What factors truly inspire nonprofit contributors?

December 11, 2014

What factors truly inspire nonprofit contributors?

Understanding the type of message that truly resonates with potential contributors is key to successful nonprofit fundraising. When staff members understand what meaningful to their target audiences, both awareness-raising efforts and direct fundraising appeals can be more successful. Recent research from Paul Slovic, a psychologist at the University of Oregon, has shed light on the types of appeals that are the most effective when it comes to nonprofit fundraising. However, the results aren't what some nonprofits might expect.

During an appearance on Morning Edition, NPR's news program, Slovic said a study he conducted revealed a major divide in the usefulness of different styles of appeal. Slovic charted the reactions of two groups of people, one that heard the story of a young girl suffering from starvation and another that heard the same story about the individual girl, but were also provided statistics about overall starvation rates in that area of the world. The results of the survey indicated that the members of the first group, who hadn't seen any statistics or heard about the widespread problems related to food access, were prepared to give roughly twice as much as the group that saw the numbers behind the individual story.

Emotional connections and rationalization
The difference between the two groups, according to Slovic, was a feeling that the much larger problem simply couldn't be helped by individual donations or the contributions of a small group.

"As the numbers grow, we sort of lose the emotional connection to the people who are in need," Slovic told Morning Edition.

For nonprofits, this suggests that the reliance on statistics, especially ones that imply an incredibly large or insurmountable problem, isn't necessarily the best tactic. There are certainly times when it is appropriate to highlight the enormity of a problem or share in-depth statistics, but the University of Oregon study shows that overusing those numbers can negatively impact contributors.

Content presented by First Nonprofit Group, the leading provider of state unemployment insurance solutions for 501(c)(3) nonprofit employers.

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