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The 4 Barriers That Keep Your Donors From Giving

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Published October 21, 2014 Reading Time: 5 minutes

As an organization, you never want to keep your donors from going through with a gift. But getting your supporters to take action, any action, is half the battle.

That is what fundraising really comes down to: asking the reader to take action, be it to donate or fundraise on your behalf. But between nonprofit organizations, for-profit companies, and day-to-day life, your audience faces an endless stream of asks. They can’t act on all of them and it often seems simpler and safer to do nothing. Nonprofit fundraisers have to break through the noise and show supporters why they need to get involved.

In this blog, we’re going to explain 4 psychological barriers that keep people from giving to your campaign and how you can mitigate them. With these concepts in mind, you’ll be even more prepared to make your case.

1. The Fear of Regret

It may be hard to imagine someone regretting a donation, but the prospect of regret may be holding people back from taking action. Research by psychologists have found that even if the consequences are the same, people feel more regret over past actions than past inaction.

People are more likely to feel bad about something they did (say, push someone down) than to feel bad about something they didn’t do (not warning someone when you see they are about to trip over something). In both those situations the subject’s choice determines whether someone falls down, but they feel more responsible if they cause it by doing something (pushing them).
This is why it may seem less emotionally risky to simply do nothing. So how do you reassure donors that getting involved is the right decision?

Breaking the Barrier

TRUST: An important part of fighting the fear of regret is to present your organization as trustworthy and upstanding. Don’t give donors any reason to think they might regret getting involved. You can do this by prioritizing transparency and keeping donor information secure.

IMPACT: Another tactic is to remind your audience that choosing not to give will definitely have negative consequences. “Without your support, we won’t have the resources to shelter all the people displaced by the earthquake.”

2. The Bystander Effect

The Bystander Effect is the reason nobody in the office made coffee this morning – they figured someone else would do it.

If someone needs help and you’re the only other person around, you will feel responsible to step in. But if you are just one in a group of bystanders, that responsibility is diffused among the group.

“I don’t need to act. Someone else probably will.”

It’s not pretty, but this reaction has been documented both in experiments and real-life situations.

Your email subscribers and website visitors know they aren’t the only one being asked to help. In fact, they may overestimate how many donors and supporters you have. They may not take action if they imagine there are a lot of other people who will help. So how do you make individuals step up?

Breaking the Barrier

PERSONALIZATION: A simple way to break through that diffusion of responsibility is to make your appeal a personal message. Make sure emails address the recipient by name and reference their past involvement, if possible.

INDIVIDUALITY: Emphasize the importance of every individual donor. Along with featuring impact stories of individual constituents you have helped, profile individual donors and their reasons for giving.

3. Donor Efficacy – aka “Every Penny Helps”

A one dollar donation is better than nothing, right?

Even a one cent donation is more than you started with. So why are donors hesitant to give what they might think is a small amount?

Supporters and donors often want to know that their contribution is making a difference. This is why you need to affirm the value of every gift. Donor efficacy is the feeling that their gift matters and is having an impact. Why go to the trouble of taking action if you can’t have any real impact?

In a study of door-to-door fundraisers asking for donations, simply adding the phrase “even a penny will help” to the appeal significantly increased the proportion of subjects who made a donation. The researchers called this method the Legitimization of Paltry Donation (LPD). Whatever you want to call it, it increased the number of people who got involved and took action. You can use this technique to help motivate donors who may not think their gift is worth the trouble.

Breaking the Barrier

EVERY WORD MATTERS: As the study shows, simply including a phrase like “even a penny helps” or “no donation is too small” could influence more people to donate.

A DOLLAR COUNTS: If applicable, you can tell certain segments of your audience that your average donation is less than $20 (insert your own figure). Send the message that you know not everyone can give a lot of money but every donation really does make an impact.

IMPACT: You can also show the impact of a small donation. For example, Nothing But Nets makes sure visitors to their site know that a small $10 donation will buy a bed net to protect someone from Malaria. Show the tangible results just a few dollars can make.

4. The Paradox of Choice

Too many choices makes it hard to choose.

In a world where you can order your coffee in 700 different ways, we have grown accustomed to having a lot of options when making a decision, but overwhelming people with choices may make them more likely to not choose at all.

A much-referenced experiment in the study of choice took place at a jam-sampling table in a grocery store. In one iteration, the table offered six different jams to taste and buy. But they compared this with a table offering 24 different jams. Customers approaching the table were 10 X more likely to purchase a jar of jam if they only had six options. Although, the table with more choices attracted more customers to approach and taste, only 3% of people faced with such a wide variety actually chose to purchase any.

So how does this relate to donors?

Because the choice to support your organization can become fraught with choices and options. Which cause should I give to? Which organization? How much should I give? Should I support a specific program?

It is a fine line between having options and forcing donors to make a lot of hard decisions.

Breaking the Barrier

SIMPLICITY: Keep the options to take action simple with a “Donate” and a “Fundraise” button. You should also keep any forms to donate or create a fundraising page as short as possible.

ENCOURAGEMENT: Offer 3 or 4 suggested giving levels so donors face a manageable choice. This works best if you segment your contacts and you can suggest higher levels for big donors.

SPECIFICITY: If you allow donors to designate a specific program for their gift, limit to only a few choices. Most importantly, include the option for the gift to be used “wherever needed.”

A Final Thought

Sometimes, it seems easier to do nothing. This is what keeps you from going to the gym after a long day at work. It’s why you haven’t made that dentist appointment. It’s why you keep putting off getting the oil changed in your car.

But you know you’ll be better off if you do take action.

We all struggle with these barriers both professionally and personally, but some simple changes can make it easier for your supporters to help your cause. Help them see that your mission is worth acting on.

Keep Your Donors Coming Back

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Image Credit: Sebastian Mary

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