Psychology of giving: Change the way you ask to get more

Psychology of giving: Change the way you ask to get more
Psychology of giving: Change the way you ask to get more

Money is needed if churches are going to carry out their ministries, but continually asking for money and encouraging reluctant donors to give can become tiresome.

Why do some people give willingly while others don’t? Why does a person give one day and not another?

If you want to help move people to give, check out these tips based on fundraising psychology:  

Don’t mention money up front

Obviously, it’s important to use Biblical teachings to prepare congregants to give, but there’s another type of preparation that you can do in order to increase giving in your church.

Believe it or not, you may need to help your potential givers not think about money. While that sounds counterproductive, studies have shown that when people are primed to think about money, they are actually less likely to give.

This means there is a benefit to first asking someone for something else.  

There are a couple of reasons why this is a good idea. First, when people are asked outright for a donation, they are more likely to begin analyzing the pros and cons of giving.

However, when you ask them to do something (like volunteer), they will start thinking about something else (such as their time). This type of thinking leads to more emotional decision-making, which tends to lead people to give, and to give more.

Another reason this type of ask works better is because humans tend to like consistency. When people say “yes” to one commitment, they are more likely to follow through with a related commitment when asked later.

Takeaway: When approaching potential givers, consider asking that they give of their time first. If they choose to volunteer, they may be more willing to give later.

Focus on individuals, not the group

Research shows that givers are more generous to individuals than groups. While this may seem like bad news for your church, it’s not.

When asking for a gift, the key is to concentrate on what your church is doing for individuals. The story of an individual has more emotional appeal and motivates people to give.

If you are designing an advertising or fundraising campaign, try to emphasize how your ministry has specifically helped an individual. This relates to what is known as the Identifiable Victim Effect, which, simply put, means that people like to have a picture, a name and a story to which they can relate.

For example, if you are designing your church website giving page, you may want to put a picture of a man who has been helped by your homeless ministry. Underneath, you could write a short description, such as, “Joe lost his job because of company cutbacks. Then, he lost his house. Joe became homeless, but thanks to gifts such as yours, XYZ church is helping Joe get back on his feet again.”

Remember, while your church helps many people, givers connect and sympathize more with a single person.

Takeaway: When asking for monetary gifts, highlight how your church helps individuals and specifically how a donation may help.

Personally connect to your cause

This may seem obvious, but it’s something that is often taken for granted. Potential givers respond better when the askers have a personal connection to the cause.

This involves more than just citing your position at the church. Think about it: If someone is seeking donations for cancer research, which person would you be more willing to listen to: a woman whose husband died from cancer or the man who quotes statistics about how many people are diagnosed with the illness each year?

While information is very important to encourage giving, to be most effective, it should be framed in ways that appeal to the potential donor.

So, the next time you begin a stewardship campaign, consider having someone give a testimony of how the church has been a blessing to him or her. Then, follow up with specific needs and numbers and how a donation may help meet the need.

Takeaway: Solicit volunteers who have a personal connection to your ministry.

Plan giving campaigns that require a little skin in the game

It sounds crazy, but it’s true. People tend to be more willing to give money when there is a little work involved. Consider some of the more popular types of giving campaigns — the Ice Bucket Challenge, mud runs, carnivals, bake sales, marathons, etc. These types of events involve an element of fun and can create a more joyful giving experience, but the psychology of their success goes much deeper. People like to work for what they are giving.

In addition, these campaigns often succeed because of the publicity they receive on social media. People enjoy sharing their experiences, which, in turn, promotes the cause.

When you need more money for a specific ministry within your church, you may want to consider one of these types of fundraisers. But, remember, they also come with certain expenses. Make sure to count the cost as well as the potential gain to determine if it’s worth it.

Takeaway: Consider hosting a giving campaign that requires effort on the part of the giver.

Understanding the psychology of giving isn’t about manipulating your congregation; it is about helping present the needs of your ministry in the most effective manner. Keep these suggestions in mind and perhaps it will increase the chances that today will be the day givers say “yes.”  


— Tricia Brown has been a freelance writer and editor for more than twenty years, ghost-writing and editing for individuals as well as for health, education and religious organizations. She enjoys reading, writing and public speaking commitments in which she teaches and encourages other women.

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