Is Copywriting The Secret To Increasing Your Donations?

– by Anders Bjella, Digital Marketing, Phil

Last month, Peter Singer’s book “The Life You Can Save” challenged my ideas around charitable giving. There is no guidebook for how much we, as members of an affluent society, should give. The societal taboos surrounding money and charity push the discussion around giving further into obscurity. Giving is frequently viewed as something personal and private. Some even go as far as questioning the motives of those who give publicly. Who are they trying to impress?

Singer uses the example of a child drowning in a shallow pond. If you saw this child drowning, you wouldn’t think twice about ruining a new set of clothes to jump in the water and save the child’s life. We have the data that proves that, for roughly the same price as a new outfit, we have the power to save a human life. “The Life You Can Save” goes on to challenge the idea that a child drowning in front of you is not any different than a child dying of a preventative disease elsewhere in the world. Is a new outfit as important to me as saving a human life? I couldn’t help but compare my recent wardrobe purchases to the number of lives I could’ve saved. 

At Phil, we take tremendous pride in working with organizations who are making the world a better place. In addition to looking at charitable giving from a global perspective, Singer’s book also reviews studies examining how to optimize copy to increase donation amounts and improve conversion rates.

Focus on one

Oftentimes not-for-profits that do diverse work struggle to succinctly convey their mission and tangible impact. When it comes to increasing donations, the data shows that focusing on one person that a potential donor could help is more effective than speaking about two or more potential beneficiaries. 

“Researchers seeking to find out what triggers generous responses paid participants in a psychological experiment and then gave them the opportunity to donate some of the money to Save the Children, an organization that helps children in poverty both in the United States and in developing countries. 

One group was given general information about the need for donations, including statements like ‘food shortages in Malawi are affecting more than three million people’. A second group was shown a photo of a seven year old Malawian girl named Rokia; they were told that Rokia is desperately poor and that her life will be changed for the better by your gift.The group receiving information about Rokia gave significantly more than the group receiving only general information.

Curiously, adding a second identifiable child to the information about Rokia, led to a lower average donation than when only one child was mentioned. The subjects of the experiment reported feeling stronger emotions when told about one child than when told about two children.” (Singer)

Focus on those that can be helped, not the magnitude of the issue

“In another study, participants were told that there were several thousand refugees at risk in a camp in Rwanda and were asked how willing they were to send aid that would save the lives of 1,500 people. In asking this question, the researchers varied the total number at risk, but maintained that the aid would save a total of 1,500 refugees. People turned out to be more willing to send aid that saved 1,500 out of 3,000 people at risk than they were to send aid that saved 1,500 out of 10,000 at risk. In general, the smaller the proportion of people at risk who can be saved, the less willing people are to send aid. Paul Slovic, who coauthored this study, concludes that ‘the proportion of lives saved often carries more weight than the number of lives saved.’”

Leverage the Pack Mentality

As human beings, we are more likely to behave similarly to the people we spend the most time with. If your best friend drives a BMW and wears a Rolex, it’s likely you might too. Similarly, studies show that levels of charitable giving are directly affected by social ties and patterns. 

“Psychologists Jen Shang and Rachel Croson used a funding drive from an American public radio station to test whether the amount that callers donated varied when the person answering the call mentioned that a recent caller had donated a particular sum. They found that mentioning a figure close to the upper end of what callers generally gave – to be precise, at the 90th percentile – resulted in callers donating substantially more than a control group who had not been provided with this information. The effect was surprisingly enduring: donors who were told about another member’s above-average contribution were twice as likely to renew their membership a year later.”

With this in mind, your organization can harness the power of compelling copywriting and look into how to encourage current donors to share their donation story. Social media is a powerful tool for donors to share how and why they chose to give. Giving donors the tools and resources to do so can have a positive ripple effect throughout your donor network. We recommend crafting a simple call to action on your donation confirmation page. Unsure where to start with how to ask? We can help.

Singer goes on to challenge the idea that ‘giving publicly’ is somehow ‘giving selfishly. He states that “we know people will give more if they believe that others are giving more, we should not worry too much about the motives with which they give. Rather, we should encourage them to be more open about the size of their donations. Those who make it known that they give a significant portion of what they earn can increase the likelihood that others will do the same. If these others also talk about it, the long-term effect will be amplified, and over a decade or two, the amount given will rise.”

As shown in the studies above, simple tweaks to copy can have a dramatic effect on donor attraction and retention. Planning to examine your organization’s donor journey this year? We’re here to help. Click here to schedule a free consultation today.