Development, Data, And The Psychology Of Giving
Whether you’re a lifelong development professional or someone who dreads asking for donations, it’s undeniable that fundraising is an essential aspect of animal advocacy. The nonprofit sector relies on the generosity of the public to accomplish our missions. Without that support, our programs, campaigns, and advocacy materials are not possible. Without funding for operational expenses, our organizations cannot grow. So when considering something as vital as fundraising, why do so many advocates cringe at the thought of making “the ask”?
Like politics and religion, money is deeply ingrained in our society, and yet it’s often considered taboo, not to be discussed in polite conversation. So it’s natural that the idea of asking for money doesn’t appeal to most people—we’ve been taught not to talk about it! But to succeed in fundraising advocates must push past this. Remember: you’re not asking for a donation for yourself, you’re asking for an investment in the fight against animal cruelty and exploitation. Advocacy campaigns and programs take time and resources, and by asking others to contribute, you’re giving them the opportunity to help the animal protection movement succeed.
With all of this in mind, let’s set those fundraising fears aside. Faunalytics has the research and intel you need to navigate donor cultivation and year-end giving. From donor data to giving psychology, read on for exclusive insights that will help you hit your fundraising goals.
Art or Science?
Charisma and confidence are helpful tools for any advocate, and if you’ve been around enough development directors you know that most have their own unique style when it comes to donor relationships. There’s certainly an art to it. What many people may not know is that there is indeed a science to fundraising as well.
When research findings are applied to your development tactics and strategies, you’ll be better positioned to achieve your fundraising goals. Faunalytics’ original research program has investigated animal-cause donors and donation appeal messaging in great depth, and our research library offers a variety of evidence-based insight to help you make your case for animals.
Understanding Animal-Cause Donors
There may be an art to reading the room, but there is a science to knowing your audience. Driven by a desire to increase donations to animal protection, Faunalytics recently conducted an in-depth study and several analyses about the people who support animal causes. What did we learn? Read on to discover everything you need to know about people who support animal protection.
Who are the donors? In general, women, non-religious, and politically liberal people were more likely to prioritize an animal charity above all others. The most promising demographics to target for new donations are people aged 55 and up and people with incomes of at least $50,000. In our analysis comparing people who donate to non-companion animal causes and companion-animal-exclusive donors, we found that women dominated the pool of companion-animal-exclusive donors, whereas men made up a larger share of donors to non-companion animals. Interestingly, whether or not a person maintains a veg*n diet or engages in an animal appreciation or destruction hobby (e.g. bird watching, fishing) does not reliably predict whether they prioritized animal charities above others. However, people who eat a veg*n diet and those who enjoy animal appreciation hobbies do donate more.
How do they give (and how much)? In our study, the typical donor gave $90 to animal charities in the past 12 months, and this represented 30% of their total charitable donations. 39% of our sample gave their gift online, while 25% gave via mail. Donating online via website was preferred by 39% of companion-animal-exclusive donors and 45% of donors to other animal causes. Donating via direct mail was preferred by 35% of companion-animal-exclusive donors but only 26% of donors to other animal causes.
Why do they give to animal causes? People were more likely to describe their reasons for donating in terms of animal protection or welfare than animal rights. Describing animals as “vulnerable” or “innocent” was common, while describing them as deserving of equal treatment or respect was not. Highlighting animals’ vulnerability to human exploitation and abuse might increase the size or frequency of donations.
Which animals do they prioritize? Most animal-cause donors gave to companion animal charities, often exclusively. 82% of respondents had given money to companion animal charities, 25% to wildlife or endangered species, 17% to a broad range of animals, and 12% to farmed animals (including sanctuaries). However, the “preference” for companion animal charities may be about familiarity and visibility rather than preference or motivation. We put this theory to the test and found that farmed animals received 86% as much money as companion animals when donors were given the opportunity to support them! Reminding people that a broad range of animals need their support may increase donations to underfunded charities.
What else do they support? Donations to organizations representing animals make up less than 3.6% of all charitable giving in the United States. We found that approximately three-quarters of donors in the U.S. had not donated to animal causes in the past 12 months and only 9% of animal-cause donors donated exclusively to animal causes. Animal-cause donors also supported charities that serve vulnerable populations (e.g. food banks, children’s charities), the environment, and emergency/disaster relief efforts (whereas places of worship and educational institutions were not linked to supporting animal causes). Check out the full report to view this data broken down by demographic.
Are volunteers donors too? A charity’s core volunteers are an incredible asset to any team—they donate time, in-kind goods, and they engage with us on social media. Be sure to give them a chance to fundraise and donate to the cause! We found the vast majority of people who volunteered with an animal organization also donated to it (50/50 whether they donate or volunteer first). On average, younger people and women were more likely to contribute time and goods to animal-related charities. In our donor survey, we found that people who donate to non-companion animal causes were more likely to work or volunteer with animals than companion-animal-exclusive donors (31% compared to only 20%, respectively).
The Psychology of Giving
Faunalytics’ donor studies shine a magnifying glass on the who, what, and why behind support for animal-causes. Now let’s take a closer look at what research reveals about the psychology behind charitable giving.
Identifiable Victim Effect: The identifiable victim effect refers to individuals’ tendency to offer greater help to specific, identifiable victims than to anonymous or statistical victims. Essentially, helping one or a few individual animals may feel more meaningful than contributing to a larger number of unknown animals. A meta-analysis of 41 studies revealed an overall significant, yet modest, identifiable victim effect. However, in Faunalytics’ donor study we found no difference in donations whether the appeal used an identifiable farmed animal or statistical victims. This finding is similar to previous research with wild animals. We encourage you to do a little A/B testing to see how your supporters respond!
Goal Proximity Effect: People are more likely to donate the closer you are to reaching the fundraising goal. In The Critical Link Between Tangibility and Generosity, researchers found that the rate of contributions when recipients were 66% or more of the way toward reaching their fundraising goal was significantly greater than when recipients were 33-66% of the way, and the rate of contributions when recipients were 33-66% of the way toward the goal was significantly greater than when recipients were less than 33% of the way. We recommend making your public-facing fundraising goals ambitious, yet realistic.
Donation Motivation: Are donors inspired by their mood in the moment or overall level of empathy? In one study that dug into donation decision-making, mood management was gauged by how giving a donation would make participants feel for donating (or not donating). Empathic emotions were assessed by self‐reported sympathy, compassion, and distress. It turns out that motivations for mood management (e.g. to feel better, to avoid regret) were predictive of donation decisions, whereas empathic feelings were predictive of the donation amount.
Time-Ask Effect: The Happiness of Giving examines how a focus on time versus money can lead to two distinct mind-sets that affect willingness to donate to charitable causes. The results of three experiments reveal that asking individuals to think about “how much time they would like to donate” (versus “how much money they would like to donate”) increases the amount that they ultimately donate. Keep this in mind as you outline your donor touchpoint plan!
Immediacy Bias: Research suggests that just as people perceive their immediate emotional experiences as more intense than previous emotional experiences, they also perceive current crises as more deserving of help than crises that aroused previous emotions. In other words, people donate more money and take more action to alleviate suffering that arouses immediate emotions.
Gift Matching Psychology: It’s somewhat of a given in fundraising that a match is better than no match. A generous supporter promising to double your donation is a fundraiser’s marketing miracle, and this strategy is also supported by the data. The American Economic Review published a study of over 50,000 direct mail solicitations and found that a match offer increased both the revenue as well as the response rate, though a larger match ratio ($2:$1) had no additional impact relative to a smaller match ratio ($1:$1). However, you may want to consider putting a spin on the traditional match—a small study among Sierra Club supporters found that a “challenge” raised 31% more than a match request.
Call-To-Action Colors: The devil is in the details and fortunately there’s a stat for that! In a HubSpot analysis of over 2,000 visits, a red CTA button outperformed green by 21%. However, this is just one of a handful of studies and ultimately, no single color unequivocally outperforms another because so much else factors in, including the button CTA, placement, font, size, and contrast, as well as cultural associations with the color.
Visuals & Videos: In addition to color, overall visuals are an important aspect of fundraising appeals. Research by the NextAfter Institute found that a countdown clock led to a 61% increase in donations, and saw a 6.5% decrease in conversion rate when they removed the fundraising progress bar. However, the combination of a progress bar and a countdown clock led to a 29% decrease in donations. They also found, in three separate experiments, that removing video from appeals led to an increase in donations, so think carefully about your fundraising video strategy.
The Right Place at the Right Time: The same NextAfter report found that 30% of organizations do not send any fundraising emails after December 25th, yet 36% of online year-end revenue is received December 31st! Organizations send more emails on Giving Tuesday even though that day generally accounts for less income. Make sure you spend time with your donor database and email analytics to get a sense of when you should send your appeals.
Adapting to the Landscape
Social and behavioral insights have the potential to subtly yet significantly inform and improve your fundraising strategies. But even with the data at hand, it can be challenging to feel empowered while navigating health and economic crises and reckoning with racial injustice. Fortunately, there is research that offers clues and further context to ensure our success as we navigate this new normal, as well as a brand new organization that challenges advocates to think about fundraising in a way that promotes equity in the nonprofit sector.
Charitable Giving & COVID-19. Earlier this year Faunalytics’ COVID-19 poll found that roughly equal proportions of respondents were more and less likely to donate to an animal charity because of the pandemic. In our blog on fundraising in the midst of a global crisis, we decode research that illustrates how a recession might impact philanthropy and how organizations can navigate the road ahead (hint: a study of over 1,400 organizations found that entrepreneurial strategies were most effective).
Development & DEI. The imbalance of power is overt in many org/funder relationships, which can foster inequity in fundraising and in animal protection. Community-Centric Fundraising is a new fundraising model grounded in equity and social justice. Supported by vegan nonprofit blogger Vu Le, CCF developed an evolving list of core principles (created with fundraisers of the global majority) that outline how they intend to transform fundraising and philanthropy into a more equitable space. Their vision is an inspiring must-read for any fundraiser.
Let Data Be Your Guide
This year has reminded advocates of how important it is that we stay adaptable and creative in our fundraising strategies. By knowing key details about animal-cause donors and the psychology behind charitable giving, we hope you have an even stronger understanding of how to target and appeal to your current and potential supporters. By knowing what to expect from philanthropy during a recession and how you can prioritize equity and inclusion in your fundraising philosophy, we hope our fellow advocates feel empowered to craft strategies that not only support your organization but all advocates in the animal protection movement.
Our purpose at Faunalytics is to bolster advocates with effective strategies and messages to reduce animal suffering. As we approach Giving Tuesday and the year-end giving season, be sure to keep these evidence-based insights in mind, and don’t hesitate to reach out to us if we can help you reach your goals. Cheers to a successful giving season and an impactful year for the animals ahead!