what people are really saying when they ask if their donation will make a difference

More People Give, and Give More, if They See Their Gift as Pivotal

“If I donate, will it be significant?” Important question. Donors ask it. We usually think the way to answer it is, “Yes! Let me tell you about the impact it will make, through the good work of our nonprofit!”

But there are two faces to this question. The first is, “Will my gift be significant in the matter of changing lives or making the world better?” The second is, “Will my gift be significant in this project reaching its goal, or is it an insignificant contribution toward that?” Or think of it negatively. The one face asks, “If I don’t give, will some good outcome not happen?” The other face asks, “If I don’t give, will this good work happen anyhow?” Both are about the significance of the donation, but the first has to do with significance of the donation for what it achieves in this needy world, and the second has to do with the significance of the donation within the pool of donations of which is it a part.

More people give, and people give more, when they believe their contribution is key to reaching the goal, or when they believe their contribution will be the tipping point.

Voter turnout is higher for elections that are expected to be close, than for elections that are expected to be blow-outs. True for voters on both sides.

Laura Gee, a Tufts University professor of Economics, studies this kind of thing. I heard her talk about an experiment that explored this. She and her colleagues partnered with a nonprofit with a big contact list. These donors and potential donors were divided into three groups.

1.      The first group got a simple, straightforward ask.

2.      The second group got the same ask, except with an offer of matching funds. If you give $100, it will be matched and in fact will be like a $200 donation!

3.      The third group was told (not the exact wording) – you are in a group of ten potential donors. If three of you in this group give, the donations will be matched. But if two or fewer give, the donations won’t be matched.

Two findings.

1.      Matching works. Matching pretty much always works. It increases the number of donors and it increases the size of donations.

2.      The third technique worked even better. It doubled the number of people who gave, a much stronger impact than matching alone.

In the world of Christian mission, there was a significant application of this, many years ago. The U.S. Center for World Mission (now the Venture Center) was trying to buy a big property. It needed $16 million. Its strategy was to get one million people to each give $16.95 (if I remember it rightly … the extra 95 cents was for administrative costs and provision of educational materials to each donor).

The campaign dragged on and on. Then a donor was asked, “Would you give $1000 to this?” The person asking knew that would be quite a big gift from this donor. The donor thought about it a minute and replied, “I would give the last $1000.” Thus was born the “Last 1000” campaign. People were encouraged to each give $1000, on the expectation (promise? hope? assurance?) that this would complete the goal and purchase the property.

It worked.

love, joy, peace … Michael

www.michaeljaffarian.com. Michael is a freelance consultant to nonprofits, with an emphasis on research. Contact him for a free, one-hour consultation. emichaeljaffarian@gmail.com.

Vol. 1 No. 27