4 ways to boost charitable giving in the festive season

By Scott Young

December is perhaps the busiest time of year for non-profits, as it is the 'giving season'.  This is the month when most charitable donations are made and when solicitations need to be at their most effective.

Most of us are simultaneously shopping for Christmas and making quick decisions about which causes to support. So it’s not surprising that charitable giving is among the most spontaneous, emotional and irrational of activities. Consider these examples of typical unpredictability when it comes to giving:

  • The causes that donors support financially are often unrelated to their own perceptions of society’s most important problems.
  • While 85% of people say that non-profit performance is an important criterion for their donations, only 3% actually use performance data to choose which charities to support.
  • When asked, people say that about 6% of their income should go to charity. But this level of donation is more than double the average amount that people actually give (closer to 3%).

These figures show a large gap between intent and action – and a major opportunity for non-profits to gather more financial support.  They also suggest that charitable giving is fertile ground for applying behavioural science to ‘nudge’ changes in donors’ choices and their levels of giving.

Fortunately, a great deal of excellent work has been done, by academic researchers and organisations such as ideas42, to test and document “what works” in this sector.  Here are several themes that emerge:

1) The Power of Social Norms

In charitable giving, we rely heavily on the social cues of others. Thus, solicitations that make references to other givers (number of other givers, their average donation, etc.) are typically more effective. For example, when a radio station changed their script to reference another member’s contribution level, average donation amounts increased by 12%.

2) The Impact of Framing

Behavioural Science teaches us that how you ask a question and how choices are presented (‘choice architecture’) have a significant impact on people’s decisions. In soliciting donations, the most basic principle is to frame the question in terms of how much to donate, rather than whether or not to give.  For example, a recent study revealed that people given eight donation options (including £0) were 41.4% more likely to make a donation than those given a binary yes/no choice.

3) The Importance of Agency

We also know that people are more likely to give more, if they perceive some sense of control (agency) to express their preferences.  For example, a university recently found that when donors were given the option to direct all or some of their gift to support specific programmes, their average gift was over $80 higher than those who lacked this option.  Interestingly, this was the case even among people who chose not to direct their gifts.

4) Make It Easy!

Finally, and most importantly, it's important to take the #1 mantra of behavioural science to heart. We’ve repeatedly seen that even small hassles or points of confusion can create friction that stops people from giving. Therefore, charities are well-advised to focus on keeping it simple: providing important reassurances (about the use of personal information, for example) – and avoiding unnecessary steps or complications. In fact, one effective way of making it easy is to highlight a default option (a suggested giving amount), ideally supported by the social norms cited above (i.e. “Most donors gave this much…”)

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As non-profits head into the holidays, we hope that they will apply these behavioural science insights to make their solicitations more effective – and to help all of us become more generous givers.

For our part at BVA, we will be applying these lessons to a project to increase Gift Aid revenue.  Please don’t hesitate to reach out, if you’d like to learn more.

Enjoy the festive season!

 

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