Six Ways to Influence Donors with Brain Science

 The following is a guest post by John Haydon. It originally appeared on his blog and we're reposting it with his permission.


As social media platforms seem to keep changing at an exponential rate, there is one thing that you can count on to remain the same for at least the next thousand years:

People will always make decisions based on emotion and justify those decisions with reason.

As an example, let’s take the hipster with the iPad at Starbucks. He’ll tell you that he bought his iPad because it helps him do his work faster, or that it’s easier to bring on client visits. But the truth is that he bought it to look cool and/or fit in. Everyone from Apple to Don Draper knows that understanding psychology is essential for selling anything–offline and online.

Here are six ways brain science can increase fundraising results, get more volunteers, and change behaviors:

1. Tell them what the Jones’ gave

One interesting study by the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University found that potential donors take action when they hear why their peers gave, and they gave more when they were told what dollar amount their peers gave. A donation page that talks about why other people like the organization, and how much they gave will maximize this effect.

2. Leverage the halo effect

The halo effect is a cognitive bias in which one’s judgments of a person’s character is influenced by one’s overall impression of that person.

Researchers in Canada found that people make judgements about websites in just 200 milliseconds. This means that your site should load fast, and you should have an emotionally pleasing design, among other things.

3. Show them how far they have to go

One factor that determines whether people will take action on a goal or not is how attainable the goal is. Epic Change is a nonprofit that provides support and attention for women who are radically changing their local communities. During their Epic Thanks campaign, they showed what the achievement of each campaign milestone would provide for a middle school in Tanzania.

4. Let them see the impact

No one will ever read a thousand words on your donation page. But they will look at a picture. Pictures convey a tremendous amount of subconscious information that can influence a person to act. In fact, researchers have recently found that most of the decisions we make are primarily unconscious and emotional.

5. Swap out stats for stories

You need to make your cause personal so that people take action. Start by understanding how to translate statistics into a series of compelling story. The average person doesn’t care about the concentration of E. coli in an aquifer, but they will do everything in their power to keep poop out of their tap water.

6. Ask them to promise

A powerful study by Rediscovering the Civic and Achieving Better Outcomes in Public Policy Project found that a pledge to donate increases individual charitable donations.

From a tactical perspective, this means allowing people to make a pledge (joining an email list) and then converting those pledges into dollars via email.

How is your organization changing the world by understanding how the brain works?