We are nothing if not laser focused on the “why” of giving.   So much so that we know there are  really two giving decisions, not one.  No donor would ever report this in a focus group or a survey.  These separate mental decisions are occuring subconsciously.

Testing allows us to prove what’s going on and why. And,  of course, how and when to influence each decision.

The first decision is whether to give or not; yes or no.  The second decision is conditional on the first but if we decide “yes”, then we decide “how much”.

The influencers of these two decisions are very different and most of our fundraising starts off on a bad foot because these details are missed.

To Give or Not to Give?

Influencers of the first, to give or not to give question are all about the donor.  Not your organization or need or even impact or the beneficiary.   More specifically,

  • Goals: Is giving going to reinforce my goals tied to my Identity?
  • Emotion: If we’ve made donors feel a negative emotion like being sad, does the person think giving will make them feel better?  This is them anticipating the emotion.  Nobody gives because we make them feel sad or mad.  They give to feel happy and better.

How Much to Give?

If folks have leapt the first mental chasm and landed on the give side of the divide then the only remaining decision is how much.  What influences this decision?

  • Emotion: Same deal here.
  • Competence:  Folks need to feel or believe that their money will make a difference.  This is where your efficiency or charity rating or other trust indicators or showing tangible linkage to $X for $Y outcome is needed.  It’s still about them but now in the context of evaluating you.

We did a very cool test with Catholic Relief Services (CRS), who deserves a shout out for their ongoing commitment to thinking differently.  They’ve been a long time partner in innovation testing and we’re honored.

Here is the test of this two-step, mental model.  It has two parts that do symmetrically link to the two stages.

  • An email whose job it is to influence the give or not give decision.
  • A landing page whose job it is to influence the how much decision.

These are different jobs tied to different stages of thinking by your donor.  Therefore, the test email didn’t try to do the 2nd job.

  • We added stuff in the blue boxes.
    • Top blue box:  We dialed up the supporter Identity (which, shocker, is Catholic) and talked about them as Catholics and their beliefs.
    • Bottom blue box:  More identity messaging about their faith and explicitly note how they will feel to make it mentally easier to see the desired, anticipated emotion with the “warm your heart” language.


  • And removed stuff.  Look at the bottom blue box and compare with the test.  Find Waldo.   See what’s missing?  No dollar amounts.  The horror.  Stupid?  Only if there isn’t a reason and rationale.   There is.  Numbers and especially dollar amounts create mental pain.  Why induce that here?  Our job is a mental yes to helping.


Here’s the landing page doing it’s job.  We’re focused on the beneficiary and impact that links dollar amounts to tangible outcomes.



  • The test won.
  • Response Rate was up 56%
  • The revenue was up 27%

It’s worth noting that DonorVoice and CRS shared these results and many others at the ANA conference last week.  During the session Kiki and Larissa (of CRS) shared lots of results, including those that lost.  Those early losses and mixed results – e.g. response up, average gift down – is what led to this round of testing.

Success is never a straight line.