Notes on marathon fundraising, what we have evidence for, speculations on what might work, and other comments
– Dr. David Reinstein, University of Essex, August 2012
Why do we ask people to donate particularly when we are running a marathon, and why not so much at other times? Could you ask your friends to give in honour of your holiday in Greece? Economists wonder why there is such a strong link between running marathons and charitable giving. There is some very interesting research going that looks directly at data on giving online in connection with marathons (Sarah Smith and Mike Sanders of Bristol University).
Is this a unique opportunity to get publicity out of fundraising giving? Raising money might be a commitment device for the runner, to make sure he does not back out, and put these confirmations in jeopardy. Running a marathon may signal his strong commitment to the cause; but if he likes to run marathons anyways this shouldn’t work. It may be that running a marathon is a “gift” to your friends, and they should return the favor by giving to your favorite charity; but this seems unlikely. Or maybe requiring someone to run a marathon in order to ask you for money acts as a gatekeeper, so they can’t ask you all the time.
In any case, I offer some evidence, and some informed speculation about what might be helpful in raising more money.
Ask people to donate: don’t wait for them to come to you.
Evidence: Levis, 1990; Andreoni and Rao, 2011; Long, 1976
Ask people to make hard commitments to give “softer” money. Ask them to give in the future, to give “conditionally” — for example, if you make a certain marathon time — and to give less “tangible money” – like contributing online instead of in cash.
Evidence from: “Give more tomorrow” (Breman, 2007); preliminary evidence of Reinstein et al (see presentation at British Academy “Nudge and Beyond”); Reinstein and Reiner (2012).
Find a way to publicly recognize the donors. Setting up a Virgin Mobile Giving or JustGiving page allows this (and also allows you to claim Gift Aid). People will know that others will see their donation, and they will see what others donated. They want to impress others with their generosity, and might want to set a good example for others.
Evidence: Harbaugh, 1998; Soetevent, 2005; Alpizar et al, 2008; Reinstein and Riener, 2012
If people can see each other’s donations, ask the more generous people first. People seem to want to conform and follow other people’s lead. But you might not want to lead with someone whose gift will be so high that it will scare others off. Women as leaders also seem to have more influence on others’ donations. (They also seem to be more successful at asking people to donate).
Evidence: Reinstein and Reiner, 2012; Sarah Smith, 2012; Carman, 2003.
Eliminate potential excuses and make it easy for people to donate (or “hard commit”) right away.
People tend to look for justifications not to donate while still feeling good about themselves and preserving their reputation. Avoid questions about the effectiveness of the charity, or stumbling blocks that make it more difficult or complicated to donate. This works against people’s tendency to procrastinate and to make “self-serving justifications.”
Evidence: Thaler, various; Rasul and Huck, 2010; Fong and Oberholzer-Gee, 2010
If you suggest a donation, make it just a bit higher than you expect people to give, but not too high. But also tell them that “any contribution helps, no matter how small.”
Evidence: May increase my gift (or propensity to give) if the report is in right range (Shang and Croson, 2005; Frey and Meier, 2004; Alpizar et al, 2008?) Recommended contributions (Croson, 2001), “Effects of amount requested; trade-off between amounts received and probability of gifts; if the amount is excessive it can backfire.” (Bekkers and Weipking, 2008, p 24) “Even a penny helps” (Reingen, 1978).
Giving people a small gift (like a pin or sticker) may get them to reciprocate towards the charity.
Evidence: Gift exchange (Falk, 2004)
Give a personal and concrete explanation of the tangible needs of the charity.Explain what real people’s needs are and why they are not being met. But give them a positively framed message about the charity, and don’t guilt them too much.
Evidence: Benson and Catt, 1978; Batson, 1987; various evidence, see Sargeant and Woodliffe, 2007.