I bet it’s been at least a decade since you saw a mercury-based thermometer anywhere but the skeuomorphic version used on fundraising pages.  We fundraisers are keeping a tradition alive.

And with good reason.  Unlike many “we’ve-always-done-it-this-way” techniques, this one has real science to back it up.  In fact, you can probably increase your year-end revenues using what behavioral scientists call “goal proximity.”

Goal proximity is a phenomenon where the closer you are to a goal, the more you work to achieve it.  We humans have a powerful need to complete things.  That little hit of happiness (aka dopamine) you get from crossing something off your to-do list is a simple example.  Think of it like the runner who paces herself at the beginning of a race, but speeds up when the finish line is in sight.

There is some evidence that setting a goal can help increase donations in the context of telethons.

But does that thermometer on your year-end fundraising help you reach your goooooooaaaaaaal?

Cryder, Loewenstein, and Seltman took a look at how the amount toward goal already raised impacts a person’s likelihood of giving here. They looked at the impact of campaign progress toward goal on Kiva, the popular microlending site.

They found that when an individual fundraising goal was 0-33% complete, the average hourly progress toward goal was 6.7%.  When it was 33-66% complete, progress was 10.8% per hour; for the final third, it was 12.8% per hour.

Thus, the closer the thermometer was to full, the more likely someone was to give.  Part of this is likely that the thermometer is a measure of social proof, for the same reason a server will seed a tip jar with folding money – it helps set both pressure and anchor.

That’s great, but will it work for your fundraising page or mail piece?

Probably.  The researchers also worked with a nonprofit to mail lapsed donors with four separate conditions: 10% to goal, 66% to goal, 85% to goal, and no mention of goal. The 85%-to-goal piece significantly increased response rate (from .5% in the control to 1.17% in the 85%-to-goal version – a substantial increase).

So how do you take advantage of this?

First step is with the conception of a campaign.  For online year-end giving, I’ve worked with organizations that will set their goal and their thermometer based on what it will take to hit goal starting from November 1, but only announce the goal and the effort on #GivingTuesday.  That way, their thermometer is at least 20% full when the first donor hits the form.

But, since we’re too late for that now, you can also ask internal audiences (especially board members) to make the first gifts.  Showing them this research may help them feel like their gift is making a difference by getting others to give more freely.

Finally, you can set a more modest goal.  The 85% condition mentioned above was toward buying a GPS unit, not a big-ticket item.  By setting a modest goal, they could talk easily about 85% to completion.  This type of campaign, repeated, can help illustrate the impact to your donors.

As with so much of life, nothing succeeds like success.  If you can fill your thermometers more than halfway and keep them there, the better off you will be.

What’s your experience with the fundraising thermometer?



This article was posted in: Behavioral Science, Communications, Copywriting / creative, Fundraising analytics / data, Uncategorized.
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