Behavioral Science – The Key to Unlock Donor Giving

People rely on decision-making defaults. It can lead charity marketers to encourage donors to take the desired action.

Each year 443 million school days are lost due to a lack of clean water and sanitation.

Why do you think a statement such as the one above can make an instant connection with the readers?

Although 443 million is a huge number and is hard for people to imagine, the NPO has gone beyond the statistical pitch to craft a compelling story around it.

When it comes to fundraising and storytelling, behavioral science is a powerful tool that helps nonprofit organizations understand how humans behave with one another and the world around them. By relying on behavioral and psychological concepts, organizations can take strategized steps to realize their end goals.

Behavioral Science – the textbook definition

A branch of science that deals primarily with human action and often seeks to generalize about human behavior in society.

The Fogg Behavioral Model points out that the audience must be motivated, able, and prompted (simultaneously) to elicit action.

Source: Fogg Behavioral Model


The more motivated your supporters are, the more likely they will do something you want them to. Conversely, if something that prompts them is easy enough, the chances are that their motivation levels may drop, leading to no action. When people are prompted above the action line, they will respond in the way you want them to. When they are prompted below it, it can lead to failure, and no action may happen.

Behavioral Science for Successful Social Media Campaign.

When paired with the power of behavioral science, social media campaigns can foster constructive communications with your audience and help you earn more loyal supporters. Below are some timeless hacks that are a good workaround to strategize your ask depending on why people make the decisions they do.

Press for pledge campaigns

The famous US scheme, ‘Save More Tomorrow’, encourages people to commit to saving more retirement funds during their annual yearly increment. Saving more ‘today’ means a reduction in take-home income. But by asking people to commit to saving more tomorrow – as soon as they begin to earn more, there is no loss in take-home income. Therefore, it reduces the pain of loss aversion.

Source: Chest Foundation’s Birthday Pledge Fundraisers

How can this be applied to your campaigns?

The theory of loss aversion suggests that for people, the pain of losing (money) is twice as powerful as the pleasure of gaining. While your ongoing campaigns can trigger the donor’s pain, when asked to donate money on the spot, taking a pledge comes easy. Transactions pushed off into the future result in a minimal feeling of loss aversion, and donors still feel the satisfaction resulting from giving to a good cause. 

Powerful words like ‘pledge’ can prompt people to take action. But ‘pledge for something futuristic’ is twice as powerful to elicit a response from your audience. 

Offer a matching challenge

Researchers at Tufts University conducted a survey on the likelihood of people to donate based on activating the matching funds. The results reflected that most donors were more likely to contribute if someone matched their donation. The logic of matching gifts is based on reciprocity and commitment – two important human values.

As humans, it is motivating to know that someone else has pledged to match whatever we donate. The higher the ‘matched donation,’ the more effective it is at getting people to contribute.

Tap the status quo bias

Humans have an emotional preference for existing situations called the Status Quo bias. It’s natural for individuals to make seemingly non-rational decisions to opt for a sub-optimal situation. In other words, most people hesitate to disrupt established patterns and do not make changes in their ongoing situations.

Brand allegiance is a classic example of status quo bias. Different varieties of drinks in the market taste better or are also better priced than your preferred one. But you still choose the default option.

Monthly giving programs are an excellent way to leverage this theory. When donors set themselves into a particular pattern of giving, they are least likely to opt out until your nonprofit provides another option or gives them a solid reason to do so.


The study of human behavior can provide incremental lifts in donations and loyalty that eventually pay off big-time. We at Hopeful Inc help organizations create more focused and compelling stories based on what might earn your audience’s attention. To learn more, check about Hopeful’s Storytelling AI and what it means for your nonprofit.

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