The Nonprofit Marketing Blog

Why Donors Want to Help One Person but Not Every Person

An NPR story caught my attention this morning. Maybe you heard it too? The story was about a psychologist’s study on

what kind of message inspires people to give more
.

According to psychologist Paul Slovic’s research about how the head and heart can influence how much people want to give to support a cause, your message is more compelling when you tell the story of one and stick to how a donor’s investment can help that one person, not many.

In Slovic’s study, volunteers heard a story about a young girl suffering from starvation. The researchers then stepped into the fundraiser’s role and made an ask. They measured how much this group was willing to donate to help this girl. Next, a second group of volunteers heard the same story about the little girl and were told some overwhelming statistics about starvation. The same story + stats on what the issue looks like overall. Are you surprised to learn that the second group gave only about half of what the first group gave? I’m not surprised, and here are three reasons why:

1. Donors want to feel happy and hopeful when they give. Hearing a story and framing an ask to help on a small scale is the way to go.
Here’s an example:

Message 1: “Thousands of veterans need our help transitioning back to civilian life. Please give now!” = Overwhelming. My donation won’t even make a dent.

Message 2: “A $20 monthly gift will make sure a veteran gets the job training she needs.” = My donation can actually help!

2. People get too caught up in the numbers. Annual reports with numbers are necessary, I know, but don’t get carried away! Tell the whole story, but highlight statistics that show how your work really made a difference instead of focusing on all the work yet to be done.

3. Stories get the job done. Stories connect with the heart, and numbers make sense in your head. Potential donors will be more willing to give when you inspire them with a story. Specifically, a story that makes them feel good about what they can do to help.

Want to read more on this topic and how it relates to fundraising success? Download Homer Simpson for Nonprofits: The Truth About How People Really Think and What It Means for Promoting Your Cause.

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About This Blog

Lisa Bonanno
Vice President of Digital Marketing

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

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