How to get donors to give more
Promising to ask for a donation once and never again can increase total contributions
- People may give because they deeply care about others or because of the “warm glow” they get from helping. But research by Chicago Booth graduate Amee Kamdar, University of Chicago’s Steven D. Levitt and John A. List, Brian Mullaney of WonderWork, and Chicago Booth’s Chad Syverson finds another reason—a promise to never ask again makes people trust a charity more and want to reward it with at least one gift.
- The researchers analyzed the results of a mail campaign by Smile Train, the world’s largest cleft charity. In about half of the 800,000 letters sent out during the campaign, the researchers included a frank proposition: “Make one gift and we’ll never ask for another donation again.” Those who made a donation could opt out of future solicitations, choose to be contacted only twice a year, or ask to receive more-frequent updates.
- The once-and-done strategy generated an initial response rate nearly twice as large as that of the regular mail campaign (see chart). The initial gift per donor was also larger: $56 for once-and-done mailings and $50 for regular mailings. Between initial and follow-up donations, the once-and-done campaign increased total contributions by nearly 50 percent.
- According to researchers, the theory on giving that best matches the results is one of “short-lived reciprocity”: the charity’s willingness to give up its right to future solicitation is perceived as a kind act in itself, leading recipients to reciprocate generously in the short run.