This magic word could unlock your fundraising (because psychology says so)

This was pretty interesting – the “Copy Machine Experiment” was a study done back in 1978 (holy shit, 40 years ago…). It showed that giving a reason made it considerably more likely that people would respond to a small request.

Here’s a little summary of the experiment:

A man and a woman (the participants) both approached approximately 60 subjects each asking to cut in front of them in the line with one of 3 questions:

  • Request only: “Excuse me, I have 5/20 pages. May I use the Xerox machine?”
  • Placebic information: “Excuse me, I have 5/20 pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I have to make copies?”
  • Real information: “Excuse me, I have 5/20 pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I’m in a rush?”

And the results:

The results were astounding for the small request:

  • Where the request was made with no reason given (request only), 60% of subjects complied with the request to allow the participant to jump in line in front of them
  • Where the request was made with placebic information given, a huge 93% of subjects complied
  • Where the participant used real information, this was 94%


Professor Ellen Langer who conducted the experiment concluded that it was the power of giving a reason, the “because”, that led to an increased chance of people responding positively to a small request.

In fundraising

I feel like this is a no-brainer: give people an explicit – and true – reason to donate when you make your ask.

But in this case, using the word “because” could be worth the time to test it out to see if it has any impact.

Hey {firstname}, these are the best email openings

Hey {firstname},

Some nerdy types did analysis of over 300,000 emails to see which common email openings had the best response rate. And it really goes to show that this stuff is seriously worth testing out:

Using a more casual greeting (like hey/hello) had almost 10% higher responses than “Dear”. And as the article highlights, a more formal greeting is typically used when there’s less shared context or if people don’t like each other – which isn’t great if you’re looking to build trust with your supporters.

Interestingly enough, just including an opening (any opening at all) generally increased response rate.

The team at Quartz include this very helpful insight, too:

Before you toss “Dear” in the dustbin, keep in mind that the data we analyzed may not be representative of email data at large. Online communities tend to be more informal, so you might find a different distribution of openings, and different response rates across them, in more formal settings. The same research also showed that participants in online communication tend to mimic each other in the formality of their writing. So keep your audience in mind when you’re starting to write a new message.

So, remember who you’re talking to. You know your audience better than anyone (hopefully) – but if in doubt, test it out!

The rules don’t apply anymore (part 2)

Bequest/legacy giving is fundraising’s next Big Thing. In the next 20 years, $30 TRILLION will pass between generations in the United States alone. At an average donation of $40,000 a pop. Nothing to sneeze at.

Enter Jennifer Xia and Patrick Schmitt, a couple of students at Stanford.

They didn’t know all the rules about bequest giving. About warming up donors with a long mailing series, making the solicitation at the end. So they developed an online-based free bequest tool.

And just like that, they showed that asking for – and securing – online bequests is a real thing.

To the tune of over $100 million pledged, and counting.

In their research in building their online tools, they found some key takeaways:

Team-wide planned giving goals are a good thing

Sharing responsibility for obtaining new bequest donors amongst the team – including your digital team – was shown to have proven success. Silo-ing planning giving to the major gifts team or a planning giving officer isn’t a great idea.

Ask donors straight up if you’re in their will

From Jennifer and Patrick: “To fill in the missing data on planned giving, organizations should regularly ask supporters: “Have you chosen to include us in your will or estate plan?” and “What motivated you to do so?” These questions must come with a clear explanation of why the information is valuable: It helps the organization plan for the future and understand how to motivate other donors.”

And of course, using that information to conduct a whole series of tests to find out what’s resonating with your audience.

Estate planning is in dire need of innovation if we want to unlock the power of bequests

The general population puts off writing their wills, and estate planners don’t discuss giving. It’s not a great combo. But with tools like FreeWill that make it easy to give, people can (and do) take advantage.

I’m super impressed.

You can read more about the thinking behind FreeWill in the Stanford Social Innovation Review here.