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 3 of 3)

Brian had a very emotional charity that he ran in a very businesslike way. Without the emotional component people will not give to charity. But how do you use the emotional side, how do you inspire the right kind of emotions? That requires some experience and research. Before you do anything on a big scale, run some tests and see what works best in getting the response you want.

What would you say to people who feel that fundraising is just a numbers game, that it’s all about the amount of activity and solicitations you perform and eventually you’ll reach your goal?

That’s the very wrong approach. From the data we collected, it’s not how you get people to give money.

It’s all about finding the right emotion, striking the right key. The game of numbers is a very uninformed game. You are fighting everything instead of targeting.

What would you say to major Jewish organizations like federations and synagogues that are struggling to raise the funds they need and that many people depend on?

Don’t only give the major donors attention. Get all your donors involved, make the guys that give $20 equally in charge. Ask your members what to do with the money, instead of dictating or having a private budget. Have a meeting to give people an opportunity to make suggestions, make it inclusive. We found that really useful.

Treat a donor like a customer, as opposed to someone you just need to get something from. Big donors get very personal treatment, the spirit is very inclusive. If you give everyone the same kind of power, they will be more inclined to trust you.

Philanthropy seems to be going in the direction you recommend, with donors becoming more data-driven in making decisions. Is that something you’ve observed, and do you support that trend?

You have to measure success, not show me someone who will tell me we were successful, but convince me the money is being used in in the right way. I focused on charities but it’s also true the other way around. If I give you money, I want to know how it’s being spent.

What do you say to a not-for-profit that says, “We took your advice and it’s not working for us — we’ve seen no increase in our donors either way, no meaningful increase in contributions, et cetera?”

We don’t come and say, we know exactly what you need to do. We come and say, we know something about what works based on data, but you need to test it. If it doesn’t work, then we adjust.


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!
  • Law professor Dan Markel waited a shocking 19 minutes for an ambulance as he lay dying after being ambushed in his driveway. Read the stunning 911 transcript as neighbor pleaded for help.
  • Happy birthday to the Boy Who Lived! July 31 marks the day that Harry Potter — and his creator, J.K. Rowling — first entered the world. Harry is a loyal Gryffindorian, a matchless wizard, a native Parseltongue speaker, and…a Jew?
  • "Orwell would side with Israel for building a flourishing democracy, rather than Hamas, which imposed a floundering dictatorship. He would applaud the IDF, which warns civilians before bombing them in a justified war, not Hamas terrorists who cower behind their own civilians, target neighboring civilians, and planned to swarm civilian settlements on the Jewish New Year." Read Gil Troy's response to Daniel May's opinion piece:
  • "My dear Penelope, when you accuse Israel of committing 'genocide,' do you actually know what you are talking about?"
  • What's for #Shabbat dinner? Try Molly Yeh's coconut quinoa with dates and nuts. Recipe here:
  • Can animals suffer from PTSD?
  • Is anti-Zionism the new anti-Semitism?
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels. http://jd.fo/g4cjH
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • 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.