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The Psychology of Fundraising

The Psychology of Fundraising

There is an entire psychology of selling and of getting people to buy or spend money.  Fundraising is very much about the emotional and psychological response that donors have.  Often, the difference between a donation and a “no” response is nothing more than a few small psychological events that make a potential donor look with less favour on a not-for-profit.  If you want to tap into the business of psychology, consider the following.

 The psychology of money

Most people are very emotional when it comes to cash.  We see money not as a tool for something, but as a measurement of wealth.  To part someone from their cash, you have to affect them emotionally, not intellectually.  That means rather than focusing on all the practical reasons for giving money, paint someone a picture of the suffering lack of money is causing and then emotionally show how their donation can change that.

The “me” syndrome

Donors (like any person) want to feel special.  If you can make them feel that they are being approached especially or that they can make a huge impact, they are more likely to support your cause.

 Compelling reasons

Most of us look for something that pulls at us, or that tugs at us in a personal or emotional way.  If you can offer donors something special or compelling as an experience, they are more likely to support your cause.  Consider the not-for-profit groups that raise money for world relief - they often stress the sheer number of people who suffer from hunger daily.  The very fact that these numbers are so huge (much larger than most of us can comfortably imagine) causes many people to be compelled to give money for the cause.  Compelling reasons to give create a sense of urgency.


Humans are creatures of habit.  Experts say that many of our reactions are based on the “programming” our brains received when we were a child.  For this reason, we tend to view people with suspicion, or look for certain “clues” that subconsciously tell us how to react to a person.  This is important to understand in fundraising, because this is the very process that potential donors are undergoing when they consider your not-for-profit. 

 If something seems out of place or “wrong” donors will walk away without offering support for your group.  It will simply seem safer to do so.  Congruency means that all the pieces fit into a congruent whole and look correct together.  Congruency is also an important factor in getting any sort of support (including fundraising support). 

 Consider the politician who is denying participation in a scandal but seems nervous and unable to make eye contact.  Are you likely to believe them?  No, because the congruency is off.  You can build congruency and support for your not-for-profit by putting forward the same friendly presentation to the public.  Do all you can to assure your donors that your group is “safe” to donate funds to.

 How hard it is to say no

Potential donors who do not want to part with their time and money will generally look for reasons to say no.  If you can anticipate these reasons and counter them before the donor has time to think of them, you are more likely to get a donation.  If you can eliminate all of a donor’s reasons for saying no, then you will have a donation. 

 Some reasons that donors say “no” include:

 The belief that their money won’t really make a difference

  • The belief that a cause is not important enough
  • The belief that charity is a waste of time
  • The belief that not-for-profit groups do not use money responsibly
  • The belief that the money will never get to those who really need it
  • The belief that there is no urgency in giving money now - a contribution can be made “later”
  • The belief that money can be raised elsewhere or from someone else

 You and your group need to create compelling reasons why these beliefs are not true when it comes to your fundraising campaign and your not-for-profit group.  Then, include these reasons and ideas in your opening requests for support.