Think about your charitable giving over the past year or so. Did you donate to a friend’s cause? Did you volunteer your time? Did you support a friend, family member, acquaintance, or stranger in need? Looking back on it now, does your giving reflect who you are and what you care about?
These are probably hard questions to answer. You may give to many different organizations or causes over the course of the year—some planned donations, others spontaneous. You may have donated to causes that you’ve been supporting for years, and others linked to a specific event or experience that touched you. Your record of donations may be scattered: in emailed receipts, a self-maintained spreadsheet, notations in a checkbook, or perhaps a dashboard for a donor-advised fund or workplace giving platform.
Without a clear and comprehensive view of your past giving activity, it can be hard to take stock of the important causes you’ve contributed to and see how well your giving reflects your goals and values. And lacking a “big picture” view can make it even harder to plan or adjust your giving going forward to follow through on generous intentions. Many people don’t give as much or as intentionally as they’d like. We’re seeking to unlock donor generosity.
Since 2015, our team has been researching donor behavior and designing and testing behavioral solutions that bridge the gap between good intentions and impactful actions. Over the next six weeks, we’ll share some of the designs we developed during our most recent phase of work and the insights we learned from testing them. Up first: The Personal Giving Review.
Providing a holistic view of giving
Many donors never get the opportunity to take a step back and view the picture of their giving in its entirety. Looking at this challenge through a behavioral science lens, we hypothesized that providing people with timely and actionable feedback about their giving could paint a clearer picture and ultimately help them give more generously and intentionally. This idea was supported by online surveys, where we heard from donors that they generally don’t track their giving and would value even simple feedback about it.
We developed a concept called the Personal Giving Review—a tailored, behaviorally-designed compilation of a donor’s past giving. It includes several features to help donors reflect on their past giving and align their future giving with their goals and values, presenting giving behavior as a reflection of their philanthropic identity. It also provides prompts for donors to think about how they want to continue to give, give more thoughtfully, and how to act on these intentions. The design is flexible, customizable to include the elements that resonate most with different donor audiences, and the information can be delivered by email or through an online platform’s account dashboard.
The Personal Giving Review leverages three behavioral strategies to encourage thoughtful giving:
What we learned
We’ve tested variations of the Personal Giving Review with multiple giving platforms. An early version of the concept increased the rate at which donor advised fund (DAF) account holders contributed to their DAFs by almost 12%; it also increased the rate at which a key subset of donors (those with higher levels of contributions into their accounts than grants out of their accounts) granted out funds by almost 8%.
In further testing, we found that elements like badges that celebrate specific donation activity such as recurring donations or support for internationally focused charities can capture donors’ attention and interest. However, we saw that it is unlikely that learning about the badges in a single email is enough to motivate donors to pursue earning badges through their giving behavior. Instead, additional reminders through subsequent (perhaps quarterly or biannual) emails will keep the idea of earning badges more salient to donors. We also recommend providing easy ways for donors to take immediate action to donate or schedule donations after receiving the Review.
How can we use these insights to fine-tune holistic donor feedback and encourage thoughtful giving?
We’re building these insights into new iterations of the Personal Giving Review:
- Choose a delivery channel that will support engagement. For instance, placing the Review on a dashboard can be a great strategy if donors regularly engage with their accounts that way; it’s likely to be less effective if dashboards go unused or if there is no prompt to check them.
- Consider ways to adapt the features for a specific donor population. Sending the Review to newer donors could guide their giving behaviors before they’ve developed habits related to a particular platform. The badges and benchmarking on the Review could be customized to specific cause areas (such as giving to environmental organizations) or other donor interests (like how their giving compares to others in their city or state).
- Test options to promote sustained giving. Depending on the platform, the Review could suggest action steps, like making a plan for giving over the coming year, to prompt further engagement with the platform and sustained giving.
Because the Personal Giving Review is a flexible tool, there are many opportunities to incorporate new features that resonate with different audiences and integrate with different giving platforms. We hope that other giving platforms adopt and adapt this tool to provide a holistic view of users’ giving in a way that meets the needs of the platform and its users, and in turn, unlocks even more generosity.