Charities are very good at making the abstract act of giving more tangible by explaining what different levels of donations will buy. In the example below, UNHCR USA informs people that $45 can buy high thermal blankets while $85 can buy a heating stove. These symbolic gifts make the abstract donation amount feel more real and increase engagement. So far so good.

But there’s a catch.

Donation decisions, especially the decision about the amount, can be highly influenced by the way we ask. This asymmetrical structure, where a higher donation amount is linked to a completely different symbolic gift, is the standard practice for many charities. But is it the most effective one?

In our latest case study, we worked with UNHCR USA to find a more effective way to present these symbolic gifts on their donation page.

The result? A 42% income increase and a Best Insight Nudge Award.


What we did: the role of perceived impact

Donors may care about the cause, but they care more about their individual contribution. They want to be sure their donation is not just a drop in the ocean. However, they rarely examine the actual impact that their gift had. They solely focus on information about how their money could be used, the symbolic gifts.

As mentioned above, charities typically link a different symbolic gift with each donation amount – what we call asymmetrical benefit structure. For example, $85 could buy a stove, £60 could buy an electric radiator. With this structure it’s unclear whether a higher amount leads to more impact as we compare apples and oranges. Is a stove better than a radiator? Is it worth giving the extra $25?

What if we made that comparison easier? What if the different donation amounts didn’t buy different symbolic gifts but more of the same gift e.g. $45 could buy 5 blankets, $85 could buy 9 blankets? With this symmetrical benefit structure it’s easier to make direct comparisons while the additional impact of the higher amount is very clear. This could make people choose a higher donation amount in order to increase their impact.

For our study, we used two online donation pages; UNCHR USA’S original page above featuring an asymmetrical benefit structure (control) and a version using a symmetrical benefit structure, shown below.

Online advertising, organic search from google, or Direct Marketing drove people to these webpages. Each visitor was randomly presented with one of the 2 conditions. Testing stopped after we had 100 donations in each condition.



Our test donation page outperformed the current standard practice. Presenting symbolic gifts in a symmetrical way – more money buys more of the same benefit – made the impact of a higher amount more salient and generated more income.

The symmetrical test page yielded $12,820 in total revenue while the control only $9,005. These results were due to an increase in the revenue per donor. The control page resulted in $83 per donor while the symmetrical test page yielded $111 rev per donor.


Remember: This 42% increase in total revenue was achieved merely by changing the way symbolic gifts are presented. Isn’t that cheap?