Is Your Fundraising Appeal Turning Off Your Donor?

Most nonprofits love statistics. They remind staff and board members why their work matters.

And statistics can be helpful when reporting outcomes or applying for grants.

But using statistics can actually hurt your fundraising appeals. Statistics can turn a emotionally compelling fundraising appeal into a total bummer.

In one study by the University of Oregon, two groups of potential donors were each asked to give money to help end hunger.

  • The first group was asked to give money to help a little girl suffering from hunger.
  • The second group was asked to help same little girl, but were also told about the millions of other children also suffering from hunger.

The results were surprising:

Even though the second group was presented with a greater need (millions of hungry children), they gave half as much money as the first group.

Their conclusion is that people give less when presented with big problems.

But why?

Donors prefer a fundraising appeal that makes them feel good

Why do people who are naturally endowed with rational thinking give less when presented with statistics demonstrating a huge need?

We give because giving feels good. We get a little rush of endorphins every time we help others, volunteer at a homeless shelter, or give money to a starving little girl.

But statistics in a fundraising appeal can put a damper on those good feelings.

According to researcher Paul Slovic, the good feeling from helping the starving girl gets contaminated with the bad feeling about millions of starving people:

“If our brain … creates an illusion of non-efficacy, people could be demotivated by thinking, ‘Well, this is such a big problem. Is my donation going to be effective in any way?'”

Statistics, while very compelling, actually compete with the good feelings that your fundraising appeal produces.

Donors give because of how awesome it makes them feel. Statistics make donors feel less good, causing them to give less.

Do you use statistics to motivate donors? Are you unknowingly turning off your donors? See for yourself by testing an appeal that tells a story about one person, sans stats.

John Haydon