A Fundraisers Take on the 6 Principles of Persuasion

According to the science of persuasion, based on research by Dr. Robert Cialdini, there are six principles that can be used to make you more persuasive. These principles apply to anything really, but for our work let’s look at how they apply to fundraising – specifically end of year fundraising.

1. Reciprocity: You see this principle in action every day when you say hello to a stranger in the supermarket or to a co-worker when you get to work in the morning – they generally reciprocate. Reciprocity is the idea that people respond to positive action with positivity in return.

Fundraising tip: Send past donors a personalized gift, provide them with useful information based on needs you know they have, connect them with peers that can help them with something they are going through, make a difference in their community or help one of their loved ones. The key is that you are the first to give something personalized and unexpected before you ask them to support again in this year’s year-end fundraising efforts.

2. Scarcity: You know how this one works. If there’s a limited amount of something you want you’re much more likely to take action now rather than putting it off. Technically speaking, scarcity is the principle that people want more of those things that there are less of. Public Broadcasting Stations and nonprofits like Stand Up to Cancer are masters of scarcity. Telethons, online auctions, galas, events with limited availability are all used to create scarcity or sometimes just the perception of scarcity.

Fundraising tip: In your next end-of-year fundraising appeal create scarcity by offering a limited amount of something as a thank you in return for a donation. Ideally you’d have giving levels ($1,000, $500, $250, $100, …) where the thank-you gifts were perceived as better and were more scarce the larger the donation was (i.e. Making a $1,000 donation got you’re a signed copy of a new book by a popular figure, but there are only 10 available).

3. Authority: People tend to obey (or listen to in our case) authority figures. That means you either become an authority in your focus area or use third-party authority figures to help you gain credibility. Celebrity endorsements, research and partnerships like what you see One Day’s Wages doing with ONE Campaign and Charity:Water are all forms of using authoritative figures to build trust, confidence and respect in your organization.

Fundraising tip: Use quotes, pictures, videos, signatures, etc. from authority figures that support the work you do in upcoming fundraising appeals. If you use email as a way to solicit gifts, try making your next email come from the person who has the known name. Essentially, find ways to have authoritative figures tell your community of supporters how great the work you’re doing is.

4. Consistency: Once someone has committed to (or supported) something, verbally or in writing, they are likely to follow through on that commitment. Faith based groups have long relied on the principle of consistency to fuel their fundraising. It’s common for parishioners, churchgoers, and the like to pledge an amount to give each and every week.

Fundraising tip: Segment out your fundraising appeals so that you can target people appropriately. For those who have yet to support your or have shown very little support start by having them sign up to be on your email list or like you on Facebook. Then focus on having them pledge to support you in some small way. After that, go for a small $5 donation. Once a person has taken a small step in support of your nonprofit you can cultivate that supporter into greater things.

5. Liking: Simply put, people are easily persuaded by other people that they like. Event fundraising folks like Susan G. Komen, American Cancer, LIVESTRONG, Alzheimer’s Association, and many more are exceptional at using this principle to raise money. The way they do it is by employing what’s called peer-to-peer fundraising– a type of fundraising where people, not the nonprofit, reach out to friends and family to ask for monetary support. Friends and family are much more likely to say yes to a fundraising appeal because they like the person asking.

Fundraising tip: Find ways to deploy peer-to-peer fundraising by asking your supporters to share their passion for your mission with their friends and family. You don’t need to be a large organization like Susan G. Komen to make this work. You can start by simply asking people to share, like, or forward your fundraising email appeals the next time you send one out.

6. Consensus (aka Social Proof): You see this principle of persuasion in action all the time. Everyone slows down and looks when an accident happens. People gather around when they see others gathered around looking at something. You start clapping because everyone else is clapping.Blogger and online publishers use social media – specifically social sharing – to leverage the power of social proof. When you see something online that has a thousand likes or hundreds of thousands of views you’re much more likely to share it because everyone else has already done it.People will do things that they see other people are doing.

Fundraising tip: Use social sharing in your fundraising campaigns. Put the Facebook like, retweet and ShareThis buttons on your campaign landing page and donation forms. Make it simple for people to see others sharing and for them to share it with their online friends.

(Thanks to the folks at influenceatwork for sharing the video and to Katya for getting the conversation started. This is important stuff for fundraisers.)

This is an excerpt from “6 Principles of Persuasion That Will Revolutionize Your End of Year Fundraising Results,” originally published on About.com on December 6, 2012.