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Happy People = Happy Donors

People who are happy give more to charity. That was the conclusion from a new study of donors' mindsets before they make a contribution.

Shocking, right? Who would have thought?

Actually, this is a pretty important concept for nonprofits to understand. The evidence is already clear that the act of giving makes people happy. It releases all sorts of endorphins and dopamine that make them feel warm all over. We also know that philanthropy gives us a sense of belonging that reinforces a positive self-image.

What this study shows is that, if someone is in a good mood, they are more likely to make a donation. The authors call it the "preheating effect” and, while they really don’t know what causes it, their research indicates that this “warm glow” can precede the donation by up to an hour.

To reach that conclusion, they tracked the behavior of more than 20,000 people who were regular Twitter users and gave money to Wikipedia. When someone gives to the site, they are encouraged to send out a tweet with the hashtag “#iloveWikipedia.” So, by tracking that hashtag, researchers could go back into the donor’s feed to see whether previous tweets were upbeat or downers. They found that donors were much more likely to have sent a happy tweet right before they gave.

So what? Like most behavioral studies, this one tends to confirm what we already know. People are more generous when they are in a good mood. It’s important because it reminds us that setting the right mood is a critical part of successful fundraising. Here are four ways that knowledge helps:

  1. The carrot is mightier than the stick. It is tempting to paint donors a picture of how bad things are. However, in addition to sending the message that the problem is so big their dollars won’t help, it's also a buzzkill. That’s why it is important to let donors see the problem, but you always need to follow that with the solution and how that donor can make it possible. And even if the cause is a downer, the person giving the message needs to be upbeat.

  2. Is everybody having a good time? Ever been to a fundraising event where you felt like you were moving down a conveyor belt? Find your table. Eat your salad. Hear the opening remarks. Eat your main course. Listen to the keynote. Get out your checkbook. Get outta here. Compare that to an event where the focus was on making sure people had fun. I’ll bet the people who enjoyed themselves gave more.

  3. Timing is the key. You’ve seen the youth groups raising money at stop lights? Drivers’ heads are already overloaded with traffic coming from all directions, changing lights and getting ready to navigate the intersection. And now there is a little leaguer with a donation bucket at the window. Could there be a more stressful time to be asking for money? Donations tend to be made in quarters and dollar bills. Now think how many large donations are made after Christmas. Yes, some of it is driven by last-minute tax deductions and, yes, a lot of people are just in the habit of giving in December. However, this research would suggest that people are just feeling pretty good at the end of the year and it makes them more generous.

  4. Don’t miss dessert. There are a lot of reasons you don’t make the ask at the beginning of a meal with a donor, but a good one is that you want your donor to be relaxed, engaged and happy, like over dessert, preferably chocolate.

Note: The theory that people give more when they eat chocolate is unproven, but I volunteer to take on this research!


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