This post was originally published April 6, 2012. We’ve reposted it here because we believe it’s still relevant today.
“… the emerging research on charitable giving has yielded a difficult truth: Thinking harder about how to give makes us less likely to give at all.” Leon Neyfakh
With the evolution of groups like Charity Navigator, the Better Business Bureau, and others that focus on the ratio of overhead costs to delivery of services, there has been an increased effort by charities to communicate more information about fundraising costs, administrative costs, and other overhead costs to demonstrate they are efficient. This expresses itself in nearly every part of an organization’s fundraising program.
But The Boston Globe‘s Leon Neyfakh points to a body of research that shows what ultimately moves people to give… and that serves as a word of caution to us as fundraisers.
Neyfakh writes that research by economists and psychologists reveals that giving is not rooted in calculated thinking, but is driven much more by emotional motives—even our own selfish needs. He states that when donors think too analytically about giving, their initial instinct toward generosity can be deflated.
In fact, according to Neyfakh, research by psychologist Daniel Oppenheimer found that even the seemingly innocuous provision of information about a nonprofit’s overhead costs (whether reflecting positively or negatively on the charity) makes donors less likely to support that organization.
A disclaimer: I believe this research applies more to mass marketing in fundraising than with major donors. The process major donors go through to decide to make a significant donation takes on a different character than someone who receives a direct mail letter or newsletter in the mail and is expected to respond right away.
At the end of the day, fundraisers need to remember that donors give because they are moved to give and that the act of giving is not rooted in calculated thinking. It’s ultimately an act of the heart.
By: Rick Dunham