4 Lessons from Psychology to Turn Your Members into Donors | npENGAGE

4 Lessons from Psychology to Turn Your Members into Donors

By on Oct 28, 2013


Guest post by Laura Beussman, Blackbaud’s Sr. Product Marketing Manager for Arts and Cultural Solutions. Laura’s experience working at and serving on the board of multiple arts organizations around the country shape her insights into the nonprofit community. For more insights, follow her on Twitter @laurabeussman.


In 1933, the Swiss government began building nuclear power plants and found themselves faced with a difficult decision – where should they dump the nuclear waste? They identified two locations but were afraid of the local townspeople’s response. They went directly to the Swiss citizens, hypothetically asking a sampling what their response would be if their community was identified by the government as the best location to dump radioactive waste.

Believing it was for the common good of Switzerland, 50.8% of those asked agreed they would accept the government’s plan.

In an effort to increase that percentage, the researchers then asked the Swiss people the same question, but this time offered 5000 francs (about $2175) per person per year as compensation to dump the waste in their community.

The percentage of people who would accept the arrangement FELL BY HALF to 24.6%.

Confused, the researchers upped the compensation, to $4350, and then to $6525, but the townspeople didn’t budge.

Why? Shouldn’t financial compensation have encouraged the locals to agree to the deal?

It actually does just the opposite. Our brains process philanthropic motivation and financial motivation separately. The townspeople agreed to take on the risk of nuclear waste when they were motivated to help the greater good. When financial motivation took over, however, $2000 or even $6000 just wasn’t enough to compensate the risks associated with having radioactive waste in their backyard.

The same goes for donors. While it can be tempting to try and validate a gift with a tangible item in exchange, this can actually undermine the motivations of the donor.

The easiest place to look for new donors is among your member base. Current members understand your value and enjoy your work. However, members could have either philanthropic motivation or financial motivation. Memberships, thanks to well thought out member benefits, generally make financial sense. That’s much more difficult with donations, where it gets extremely expensive to come up with benefit levels that will entice a financially motivated individual.

So how do you convert your current financially motivated members into donors that are philanthropically motivated to help your organization achieve its mission?

Here are 4 ways to use human psychology to convert your members to donors.

1. Tell Your Story :

You need to set off the right motivation in your member’s brain. Let them know how they’re helping the community and how they can do it even more in the future. Explain how your programs are benefiting society and include pictures and stories of educational or community events your organization puts on. You can do this in your campaign mailings, on your website, social media, and even on signs in your building.

2. Listen:

Take advantage of every opportunity to learn more about your members. You should know which exhibits they’re attending, what merchandise they’re buying and how often they’re visiting. All these little tidbits help you understand your members and what their interests are, which is priceless information when it comes time to asking for a gift.

3. Segment :

Use all the great information you learned from listening: segment your members and tailor your asks for gifts.Do they come exclusively to family friendly events? Include them on a campaign for your educational programming.Do they come to events in the evening? Invite them to your annual gala.Not putting a member in for every campaign will prevent you from overwhelming them. Including them on campaigns that speak to their individual interests will strengthen your relationship with them and make it more likely that you jump start their philanthropic motivators.

4. Thank and Reinforce:

 We all know how important it is to thank our donors. You should also use that opportunity to reinforce your organization’s story and the philanthropic motivation behind it. Remind them how their gift makes a difference. Let them know how successful the campaign was thanks to people like them and details into what you were able to accomplish because of it.

With a strong member base, you already have a group of people that enjoy your work and understand your mission. Some of them are ready to increase their level of support for your organization through donations; they just need you to listen to them and connect the dots for them as to how their gift will benefit the community in ways that matter to them. Don’t assume, like the Swiss government did, that tangible benefits are the only way to entice donations.

What other ways are you and your organization using to turn your members into donors?

 Let’s continue the conversation in the comments below or on twitter @laurabeussman.



Laura Beussman is passionate about marketing and building sustainable communities, and is able to combine the two as Director of Product Marketing, Fundraising & CRM Solutions, at Blackbaud. In her current role, Laura leads the go-to-market strategy for Blackbaud’s portfolio of best in class fundraising solutions, which includes the development of positioning, value propositions, packaging, and pricing. Laura has an affinity for the arts, coming from spending five years early in her career working in nonprofit arts organizations, in roles ranging from finance to development and marketing at organizations including Austin Opera, Madison Opera, AT&T Performing Arts Center and the Dallas Theater Center. After completing her MBA at the University of Wisconsin’s Bolz Center for Arts Administration, Laura spent two years as the lead pricing manager for consumer desktops at Dell. Laura joined the Blackbaud team in 2013, and spent her first four years there leading the marketing efforts for the arts & cultural vertical. Still involved in the arts, she continues to serve on nonprofit boards, previously at the Austin Chamber Music Center (2011 – 2014) and currently on the Advisory Board at her alma mater, the Bolz Center for Arts Administration. In her personal time, Laura and her husband David, a choir director, spend their time chasing after their three year old daughter and two teenagers.

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