In part 1 we looked at the first four of eight principles of influence borrowed from psychology and science that will help you to better incline prospective donors to say “yes” to your calls to action. Today we’ll examine four more.
Just to review, I’m synthesizing principles from Robert Cialdini’s groundbreaking 1984 book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, as well as his more recent Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade. I’m also influenced by Daniel Kahneman’s 2011 Thinking Fast, Thinking Slow as well as by other research by Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman.
- Commitment and Consistency
- Social Proof
If you like someone, you’re more likely to be influenced by them.
This is why being genuine and human, both on your website and in your appeals, makes a lot of sense. It enables people to connect with you, and see that you’re a lot like them.
Be donor centered in all you do.
- Offline tips: Develop an organization-wide customer service culture. Every interaction your donor has with anyone at your nonprofit has significance. Donors don’t distinguish between the receptionist and the director of development. If someone is rude to them, they’ll remember. Say nice things to your supporters in your appeals and thank-you letters. Thank people. Flatter them. Tell them they’re your heroes. Don’t make it all about you.
- Online tips: Use a friendly, human voice in your writing. Stay away from formal speech and jargon. Use people pictures. People like to see other people. Studies show that high-converting images are those that show people’s faces. Create a positive, active social presence. People interact online. It’s the virtual watercooler of today’s workforce. Be fun to hang out with. Thank folks as often as you can. Make people smile. Delight them with little gifts of content. Make it easy for people to interact with you.
6. Scarcity (also known as “Loss Aversion” or “FOMO”)
Cialdini found that when folks believe they’re going to miss out on something they are wired to do anything they can to avoid this loss.
They want more of what there is less of. Scarcity adds value because fear of loss weighs heavier than hope of gain.
Create a sense of scarcity.
- Offline tips: Send an event invitation that offers an intimate, exclusive meeting with someone desirable; note that space is extremely limited and that it’s first come/first served. Perhaps mention that previous events sold out. Or let appeal letter recipients know that the first 100 $1,000 donors will get plaques with their names on the new theater’s chairs and that they won’t want to miss this opportunity to receive this permanent recognition. Even using a challenge grant that will disappear after a specific time period can play into the scarcity principle.
- Online tips: Note that the first 25 people who retweet your advocacy alert will be entered into a raffle to win a prize from your sponsor. Or suggest that everyone who pins a photo of themselves wearing or displaying anything with your name on it will be eligible for a prize.
Highlight what will be lost if action is not taken.
- Offline tips: People hate losing things, even more than they like gaining them. So craft your fundraising offer to showcase what will be lost if the gift is not forthcoming, being careful not to trigger feelings of hopelessness by making the problem appear too big. Hopelessness paralyzes people into inaction. They stop trying to be the hero, because it doesn’t seem doable. Make the loss appear avoidable, as long as the donor jumps in to save the day!
- Online tips: Avoid the rookie mistake of suggesting to people that they give something up in order to do good. Has anyone in your organization ever suggested you ask folks to give up their latte for a week and give the money, instead, to charity? Guess what? It doesn’t work well. People don’t want to give up their latte! That’s perceived as a loss. Remember, people will do anything to avoid a loss.
The human brain compares subsequent options with one that came first and uses this as a means to make judgements and get the best deal.
In the 1974 paper "Judgement under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases," Kahneman and Tversky found that people are affected by what they see first in making subsequent decisions. Anchoring works best when consumers lack solid evidence or knowledge (e.g., what is the appropriate or expected donation amount).
Carefully consider suggested donation amounts.
- Offline tip: Circle one mid-range option on your remit piece to use as an “anchor” that will cause folks to consider this as a baseline. Higher anchors (within reason) will tend to lead toward higher gifts. Experiment with different anchors. You can also flip this concept. For example, instead of increasing your event ticket prices this year, get a larger venue and a sponsor and reduce the price. Then point out how thankful you are to the sponsor for making it possible for folks to attend this year at a discounted rate. This may trigger “reciprocity” and make it more likely folks will spend more at your on-site auction or raffle.
- Online tip: Offer a bonus to folks who subscribe to your newsletter. (e.g., a tip sheet, reading list, or recipe booklet that’s somehow tied to your mission). Since this is more than they anticipated, they may be inclined to give more in the future.
8. Priming (also known as “Pre-Suasion”)
Priming works by exposing someone to one stimulus in order to affect how they’ll respond to another stimulus.
If you do this effectively, you can “pre-suade” your donor to give.
This is akin to leading with a “gift” or “favor” that may incline your donor favorably in your direction (the principle of reciprocity). But it takes it further by doing a few subtle things to cement the likelihood your favor is returned. In other words, what you put into your donor’s viewing space immediately preceding your message will lead people in a direction aligned with that element. You can read some examples here.
Let’s also take a look at a couple of studies:
- In a study by Naomi Mandel and Eric J. Johnson, researchers changed the background design of a website to see if it would affect consumers' choices. Participants were asked to choose between two products in one category (like a Toyota vs. a Lexus). According to Psychology Today, “They found that visitors who had been primed on money (the website’s background was green with pennies on it) looked at price information longer than those who had been primed on safety. Similarly, consumers who had been primed on comfort looked at comfort information longer than those primed on money.”
- Cialdini’s researchers arranged to send visitors to one of two landing pages. One had wallpaper pictures of fluffy clouds as its background. The other had pictures of coins. Visitors who went to the clouds landing page searched the website for the most comfortable furniture. Those who went to the coins landing page searched for the most inexpensive furniture. People made their decisions on what was most important to them in their search based on the backgrounds to which they were, unconsciously, directed.
Consider what you’ll put in front of your donor immediately preceding your call to action.
- Offline tip: If you want to incline someone to feel empathy toward a troubled child, include a compelling photo of that child on your fundraising appeal, remit envelope, and carrier envelope. Do the same with your mailed newsletter, brochures, and/or annual report. If you want to incline someone to save a forest, introduce your message with a photo showing utter devastation. And so forth.
- Online tip: If you want to incline people to join together to complete a campaign, introduce your message on your website, donation landing pages, and social media with photos of people standing together. Consider the psychology of color in putting together messaging on your website. Finally, the ultimate in pump priming is to engage in ongoing stewardship that keeps donors in a constant state of positive engagement.
I guarantee that this stuff works! You don’t have to do it all, but try to pick one or two to incorporate into your marketing and fundraising communications moving forward. You’ll be pleased with the results.
Do you have tips for using principles of influence to persuade folks to say “yes?”
Serious about raising more money?
You may want to get my Anatomy of a Fundraising Appeal Letter. It’s filled with everything I’ve learned about what makes a successful appeal over the years, all tucked it into one handy no-nonsense guide. Plus it includes a template and resource guide. All Clairification products come with a 30-day no-questions-asked money-back guarantee.
The preceding is a guest post by Claire Axelrad, J.D., CFRE. Claire was named Outstanding Fundraising Professional of the Year by the Association of Fundraising Professionals and brings 30 years of frontline development and marketing experience to her work as principal of her social benefit consulting firm, Clairification.