I Choose, I Belong, I Give

on in Fundraising

Active involvement = Greater Donations.

Long known in the nonprofit world (and realized through the implementation of volunteer programs, site visits and the like), this maxim was recently re-proven from a different vantage point through an academic experiment described in the Business Section of last Sunday’s New York Times.

When people had more control over where their donation was going – even if they chose not to exercise that control and simply gave a general donation – they still gave more.

The very fact of being given the option to choose, increased their donation.

Pretty profound.


The experiment, conducted by Catherine C. Eckel, Jonathan Meer, both of Texas A&M University, and David Herberich, now of BeyondCore, involved giving to a university.  Randomly-chosen donors were given the choice, via an e-appeal, of donating to a specific academic college rather than the university as a whole.  While probability-wise there was very little difference in the experimental group’s giving history, those offered the choice gave much higher amounts, even if they ultimately chose to donate to the general fund.

Just being given a choice – being involved in determining where their gift was going to go – increased their donation.

What’s the takeaway for us toiling in the trenches?

That when a donor walks themselves into a gift – makes their own choice about where and how and when – that sense of ownership over the giving process, in and of itself, can lead to an increased gift.

We know how to do that, right?  Active listening, drawing the donor out, presenting options that calibrate with the donor’s values and priorities.

Now this didn’t lead non-givers to give – the experiment found no impact on the probability of making a gift.  But it did lead those inclined to give, to give substantially more.

What’re we waiting for?

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