How Associations Can Benefit From Giving Contributors More Control Over Their Donations

Associations and their related foundations are often looking for volunteers and donors to provide their time or money to fund initiatives or programs. New research reveals offering donors control over where money goes, or using the word “spend,” instead of “give,” can increase monetary donations.

When soliciting donations of time or money for your association or its foundation, the language and framing used can make a huge difference. New research suggests that when asking people to donate money, organizations should focus on giving the donor a sense of control and use the word “spend” rather than “give.”

In “Why Are Donors More Generous With Time Than Money? The Role of Perceived Control Over Donations on Charitable Giving,” researchers from the University of Notre Dame and Ohio State University look at donor perceptions, noting that while people recognize time and money are both forms of giving, they view them differently.

“People think about time and money as different resources psychologically, so strategies that might be effective for generating monetary donations might not be effective for getting people to volunteer and vice versa,” said John Costello, assistant professor of marketing at the University of Notre Dame and coauthor of the study. “Being aware of some of the psychological differences that people have when they’re thinking about time and money is really important in terms of soliciting these different resources.”

Why Offering Choices Matters

If your organization wants a monetary gift, focus on giving people control. For example, allowing donors to say where they want the money spent can help. 

“The positive thing is it does bolster people’s sense of control over that donation,” Costello said. “But the downside is it also restricts how that organizations can use the donation.”

To use this tactic in the least restrictive way, Costello suggests offering broad categories they can select to allot their donation to.

“You want to be as broad as possible without being untruthful,” Costello said. “If you have an organization that operates on a few key areas, I think that designating those different areas at as broad of a level as possible probably gives you the most flexibility and people some sense of control.”

For example, he noted the Red Cross has categories like blood drives, disaster support, and community programs. That allows funding to go to overhead to support those programs, too, which is something donors tend to be averse to.

“They don’t want to hear about their money going to necessary activities for operating an organization. Things like paying staff, paying for various logistical requirements, support for fundraising activities,” Costello said.

In addition, Costello said the choices donors are offered don’t have to be significantly different. What increases the likelihood of monetary donation is the feeling of choice. “There’s been work that’s even shown that just giving people a choice that makes no difference in the ultimate outcome can have positive effects in terms of people’s likelihood to donate,” Costello said.

The Power of Words

Costello’s research also revealed that word choice matters. People were more likely to donate money if the appeal they received asked them to spend on the program, rather than give to the program.

“Agentic language is essentially language that’s associated with more agency, or having more control,” Costello said. “People think of spending as a more agentic word than giving, and as a result, the mental representation of spending their money, as opposed to giving their money, makes them feel a higher sense of control over that donation, and that leads to greater giving of money.”

When it came to giving time, the researchers found no correlation that using the word “spend” and increased donations of time. Costello speculates that because people who volunteer already have a great deal of control over their volunteer efforts, adding a control cue through language doesn’t impact them.

The one thing researchers found that did impact volunteerism was feelings of loss of control. If people felt a lack of control in their own lives, or there was “chaos in the world,” they were more likely to volunteer. For example, creating an initiative or program to help provide aid and support for the people of Ukraine would likely get high volunteer support, due to the chaos factor.

“They may be looking to assert some control in their lives through volunteer behavior,” Costello said.

What is your approach in asking for time or monetary donations? Share in the comments.

(donald_gruener/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Rasheeda Childress

By Rasheeda Childress

Rasheeda Childress is a former editor at Associations Now. MORE

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