As a professional fundraiser, you know the secret sauce to raising money for your nonprofit is relationship building. To truly be successful, you have to create an emotional connection with your supporters … to know what motivates them to give to your cause.

So, why does this valuable industry knowledge evaporate into thin air when it comes to online giving? Many of us just slap a donation page on our site, send out a few promo emails, then expect the dollars to come flooding in.

But, just like traditional fundraising, there’s a psychology to online fundraising. And, luckily, there are countless studies on these psychological principles – conducted by the business community, academia, and the nonprofit sector – from which you can learn. Let’s take a look at three studies, here:

University of Pennsylvania – Identifiable Victim Effect

In a study conducted by University of Pennsylvania marketing professor Deborah Small and her colleagues, researchers found that cases focusing on a single person’s story generated more donations than those focusing on a larger number of unnamed victims. They also found presenting general statistics alongside individuals’ stories actually led to a decline in overall gifts.

Small and her colleagues conclude that charitable giving is often triggered by “spontaneous affective reactions.” In other words, people are more likely to donate based on feelings, not logic. And stories that focus on the plight of one individual seem to have a greater emotional impact.

Stanford University – The Time-Ask Effect

There’s a well-known idiom in fundraising circles “If you want money, ask for advice; If you want advice, ask for money.

And now, there’s Stanford research to back this up. The research examines how a focus on time versus money can lead to two distinct mindsets that impact willingness to donate to charitable causes. Asking for money first puts supporters into a “transactional mode,” a utilitarian mindset. However, asking them for time/advice puts more focus on how good it feels to give back.

Results found asking individuals to think about “how much time they would like to donate” (versus “how much money they would like to donate”) to a charity increases the amount they ultimately donate.

Kiva.org – Goal Proximity

A Kiva.org study found that donors are more likely to give to your campaign when you’re closer to your goal. So, resist the temptation to launch an online campaign and immediately post a thermometer to track progress. Instead, soft launch your campaign with your best supporters – major donors, sponsors, those who gave big last year – and “seed” your campaign. Then, once you have some funds raised you can launch that thermometer with progress already made.

The study revealed the highest giving rate occurred when the campaign launched to the public with at least 66 percent of the goal already reached. The psychology behind this is, donors are more likely to support a success.

There are a million more studies out there, focused on the psychology of persuasion. The key is to not take them at face value, because every nonprofit is different. Instead, use them as a jumping off point, test the principles with your unique audience, and use your findings to convince your leadership and board to try new things.

Join our upcoming webinar, The Psychology of Online Fundraising, during which we’ll look at these and more studies, in depth, and discuss next steps toward growing your online fundraising using psychological principles. In addition, Community Brands has some really cool research around donor experiences and expectations that includes data on online donor behaviors. Check out our 2018 Donor Experience Study.