NEWS: Telling people what others haven’t done is more effective at encouraging them to consider a charitable bequest

People are more likely to consider leaving a charitable bequest if they are presented with social information about what other people have not done, rather than what they have.

The finding comes in research recently concluded by the Centre for Sustainable Philanthropy at Plymouth University in a joint project with telephone fundraising agency Listen. The findings will be presented for the first time at the Institute of Fundraising’s Legacy Summit in London on Monday 14 September.

In a split test of charity supporters, those who were told that fewer of a charity’s supporters had made a will were more likely to at least consider leaving a legacy than those who were told that more supporters had already done so.

In the experiment conducted with donors managed by Listen, supporters were given one of two statements:

  • 1/3 of our most loyal supporters haven’t made a will. Many of them are taking advantage of the Will Aid scheme
  • 2/3 of our most loyal supporters have made a will. Many of them took advantage of the Will Aid scheme.

The information content is the same – 1/3 haven’t made a will and 2/3 have – but it is presented differently.

Almost a quarter (24 per cent) of those who received the minority information (1/3 of supporters) agreed to at least consider leaving a charitable bequest, compared to 16 per cent in the majority segment – a significant difference.

A second field experiment again provided charity supporters with one of two statements:

  • In recent years, we have seen a drop in the number of legacies we are receiving. That’s why we feel it’s so important to learn what our supporters think about them.
  • Recently, we have seen an increase in the number of our supporters enquiring about gifts in Wills. That’s why we feel it’s so important to learn what our supporters think about them.

Significantly more people considered leaving a charitable bequest in the ‘drop’ segment than in the ‘increase’ segment (15 per cent compared to 10 per cent).

Claire Routley, research fellow at the Centre for Sustainable Philanthropy (CSP), says:

Claire Routley“The effect of social information we tested in Test 1 and Test 2 seem to suggest that ‘minority’ and ‘declining’ social information encourages legacy consideration and intention to leave a legacy to a specific charity.

“This seems quite counter-intuitive because a lot of the social proof research has shown the people respond to being told what others have already done, such as research that shows how people increase gifts if told that others have already done so.”

Legacy fundraising expert Routley – who conducted the research with Listen and the CSP’s director or research, Professor Jen Shang – attributes this to the ‘bystander effect’.

She says: “When people think there is a need for them to help and yet others haven’t helped yet, they are more likely to stand up to their responsibility and help. What this research suggests is that if we directly ask people’s perception about the need for them to help, we may obtain the same effect as what we obtained by providing them with ‘minority’ and ‘declining’ social information.”

Other findings form the research included:

  • Priming supporters to think about the importance of a charity’s work in the future significantly increases the number of people who enquire about leaving a legacy from 19 to 53 per cent.
  • Priming supporters to think about why they first supported a charity has a similar effect, increasing enquirers from 20 to 49 per cent.

The research was funded by telephone fundraising agency Listen.

Listen’s Legacy Manager, Jen Corbett says: “This has been a fascinating project to be involved in over the last 12 months and it is helpful for all legacy fundraisers to better understand how some very subtle changes can lead to more thoughtful conversations about leaving a gift in your Will, and have such a significant impact.”

Jen Corbett will present the research at the IoF’s Legacy Summit next week, where Claire Routley will also present a session on how legacy fundraisers can overcome taboos relating to death.

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