor at the University of Chicago, James J. Murphy and Alexander G. James, both of the University of Alaska Anchorage, and Michael K. Price of the University of Alabama.

“What we’re talking about is hundreds of thousands of dollars more in the ‘benefits to self’ group versus a control group,” List said during a discussion on the most recent episode of Fresh Research, a podcast by The NonProfit Times. Listen to the full conversation here.

“Just by changing the content of the postcard that Alaska officials typically send, you’re talking about a little more than $500,000 in raised funds,” List said. “It’s at least worth testing to see if your particular donor base is also responsive to such a message. It is consistent with the theory of warm glow,” he said. “I would predict this type of message would be very useful.”

The study also found that women and those 50 and older were more likely to give and provided larger average gifts than others.

In Alaska, residents can choose to donate in increments of $25 when they file for their Permanent Fund Dividend (PFD), which last year amounted to more than $1,600 per resident. Pick.Click.Give is the charitable contributions program.

The study randomly allocated the state’s roughly 290,000 households into either a control group or one of two groups that received a postcard to promote Pick.Click.Give. One postcard highlighted the benefits to the donor, with the message “Warm Your Heart.” The other postcard featured benefits to others, through the message, “Make Alaska Better for Everyone.”

Postcards were mailed during the last week of December in 2013. Donations exceeded $3.1 million from more than 26,000 individuals.