There aren’t many secrets among friends. At least not between DonorsChoose.org, Kiva, and GlobalGiving. For nearly half a decade, my GlobalGiving colleagues and I have been sharing intel with these peers (and a few others) via monthly phone calls and occasional meet-ups. Because we’re all working to improve our giving communities, nearly every strategy and tactic is open for discussion. Especially when it comes to donor engagement and retention.
Most nonprofits work tirelessly to engage and retain donors, but there isn’t much data about what works online. Much of the research on giving to date has been associated with donor acquisition rather than donor retention, as the latter requires nonprofits to collaborate with researchers. Recently, however, all three of our organizations teamed up with Harvard Business School’s Michael Norton and Oliver Hauser to conduct the first known synchronized A/B field test involving three nonprofits. The experiment, aimed at driving repeat donations, was generously funded by the John Templeton Foundation.
The tactic we chose to explore? Pseudo-sets. Previous research by the HBS team suggested that individuals are motivated to complete tasks when they are framed as part of a “pseudo-set” — that is, rather than just performing a single action, individuals are asked to perform three or four actions to complete the “set.” In fact, research has shown that task completion can jump five-fold when people are presented with wedges of a pie chart that fill in as each task is completed (compared to the control without a set). Inspired by that idea, my colleagues and our friends at DonorsChoose and Kiva ran a large-scale field experiment across our respective crowdfunding platforms (which together reach more than 200,000 donors) to test the effect on fundraising of “pseudo-set” framing. Could the approach inspire more giving?
I won’t bore you with the details, but interestingly the HBS researchers identified a significant pseudo-set framing effect when looking at two of the participating charities, GlobalGiving and DonorsChoose.org. They did not see the same effect among Kiva lenders, however. Which — no surprise —left us all wanting to know more. Fortunately, the experiment was only the beginning of the collaboration involving the three organizations and team of HBS researchers, and our consortium is already designing a second phase of experiments that will explore what worked (and didn’t) to motivate donors on our respective platforms.
We also hope the model inspires more collaboration involving other nonprofits, researchers, and foundations. “The coordination, execution, and teamwork required for this project — enabling three organizations to pull off a synchronized field experiment across their respective platforms — offers an exciting avenue for novel, large-scale research with the potential to surface unique insights into the psychology of giving,” says Norton.
Kevin Conroy, chief product officer here at GlobalGiving, notes that collaboration of this kind saves nonprofits money and can increase their impact. “At the end of the day,” he adds, “many organizations have the same goal: to make the world a better place. No matter what programs you have to achieve that, be it funding classroom needs, providing microloans, or supporting grassroots projects around the world, sharing knowledge increases the speed of innovation and lets us all do more with less.”
DonorsChoose.org, GlobalGiving and Kiva will continue to collaborate and run experiments. We’re reviewing and testing the latest research in the sector, including work funded by the Templeton Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. What drives generosity? How can we inspire donors to give more, both in terms of total giving and frequency of giving? How can we best retain donors over time? How well does past research, conducted primarily with phone solicitations and snail mail, translate to a digital-only appeals? We want to help donors become better at giving. We believe our consortium can help shed light on some of these big questions faster. And, of course, we promise to share what we learn.
Alison Carlman is the director of marketing and communications at GlobalGiving.