By Nate Andorsky, CEO of Creative Science, a digital agency that aligns behavioral science with design and technology to help nonprofits, foundations, and mission-driven companies rethink the way that they engage with people.

Behavioral Science is a powerful area of study, and can be a serious tool in the world of nonprofit fundraising. By understanding how people make the decisions they do, your NPO can take strategic steps to raise more money and drum up more support, without running yourself ragged in the process.

Here’s what you need to know.

What is Behavioral Science?

Behavioral Science relates to the interactions and activities of human beings. The field observes and analyzes human relationships through behavioral aspects including geography, biology, law, psychiatry, and political science.

Essentially, behavioral science is the study that talks about how and why people make the decisions they do.

While it’s a broad field of study, its application can be narrowed to focus on a particular group of people, separated by age, nationality, gender, or race.

5 Tips for Using Behavioral Science
for Online Fundraising

Using Behavioral Science can boost your online donations. Here are five tips for using behavioral science theories to engage your supporters and raise more money for your NPO:

1. Capitalize on Default/Status Quo Bias by Automating Giving

The status quo bias is an emotional bias that states people have an innate preference for the current state of affairs. In other words, people like to keep things the way they are, and they hesitate to disrupt established patterns.

This theory can be leveraged to help build sustaining funding streams into your nonprofit by encouraging donors to sign up for a monthly giving program. Year one donor retention rates for a monthly giving program can be as high as 80% due in part to this theory. Once we have set something in place, such as a monthly donation, we tend to leave it in place.

Notice how Pencils of Promise created a special membership program around their monthly giving program to help increase conversions. The landing page is dedicated to one thing – attracting and converting donors to become part of their Passport program. On your recurring giving page ensure that the only option is for a recurring donation – the one time donation options should not be present.

2. Ask for a Pledge to Increase Conversions

Asking for pledges is a great way to secure more future, predictable donations. Do you know the Behavioral Science of why pledges are so successful?

One of their primary strengths comes down to two Behavioral Science theories called Hyperbolic Discounting, which essentially states that people have a tendency to discount options that will happen in the future, and Loss Aversion, which states that people experience the “pain” of losing money twice as much as the pleasure of gaining.

When your nonprofit asks donors to give a donation, there is a pain triggered for the donor when they consider donating money at that time; however, if a potential donor is not ready to make a donation ask him or her to take a pledge to donate instead (therefore actually giving money in the future, not at the moment) at a future date. Since this transaction is pushed off into the future the pain at the time of the pledge is felt less and the potential donor still receives the ‘warm-glow’ feeling from committing to do something good.

Check out how Charity:Water does this on their pledge page:

3. Make the Most of Herd Mentality

In a study by Robert Cialdini, researchers encouraged others to decrease energy usage. The outcome was a 6% decrease in energy consumption created by referencing the decrease in energy usage by neighbors, and a 0% decrease when providing rationale reasons why one should decrease energy consumption.

This shows exactly how powerful a tool “keeping up with the Joneses” can be. With this in mind, try and show that other people are supporting and/or donating to your cause.

GoFundMe is a platform that does this incredibly well, including a feed of recent donations with donor names and comments. This provides social validation to potential funders that a particular cause is worth supporting. It’s only human to follow the crowd.

4. Word Choice Matters – Framing

Word choice matters and can have a significant impact on our decision making process. For example, would you rather buy a jar of ice cream that contains 20% fat or a jar of ice cream that is 80% fat free? Both options are identical, just worded differently.

This same theory can translate to how copy is positioned on our website, take for example Charity:Water:

Their tagline currently reads, “1 in 10 people lack access to clean drinking water.” Imagine if instead it read, “9 in 10 people have access to clean drinking water”. This simple word change has huge implications on gaining the attention and support of audiences.

5. Play to Emotions With Identifiable Victim Effect

NPOs often struggle with when to use numbers and statistics to demonstrate how large a problem is versus highlighting individual stories of those affected. The thought being is that if a nonprofit can tell everyone how large a problem is through numbers supporters will be compelled to act.

However, this is not necessarily true. It is hard for us to visualize large numbers and therefore we can struggle to make a meaningful connection to them. Can you visualize what 50,000 looks like?

Our brains are built to follow stories, so highlighting individual stories is a powerful way to tap into emotions. Play to your audience’s emotions by using identifiable victims to help them form a connection with your cause. For best results, keep the subjects of your story specific and relatable and if possible focus on a single individual rather than a group of people.

This helps supporters make a connection with your cause and encourages people to donate. Take a look at how the ASPCA creates an identifiable victim on its donation page:

The Case for Behavioral Science in Your NPO

Behavioral science is a fascinating field with many applications for nonprofit organizations. When used correctly, it can go a long way toward improving your fundraising efforts and encouraging support from donors. With this in mind, tailor these behavioral science approaches to your NPO, and don’t forget to measure and adjust your efforts down the road!

Creative Science is an award-winning digital agency that aligns behavioral science with design and technology to help companies rethink the way that they engage with people.