By following some simple steps, charities could improve the amount they raise. Flattery and nudging donors are the focus in the second instalment.
Flattery will get you everywhere
Dramatic increases in the amount of money you raise can be achieved by making simple changes in the way you speak to donors and potential donors, according to the fundraising consultant Tom Ahern.
There’s been a tendency in the charity sector, he says, to believe "if we talk about how good we are at the work we do then people will conclude rationally that we deserve a gift or support".
But, he says, that’s not the case. One of the simplest things a charity can do is to refocus the communications it sends – instead of talking about how "we" and "the charity" have helped beneficiaries, communications should be talking about "you" and "donors like you".
The technique works by appealing to the donor’s psychological needs, he says.
"As soon as you start using the word ‘you’, you’re plugging into something that is deeply ingrained in every human’s head," Ahern says. "The word ‘you’ makes us pay more attention and MRI scans have shown it makes particular parts of your brain light up."
And he has seen it have dramatic results, such as at Gillette Children’s Speciality Healthcare in St Paul, Minnesota, which sent out a monthly print newsletter to about 20,000 supporters.
"For many years it had been promoting the quality of the medicine to donors and each time it received about $5,000 in gifts – it wasn’t even paying for its own printing and mailing costs," Ahern says.
When it switched from talking about how great the care provided was to how great donors were, giving went up by 900 per cent to $50,000 in a single issue, and its fundraising has continued at that level ever since.
"Most of us learn that flattery will get you nowhere – but that’s not true: flattery works wonderfully," Ahern says.
Adrian Sargeant, chief executive of the consultancy and research company The Philanthropy Centre, says donors’ sense of wellbeing after giving is about more than the impact on the beneficiary. He says it’s also about their sense of "connectedness" to the beneficiary, to other donors or to the brand.
It’s also about the identities people associate with giving that make them feel good, such as whether they consider themselves to be giving as a supporter, a parent, a cancer survivor, a liberal or just a kind and honest person.
"There are many different identities and, when you understand which ones work, you can audit your communications to ensure you’re talking about the right things in the right way," he says.
And adding a way in which people can affirm that identity as they donate – for example, asking them a tickbox question about themselves – can double the amount given, he says.
Nudge, rather than tell
Meredith Niles, executive director of fundraising at Marie Curie, believes so-called nudge theory can boost fundraising.
Classical economic theory says people are inherently rational and act to maximise their self-interest, but nudge theory argues that our brains don’t really work like that. "Our brains take up 2 per cent of our body mass but consume 20 per cent of our energy, so we have evolved to look for shortcuts that will help us reach a decision without having to think too hard," she says.
"And those shortcuts aren’t random. We all tend to break the rules of the traditional economic model in similar ways – for example, by copying what others do or sticking to default settings."
This is hugely applicable to fundraising, Niles says. For example, nudging people by telling them other people have done something – a technique called "social proof" – can persuade them to act.
The government’s Behavioural Insights Team found telling people that "many people" remember a charity in their wills prompted significantly more others to do so. Examples of nudge theory in the sector include Macmillan Cancer Support’s online donate page, which encourages people to give regular donations rather than one-offs by making it the default setting. But Niles warns that, though nudge theory can deliver better results, it’s not all about quick fixes.