Telling donors how much others have given 'brings in more'

If your call centre staff mention donation levels, say Indiana University academics, you can raise almost 30 per cent more

Adrian Sargeant, professor of fundraising, Indiana University
Adrian Sargeant, professor of fundraising, Indiana University

Telling potential donors how much another donor has given can increase the value of their gift by almost 30 per cent, according to research presented at the Institute of Fundraising’s National Convention yesterday.

Two academics from Indiana University in the US – Adrian Sargeant, professor of fundraising, and Jen Shang, professor of philanthropy – presented research into the response to public radio fundraising drives in the US.

Call centre volunteers were given scripts to test people’s donation levels against things that were said to them on the phone.

For the control group, no donation amount was suggested to donors, and they gave an average gift of $87.

In the test scripts, volunteers said that another donor had given one of $75, $180 or $300. The average gift pledged by new donors who heard these figures was $87, $97 and $112 respectively.

Shang said it was nevertheless important not to tell donors to match another person’s gift.

"You do not want to scare your small donations away," she said. "So invite them to join this member in the act of giving."

Sargeant said the research also tested donors’ reactions when they were thanked for being "caring" or "compassionate" in advance of being asked for money.

He said men were unmoved by the added sentence, but female donors increased their gifts by an average of 10 per cent.

"The irony with fundraising is that we do this in the thank-you letters," said Sargeant. "We should do this just before asking them to give instead."

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