Episode 12: Do urgent fundraising messages encourage donors to give

When I first started writing appeals, I was taught to follow three golden rules- make it personal, make it specific, and make it urgent. 

Each year, especially on December 31st, nonprofit emails are littered with phrases like- time is running out to make a difference, we need your help now more than ever, just a few hours left. I know because not only do I receive these emails, I also write them.

In my experience, so this is purely anecdotally speaking, I’ve found success with these urgent messages. As my campaigns come to an end and the messages are laced with more urgency, I see a spike in donations.

When it comes to appeals, if you think about it, whether it’s your year-end campaign or a special campaign at another time of year, the campaign probably lasts several weeks. Do urgent fundraising messages truly cause donors to give, or is it merely coincidental that donors happen to wait until the last minute to donate, which is also when we happen to send urgent emails?

This is the problem we are going to tackle today- do urgent fundraising messages inspire donors to give?

Here’s what you can expect to take away from this episode…

⦿ An understanding of construal level theory and how temporal distance influences the donation decision

⦿ How individual processing style of urgent messages influences the donation decision

⦿ How to determine when to use urgent messages


⦿ [3:03] Chances are, your donors are aware of the campaign before the last day, so what is it about these urgent messages that spur action?
⦿ [6:08] Urgent messages essentially attempt to decrease the temporal distance between the current time and the event time.
⦿ [8:36] Prior research confirms that when a message is concretely framed, potential donors will contribute money, but if a message is abstractly framed, potential donors will offer time such as volunteering.
⦿ [11:05] However, it’s a little more complicated than that because just as messages have different construal levels, individuals tend to lean toward either high-level construal thinking or low-level construal thinking.
⦿ [12:00] But, because of this individuality in construal levels, it means that fundraising messages may have differing influences based on a potential contributor’s primary construal level.
⦿ [16:12] I found this study interesting because it touches on why some people respond favorably to some appeals and not to others. And frankly, why we can’t rely on the same strategies for every donor.
⦿ [18:30] Interestingly, there was activity in an area called the frontal midline stemming from the medial prefrontal cortex that was predictive of donation behavior. This activity occurred right after emotional priming of the potential contributor, and after reading the charity appeal.
⦿ [21:03] Based on all of this, I think we can say that, yes, urgency is correlated with giving, but there are two caveats here indicated by the research.
⦿ [23:30] In a future episode, we’re going to touch on this idea again in terms of donor segmentation so be on the lookout for that because we’re not done with construal theory quite yet.

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⦿ Article: “I’ll donate money today and time tomorrow”: The moderating role of attitude toward nonprofit organizations on donation intention
⦿ Article: Impact of Message Construal, Temporal Distance, and Construal Level on Potential Philanthropic Supporters’ Intentions to Donate
⦿ Article: Multivariate pattern analysis of electroencephalography data reveals information predictive of charitable giving
⦿ Download “The SIGNALS Framework” free e-book

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