From trading baseball cards, to filling a stamp album, to locating that final object for some set of collectibles, whether we realize it or not every one of us is driven by what behavioral scientists call the desire for  ‘set completion’ or ‘task completion’.

Ever since age 14, when I added the 5th — and final — bar to my perfect Sunday School attendance pin at the Gettysburg Methodist Church, I know I’ve been driven to complete tasks. In short, finishing tasks that are incomplete gives all of us a huge sense of satisfaction.

For years and years fundraisers have used the desire for completion to good effect. Everyone of us are familiar with ubiquitous use of the rising column of progress toward the goal in fundraising thermometers.

In this case not only is the phenomenon of ‘Task Completion’ in play, but as the column nears the top an additional factor — called ‘Goal Proximity’– comes into play. Simply put, where there is a target and it’s close to being achieved, folks are more willing to contribute.

NOW … here’s where behavioral science and fundraising really get interesting — and productive.

I told Kiki Koutmeridou, chief behavioral science strategist at our sister company DonorVoice, that I wanted to write about this for The Agitator and she kindly explained the empirical basis for all this and how it can be applied.

Here’s how Kiki summed it up:

  • ‘Task Completion’ or ‘Set Completion’ can be reinforced or amped up by adding another factor — the ‘Endowed Progress Effect’.
  • In 2006 researchers Nunes & Dreze documented the Endowed Progress Effect, whereby people provided with artificial advancement toward a goal exhibit greater persistence toward reaching the goal.
  • By converting a task requiring 8 steps into a task requiring 10 steps — but with 2 of those steps already completed — the task is reframed as one that has been undertaken and is incomplete rather than a task not yet begun.
  • This, in turn increases the likelihood of task completion and decreases completion time.

As Kiki explained, “The effect appears to depend on perceptions of task completion. When a sense of progress has been established people are more likely to follow through.”

This is the logic behind the Starbucks loyalty card I once used. Three of the six cups of coffee needed to receive an additional cup free had already been stamped. Thus exactly giving me a sense of progress that I was half way to my goal.

Kiki went on to further report that these phenomena can be quite effectively employed in the way we ask for donations. She reminded me of a presentation that Christine Palmer, head of direct response at the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC), gave at a recent DMANF conference.

The goal of the USOC was to significantly reduce the number of appeals, but to increase net income. And so, a combination of ‘set completion’ and ‘endowed progress effect’ was created.

Donors were invited to join ‘The Sixth Ring’, a new way to make your support of U.S. athletes go farther in the New Year.

Here’s the choice donors could make: 1) pay their 2017 membership in four instalments, or 2) pay their full $100 membership in full at once.

Here are the results:

  • 23% increase in gross income per piece.
  • 27% increase  in net per piece.
  • 5.75% response rate and $59 average gift.
  • Nearly 60% fulfillment rate on the second gift for non-credit card pledgers without any follow up beyond the single pledge mailing.
  • Annual gift frequency 2.4 gifts.

Here’s the appeal as displayed in the DMANF presentation (click to enlarge):

Thank you Kiki. Thank you Christine. Agitator raises to you both for sharing.

Anyone else in AgitatorLand want to share your experience in applying behavioral science phenomena to your fundraising efforts?


















This article was posted in: Breaking Out of the Status Quo, Communications, Donor retention / loyalty / commitment, DonorTrends / DonorVoice, Innovation, Research.
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