Unpacking Why and How People Donate

Economist Uri Gneezy Says Fundraising Is No Numbers Game

Human Nature: In ‘The Why Axis,’ Uri Gneezy quantifies idiosyncracies.
Courtesy of Ur Gneezy
Human Nature: In ‘The Why Axis,’ Uri Gneezy quantifies idiosyncracies.

By Amy Schiller

Published November 05, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 3)

Your research focused mainly on direct mail strategies. How does your research apply to major gifts fundraising, which is by nature more personalized and idiosyncratic?

We focused on math-driven charity. When you deal with big donors, of course you have to take a more personalized approach. It’s impossible to get empirical data on that. But you still do research to determine what a donor will care about.

There are a few basic psychological elements: Instead of giving to an abstract cause, make a specific request. Help the donor identify with the people who will benefit. People give more to people who they relate to. You give based on what your charity reflects to you about yourself.

What tactics did you find surprisingly successful?

The “pay what you want” approach, where you can choose what you want to give or to pay for a product, knowing that a certain percentage will go to charity, was much more successful than simply naming a price and saying half would go to charity.

That tactic is very powerful. It says to the donor, “You have the control. You decide how much to pay. We, the organization, are exposing ourselves to risk.” The fact that you are not taking a paternalistic approach, not saying, “This is what you should do,” and instead giving them control, it makes the donors more inclined to give and to give more.

The same thing happened with “one and done” — the box to check to say, “Please don’t send me any more mail this year.” Many of the people didn’t circle it, but it reassured them that the organization wasn’t just after their name for the list, and that they could have some control over the relationship with the organization.

One of the case studies in your book concerns Brian Mullaney, co-founder of Smile Train [a nonprofit that trains doctors to correct cleft palates in the developing world]. Mullaney had a deeply personal motivation for his nonprofit work, namely his sister’s childhood illness, yet he was rigorously detached in evaluating the data on donor behavior. What is the balance between emotion and analysis in charitable giving?


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • Would you get to know racists on a first-name basis if you thought it might help you prevent them from going on rampages, like the recent shooting in Kansas City?
  • "You wouldn’t send someone for a math test without teaching them math." Why is sex ed still so taboo among religious Jews?
  • Russia's playing the "Jew card"...again.
  • "Israel should deal with this discrimination against Americans on its own merits... not simply as a bargaining chip for easy entry to the U.S." Do you agree?
  • For Moroccan Jews, the end of Passover means Mimouna. Terbhou ou Tse'dou! (good luck) How do you celebrate?
  • Calling all Marx Brothers fans!
  • What's it like to run the Palestine International Marathon as a Jew?
  • Does Israel have a racism problem?
  • This 007 hates guns, drives a Prius, and oh yeah — goes to shul with Scarlett Johansson's dad.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.