The Nonprofit Marketing Blog

How to Get Donors to Relate to Your Nonprofit—And Give More

Giving is personal. The closer we feel to a cause, the more likely we are to give.

Group of Friends

Photo credit: Big Stock Photo


Just how much do personal connections influence giving? That’s the question Rebecca Ratner, Min Zhao, and Jennifer Clarke explored. They found that when people have a personal connection to a cause (or know someone who does), it can lead them — and others — to be more supportive. The researchers delved into the nuances of this “norm of self-interest.” What they found is incredibly important.

In one study, research subjects were told different stories about a college student. In one case, the student’s parent suffered a heart attack. In another case, the student’s parent had been diagnosed with cancer. When the student graduated, he went to work for the American Heart Association or the American Cancer Society. Some research subjects got a scenario that matched the parent’s condition and some did not.

Research subjects were then asked how they would react if the student invited them to a volunteer event. When the event was directly related to the student’s personal experience, people were sympathetic and said they would have a hard time saying no. When the event was not — for example, the student whose parent suffered a heart attack was advocating for the Cancer Society — the effect was not the same.

Personal connections and stories have a big effect on giving — so if you’ve got them, use them.

Another way that giving is personal is that we give more when we feel we’re helping another person to whom we can relate. This has been called the “identifiable victim effect” or “singularity effect.”

Researchers Tehila Kogut and Ilana Ritov have shown that people donate more when they can identify with one person in need. More than that, people are most likely to help an inpidual whom they perceive to be similar to their social category and nationality — or when they share that person’s ideology. The looser that connection and the greater the psychological difference, the weaker the identifiable victim effect.

We’re biologically wired to process the concrete — that is, other people, not statistics. We grasp statistics, but they don’t tap into our emotional response.

So how does a fundraiser reduce this feeling of social distance? Researcher Deborah Small recommends:

  • When you talk about a cause, discuss the need in terms of people who are as relatable as possible.
  • Stop with the statistics. Tell stories about one person in need.
  • Use social fundraising techniques (such as Causes or Crowdrise) to win support for a cause. Have friends ask friends to help through personal connections and social media. When we know the person asking for money for a cause, we’re more likely to give.

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About This Blog

Carrie Saracini
Content Marketing Manager

We’re here to help you win hearts and minds—and donations.

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