What motivates donors to give? Let's talk about it.
Hi and welcome to Driven's Fundraising Superheroes podcast, I am your host, Sabrina Sciscente, and as an innovator in nonprofit technology, our team at Driven is determined to help you unlock your true fundraising potential. We specialize in donor, volunteer and member management and would love to talk with you!
Giving to charities is an irrational decision fundamentally, right? I mean, there is no formula or sequence of steps that make a person donate. There are ways that you can encourage them to donate.
But the true decision lies in your donor's hands. It's solely up to them to begin to form an emotional connection with your nonprofit. Tim Kachurik is the founder and chief innovation and optimization officer at Next After, you've probably heard of them. They are a fundraising research lab, consultancy and training institute that works with charities and nonprofits to help them grow their resource capacity in performing over 2500 experiments. Tim sought out the answer to the question of what makes people give.
We explore that answer today on the show, so thank you, Tim, for coming and joining me.
Thanks for having me.
So can we start off by talking about the motivation behind giving? So giving is hard to measure because people are so unpredictable, but how do fundraisers begin to seek out donations? What should they be looking for?
Yeah, I mean, it's the question, why do people give is a question that has perplexed theologians and philosophers and fundraisers alike for many, many, many generations. And the reality is, I think you alluded to this, is that it's a very irrational decision. I mean if aliens landed from Mars today and you and I had to explain to people like how fundraising works, like you're going to go and give your money and then somebody else or some other organization is going to benefit from that.
And you're not really going to get anything tangible in return. It doesn't really make sense, logical sense. So when we go about trying to answer that question, we have to understand that there is not one simple answer to the question. Why do people give? People give for a variety of different reasons? Some people give out of a desire to be part of something bigger than themselves. Some people give out of a sense of identity. I'm giving to certain causes as an extension of my identity, of how I want to show myself to the world.
Some people give out of anger and frustration. They want to see a change in the world, and they feel that there's injustices happening in our society and they want to right those wrongs. And so by giving to an organization that's advocating for their beliefs or for their cause, they're able to actually have some sort of power. And that situation where they many times feel powerless and then some people, you know, like especially older generations, they give out of a sense of duty or responsibility.
It's the right thing to do. This is how I was raised. Maybe this is part of my faith tradition. So there's many different reasons why people give. But we found through our research is that there's ways that you can really try to optimize that giving experience, regardless of what reason people are coming in to give to your cause.
And you guys do a ton of research at Next after. I know I use it as such a valuable tool. In my day-to-day when I was learning about fundraising, I would love to know what the biggest surprise that you found out of all that research has been. Was there anything that kind of made you stop and reflect?
Well, sure. And, you know, to back up a little bit, one of the challenges that we run into is so what we are most interested in is trying to understand and experience the charity, the non-profit, the NGO from the donors point of view. So we found the best way to get that perspective is simply by becoming donors ourselves. So when we do research and we're talking about research, that's a big part of what we do is these mystery donors.
That is where we're going to go out and subscribe to hundreds of different nonprofit organizations at the same time, will monitor everything that they send us, every email, text message, voice mail. We've got boxes of direct mail piled to the ceiling here, and we'll analyze each of those pieces of correspondence and we'll wait for the organizations to invite us to become a financial partner by making a gift. And then we go. When they do that, when they invite us, we then go online to their website and we'll give a donation as small as twenty dollars, as large as five thousand dollars.
And then we continue to monitor how they communicate and engage with us over time. What we're trying to do is really kind of map that donor journey from initial visit to subscriber to donor and beyond. And having done that thousands of times now, the biggest thing that taken away is just how wildly varying it is for the donor experience, from organization to organization and even market vertical to market vertical. So I think the biggest thing that we've found is that there is not really a lot of standards or best practices that are wildly or widely followed by the entire industry.
So when we do these mystery donor studies, we see different things and it causes us to ask the question, well, OK, Organization A is doing it one way. And Organization B is doing it a completely different way. How do we know what works best? And the only way that we can get that answer is by doing the other kind of research we do, which is applied research, where we're basically using the web as not just a channel of communication, but as a platform living laboratory, if you will, where we can run rigorous scientific experiments and try to understand what works and what doesn't.
And we found some really interesting things. I mean, the biggest thing I'll give you a few examples, very concrete examples. So if you go to most nonprofit organizations website and you click the donate button and you get to the donation page, many organizations are missing something that we have found to be incredibly powerful, increasing donation response rate three, four, sometimes five hundred or more percentage points. And that thing is text copy. So if you look at most donation pages, they're pretty simple, right, them and have like a headline, maybe a sentence or two, and then there's a giving form.
And the idea, the conventional wisdom suggests that if we don't put a lot of words on the page, there's not a lot of stuff that people have to go read through in order to get to the donation form. But what we found by surveying the entire industry that on average, less than twenty-five percent of the people that click that donate button and get to the donation page actually complete the transaction. So what gives? Why is it if they've signaled some sort of donor intent by clicking the donate button, why do they not follow through and complete the transaction?
Well, we believe because once somebody gets to that point, they don't fully have their mind made up, let's say. Right. And the reason why is because there's a lot of little micro-decisions that they have to make even at that last stage of the journey. Like, for example, do I want to make a one-time gift, a recurring if that's one decision, how much do I want to give? That's another decision.
How do I want to pay? That's another decision. Do I want to decimate my gift in some way? Do I want to make this in a memorial or tribute of somebody like these are all micro-decisions even at that final stage of the journey. So what we've done is we said, look, OK, if this is really, you know what donors are struggling with is having to answer these series of questions. How can we help make that decision easier for them?
And one simple thing that we found is putting more copy on the donation page, which answers the ultimate question, which is, if I'm the ideal donor, why should I give to you rather than some other organization or not at all? That's a question we have to anticipate and we have to be prepared to answer that so that the donor continues to understand the value as they go through the process of completing that transaction. So that's a big thing we've tested, is just putting lots and lots of copy on the page, on the donation page, above the donation form.
So we're actually like burying the donation form further and further down on the page. And what we find, generally speaking, is that the more words you put on the page, the more your conversion rates go up. So that's something that's somewhat unintuitive to most folks, but it's incredibly easy and something that all of us can do.
Yeah, that definitely went against when I started my initial perception of donation pages. I'm like, keep it simple. They are there. Just let them do their thing and they'll complete the donation. But exactly what you're saying is you kind of you have to make that last pitch. And if you do it right, having that donation from at the end is that call to action and it be a seamless decision for them to move forward, I guess.
Exactly right. And not only that, but like what's so interesting about being a nonprofit organization is that we don't have a fixed price. Right. If you if you put it in terms of kind of like consumer language. Right. So it's like if I go and buy something from Amazon, it has a fixed price. Right. But when you give a donation, the customer the donor gets to decide the price. They get to decide how much they're going to give.
And what we have found through testing is that when you put a more compelling value proposition on the page, not only do you get more people that say yes and complete the transaction, but you get more people that say, heck, yes, and they give greater donation amounts. So if it when it comes to actually like growing revenue, the value proposition is critically important, not just to get more people to complete the transaction, but also to give them to give larger and more significant gifts.
That's really interesting. I'm not sure if this is something that you've track, but if you found that the copy on the donation page has an effect on donor retention, do you find that it's bringing in more engaged donors?
It certainly can. Right. So, as I told you, there are different reasons why people give and sometimes we default to the emotion that's going to get the most immediate responses. So like in the case of like, let's say, a protest gift like I can go and like target some sort of issue and get people all frothing, mad and angry. And they want to just give us a sense of release. What we find, though, over the long term, people that give out of that sort of motivation set actually don't stick around very long.
Right. And what we found, even through our partnership with the Institute for Sustainable Philanthropy in the U.K., which we have a partnership with them, and we actually have appointed a next after fellow to take some of the work that they're doing in the area of philanthropic psychology and turn it into testable hypotheses that we can test in our lab. What we find is that there are ways where you can actually really kind of provoke the right emotion that actually builds the donor up and leaves them in a better sense of well-being and makes them really a better, more well-rounded person.
And that's what we're really striving for. It may not generate as many instant donations today, but if you want lifelong partners, there are two choices you have. You can actually move for something that's actually really better for the donor and their well-being.
And that's what I keep hearing with every interview I do on fundraising. It all comes down to that donor relationship. And I would love to speak with you on how do you get them to that donation page. So how can you improve your communications in order to get people even interested in donating?
Yeah, great. Great question, Sabrina. I think one of the. Biggest mistakes we see a lot of people make online is that they're trying to go from like a first date to marriage right away, right. So what I mean by that is like they'll they'll run a Facebook ad and the Facebook ad, the call to action is donate now. Right. And you have to kind of think about the mindset of somebody like they're scrolling through their news feed or through Instagram.
They see something that catches their attention. And like you have to go all the way from catching the attention all the way to actually parting with their money. That's a very, very, very big jump. Right. And so what we've been advocating for is trying to really use some of your online advertising channels, not necessarily to generate instant donations right away today, but generating new relationships. And what I mean by that is getting somebody to download a piece of content or take some sort of advocacy action or enroll in an online course.
Right. Where we're actually giving them some initial value. And the first transaction is not a financial transaction, but it's more of like a content and context transaction. Right. Where you're basically meeting somebody for the first time and they're giving you their phone number. Right. If you will. Right. And so then you're able to continue. And then in our case, it's not a phone number, it's usually an email address.
We're able to continue to connect the dots from that initial action they took to the broader opportunity to have impact through their gift. So that's a big thing that I think a lot of organizations can do is repackage, repurpose, reimagine some of their various different content assets. So it represents something that you're actually giving to the donor first to educate them, maybe to give them an outlet or a mouthpiece so that they can actually be an advocate for the cause first before you actually ask for that first gift.
Exactly. When I was beginning to learn about content marketing, one of the things that I was told that stuck with me is when you go to someone's home, you tend to bring a gift. So when people come into your website or when people go and view your social media, you want to give back to them. So having a downloadable piece and piece of content in exchange for an email, a beautiful way to do that. I would love to hear your thoughts on after you get that email, how do you make your messaging as personal as possible?
You know, people give to people and email because it's going to so many people at once. You know, it needs to appeal to them how can people approach that.
Yeah, that's a great illustration you had of like when you go to somebody's house and you bring a gift, that's that's a great thing. And, you know, the technical term for when you give somebody something and they kind of have this indebtedness to you, that that's called reciprocity. Right. So that's this idea. When I give you something, then like, you know, more likely you'll give me something back. So one way that you can try to convert people immediately is right after they sign up for that free resource, you thank them by name.
So on the confirmation page. So they'd like for example, they requested a free e-book. They filled out the contact information, say, hey, thank you so much, Sabrina. Your e-book will be sent to you shortly. But while I have you here, can I just tell you a little bit more about what we're ultimately trying to do? And you go into your pitch, right. And then you give the donor an instant opportunity to respond.
And what we find is that you can get anywhere between one percent and upwards of like 20 percent instant conversion rates a donor by taking that approach. That's one instant way that you can actually get somebody to go from that very first meeting to deciding to give you that gift. But then after that, it is really about humanizing the relationship aspect of it. So if you look at most nonprofit fundraising emails and especially fundraising appeal, emails are very highly designed, lots of images, graphics, big clickable buttons.
The copy oftentimes sounds like it's written from a professional copywriter because it usually, in fact, is. And the problem is, is like when a potential donor sees that in their inbox, all they see is somebody trying to market to them. And what we know and that sounds like, you know, this, too, is that people don't give to email machines. They don't give to websites. They don't get to direct mail campaigns, for that matter.
People give it to people. So the more that you humanize the relationship by humanizing your communications, the more effective they can be. I'll give you a very practical example. So take that highly designed, lots of HTML, graphics, images, buttons, email and strip away all of that marketing viniar. Get rid of the images, get rid of the graphics, get rid of the buttons and make a plain text, email and rewrite the copy. So it actually sounds like one human to another human.
We've seen three, four or five hundred percent increase in donation conversion by taking that approach. And it supports the idea that people give it to people. But there's also a technical reason why it works when you have a very highly designed email, the email service providers like Gmail and Yahoo! They can. You see all that HTML content and what they have a tendency to do is to not put that in the inbox, but they'll put it in the promotions tab or they'll put it in the spam, the spam folder.
Right. Because it looks like mass-marketed communication. Right. And they're just trying to provide a better service to their people. And so if you strip away a lot of that stuff, one of the reasons why it has a better response rate is because it has a much higher in boxing index, meaning the percentage of messages that make it to the inbox is much higher with plain text versus HTML.
That's so interesting. That's a really big increase. Yes, and engagement for sure. Yeah, this is what's worth trying out, I guess, keeping it simple. At the end of the day is the most important people are attracted to content. So having a nice image is nice. But being able to communicate your message or meaning, I guess that's much more important.
Exactly. That's exactly right.
So how do we keep donors connected with the automated communication process? So we follow up. Thank you. But when it comes to newsletters making appeals, is there a point where it's too much? Should fundraiser's be afraid to send out constant communication or is that encouraged?
Yeah, so we've done lots of different frequency tests. And I'll tell you this. So the more emails you send, generally, the more donations you receive. So that is a fact. But you also receive higher volume of opt outs and spam flags. Right. And so the question you have to ask is like is what I'm sending my donor perceived by them as being valuable content? Right. If all you're doing is asking, asking, asking, asking.
Well, we all have friends like that, right. That come over in the. Can I borrow your hammer? Can I borrow your ladder. Can I borrow this. Can I borrow that. They're are constantly asking for things. And at some point, you kind of get this place where you're just like, you know, when you see them walking outside, you just stay in your house and close the shades, right. Because you don't want to be harassed.
Same is true with donors. I mean, again, this is just very common sense kind of, you know, human relationship kind of stuff. But I think sometimes we lose our minds when we go online. Right. And I think some of the vernacular we use, like, you know, calling people targets and blasting people and like terms like that really dehumanizes the fact that this is another human being. It's very complex with emotions and desires and hopes and wants and dreams, just like you.
And so we really need to change. Right. We need to change the way we think about stuff. And just because it's it's very inexpensive and efficient to hit that send button doesn't really cost us much. It could cost us the relationship, which is very, very valuable if you think about it from a lifetime value standpoint. So that's something just to think about as we go through that process.
That's really interesting. So making sure that it's not the quantity, but the quality of the content you're putting out, because I know each organization has a different capacity of what they are able to do. So instead of focusing on being consistent with that newsletter once a week, you know, having just that one once a month newsletter, that's beautiful. It's providing all the value would probably be more effective.
Yeah. And then frequently asking the donor to tell you if they are enjoying what you're spending. Right. And so, like, here's one thing. So like, you know, email, welcome series is kind of a pretty much a standard best practice now. So that's like as you get like a new email subscriber, they go into this automated journey that kind of connects them to the broader opportunity to partner with your organization. But the way that we approach that is even wrong.
Right? So most of us send the email out and it's like, hey, here's our resume of all the cool things we do, and here's our Facebook page and here's our Instagram page and here's our, you know, Snapchat thing. And like, we give them all these things in their resume. And again, just going back to, like, human relationships, like if you go and you meet somebody for the first time and all they do is they talk about themselves the whole time, you're kind of like, you know, just counting the seconds until you can exit that conversation.
So what we advocate for is instead of trying to tell people everything about you from the four from the very initial email, instead of trying to be interesting, instead, we should try to be interested, meaning we should ask the donors questions. Hey, thank you for signing up for our ebook. Tell me what what what is it that made you want to download that today? We're sending a survey and asking them their thoughts on, you know, here's some of the challenges that we're seeing.
But we'd love your opinion to tell me what you think about all this stuff. Right. Or tell me about, like, you know, what are the kind of things that you would like to receive from us? How can we better help you in your educational journey about this cause or this issue or this opportunity? Right. So, like, it's really about kind of asking more about them and giving them an opportunity to speak back to you and then listening and using that data to shape your communications, because who better to ask about what your donors want, your donors?
Before we go, I would love to hear in your experience, what are the three things are that nonprofits can do now to help improve their donor relations through their online communications?
OK, here's the first one. So out of all of our research, out of all of our testing, and we've run like three thousand different experiments online with various different organizations, the number one thing that we find that moves the needle in a significant way is how effectively you communicate your value proposition. So if you don't know what your value proposition is, that is the number one place you need to start. And the value proposition is really the answer to a very specific question.
And the question is this. If I am your ideal donor, why should I give to you rather than some other organization or not at all? That's a question we have to anticipate and we have to be prepared to answer, especially on our donation page. OK, so one exercise that you can do to get your team together, your board would have you have them answer that question. What are all the reasons why somebody should give to our organization?
Right. And have everybody do it independently and then review the responses together and community. And what you may find is that there's similar themes, but everybody has a slightly different way of actually articulating that. And that's not bad. That just means there's multiple ways we could take this message to market to get the light bulb to go off in the mind of the donor and get them to want to respond. But then you have to think about how do you in enhance.
The force of your value proposition and what we found is that there's four key dimensions to an effective value proposition. There's a appeal. So whatever it is that your organization does, it has to be something that people like that they want. It's a change they want to see made in the world. So that's appeal. Number two, it has to be exclusive to your organization. You don't necessarily have to be the only one doing this, but you have to have something that differentiates how you address this issue different or better or more effective or efficient than some of your, quote-unquote, competitors.
Right. I mean, the reality is, is that you're probably not the only organization in the world that's feeding people that are hungry. So what is it about you that makes you different? That's exclusivity. The second two is credibility and clarity. So credibility means how do I know I can trust you? How do I know that I believe you? How do I know that when you're saying that you can actually deliver on this, you know, on this promise?
How how can I trust that? Right. So like using third-party credibility, credibility indicators like testimonials like seals and badges and like how much of your money goes to the all those kind of things like those are very important to help establish credibility. And then the last piece, which is the hardest one, is clarity. And this is really hard, because when we work in a charity every single day, we're so entrenched in what it is that we're doing, we're so close to it that sometimes it's hard for us to explain it to somebody that's uninitiated.
Right. And so clarity is going to be the hardest battle. And the main way that you can solve that is by continuing to test. Right. And using experimentation to be your guide. So that's the first thing I would suggest is really work on the value proposition. The second thing I would say is that you need to focus on growing your email subscriber database. So the number one leading indicator of any organization's ability to raise money online is the size and quality of their email file.
It's the only way that you can really reach back out to people effectively with a very specific message, a very specific call to action and get them to respond. So if you don't have a very large and engaged email file, that's the place to start. And that's where your content marketing comes in. That's where you're running some ads that offer things of value to your donors. Where they can actually exchange their email address for this thing becomes very, very, very critically important.
And then the last piece of something that we address already, which is really humanizing your communications, asking questions, listening to donors, looking at your data, looking at the people that don't respond and say, OK, what is it that could change? What is it that can alter to get more people to say? Yes, that's those are some things you can do.
Thank you again, Tim, for joining me. And if you want to get the most out of Next After's resources, you've got to head over to our website. Next, after dot com, they have a ton of research studies. They really do back their tips and advice with data. I recommend that you give it a visit if you want to learn more about making your donors happy and engaging with them and increasing your overall communications and fundraising. And if you want to update everything Fundraising Superheroes guess what?
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