I was on Wikipedia the other day looking at things that were totally job-related* when I came across this ad:

We here at DonorVoice are huge believers in science generally and behavioral science in particular (with what I think is the industry’s only behavioral scientist on full-time staff). And this is (with two exceptions) a great example of the art of the nudge.

Let’s see what we can learn from this.

For those who don’t want to read the small type, it says:

Today we ask readers in the U.S. to help us keep Wikipedia ad-free and independent.  We are sustained by donations averaging about $15.  Only a tiny portion of our readers give.  Now is the time we ask.  If everyone reading this right now gave $3, our fundraisers would be done within an hour.  That’s right, the price of a cup of coffee is all we need.  If Wikipedia is useful to you, please take one minute to keep it online and growing.  We are a non-profit with the costs of a top ten website: servers, staff and programs.  We serve millions of readers, but we run on a fraction of what other top sites spend.  We believe knowledge is a foundation.  A foundation for human potential, for freedom, for opportunity.  We believe everyone should have access to knowledge – for free, without restriction, without limitation.  Please help us end the fundraiser and improve Wikipedia.  Thank you.

 I count five different positive psychological triggers here you can use:

  1. Anchoring and social proof. One of the principal challenges of being a new donor is knowing how much is the right amount to give.  Think of it like tipping in a culture you know nothing about – you want to do what is socially acceptable and make sure your food is not spat in.  By letting people know what is normally expected, you ease their minds about amount and “is this appeal the right appeal for me?”By throwing out that the average person gives $15, you set expectations and let people know what everyone else is giving.  This sets the expectations for whether you are the type of person who is willing to go above and beyond, give just a little, or stay right at the average.  This is the number that your processing will be based on for the rest of the appeal.  (This is covered brilliantly (if I do say so myself) in our free white paper about ask strings that is downloadable here)
  1. Granting permission for small gifts. Here, Wikipedia says “.  If everyone reading this right now gave $3”, lowering their ask amount.  This sounds counterintuitive, but it actually can increase response rate substantially.  Face-to-face recruiters found that using the phrase “even a penny would help” increased giving from 28% to 50%.  You are letting people know that their gift, however small, will be valued.  And that’s a good thing for any level of giving.
  1. Use of exceptional expenses to get around mental accounting. The phrase “Now is the time we ask.” seems innocuous.  But what they are doing here is implying that this is the only time of the year they ask.  Research shows that asking for something in a way that positions it as something that happens only once per year is 11% more successful than looking at it as something that happens every year.  A subtle difference to be sure, but letting someone know that this is a unique event gives them the mental freedom to spend when they may not have had a mental budget for donating to Wikipedia.
  1. Positioning against a hedonic good. “The price of a cup of coffee is all we need” is a somewhat common phrase in nonprofit asks.  The reason for this is when you position a gift against something that a person would buy solely to give themselves pleasure (in the case of this study, a Justin Timberlake song), response rates increase significantly. The authors hypothesize this is because we feel the need to signal to ourselves that we are good people, so we do charity things instead of just things for ourselves.
  1. A solid rationale for the giving. While not as detailed as some of the previous points, it’s no less important.  When you give, you know exactly what your money is doing (paying for the costs of a top 10 website on a nonprofit budget) and why that’s important (the whole of human knowledge is powerful).  While the why is different from a lot of nonprofits’, it’s still a great connection to something larger than ourselves.

All of these should be things that you can incorporate into your appeals.  But I’d also mentioned two things to avoid, so don’t copy this verbatim:

  1. Negative social proof. There is a famous study with the Arizona Petrified Forest.  They found that a sign that has negative social proof significantly increases the likelihood that someone will do something bad. In this case, the sign said: “Many past visitors have removed the petrified wood from the park, destroying the natural state of the Petrified Forest.”  In essence, this sign says out loud what your mom warned you about – everyone else is jumping off a bridge and you should too.Here, Wikipedia says “Only a tiny portion of our readers give.”  Here, very few people are taking the desired action.  What’s wrong with it?  Why isn’t everyone else doing it?  As a fundraiser, you want to use the argument of the masses to help you, not to create your own head winds.
  1. A minor point, but we mentioned at the beginning that $15 was the anchor for giving. That’s what their donations average.  OK, I’m sold.  I want to give $15 like everyone else.  But then, on the giving amounts, there is no $15 level – just a $10 or a $20.  This is hardly a unique situation.  I recently received emails from a nonprofit that asked for $50, but when I got to the donation page, my options were $51 from one email and $53 from the other.  This difference between ask and option will lose you donors – try to shy away.

Anything else you noticed in this ad?  Please let us know in the comments.  Thanks!


* OK, you got me; it was the origin of the phrase teetotaler.  Is it tee?  Or tea?  (Tee)  And how did it originate?  (No one is certain; you can read theories here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Teetotalism)


How I got from that page to try to figure out what the Chancellor of the Exchequer does, I have no idea.  Such is Wikipedia.