Masters Thesis Spotlight: How To Ask

In 2015, nonprofit organizations in the U.S. made up 5.4% of the country’s GDP—and that number continues to rise. Private donations obtained through fundraising total billions of dollars annually. This money provides vital programs and services to those in need in communities across the country. Professional fundraisers and consultants work tirelessly to recruit quality and long-lasting donors for their organizations. These professionals can utilize various strategies to secure donations, but which method is the most effective? Are people more moved to donate from hearing the personal story of a victim the organization helped, or are they more inclined to donate after being introduced to quantitative indicators of success? Nonprofits need to continually adapt fundraising techniques to suit their mission and serve the community. This research compares the effectiveness of different fundraising strategies–emotional reactions versus statistical data–to recruit potential donors successfully.

            This analytical thesis is a Type 2 Study Action Report. First, the researcher defines the public administration issue, then conducts surveys to determine the most appropriate response, and, lastly, concludes with which method elicits the most positive reaction from donors. The study tackles two issues: what motivates donors and how do emotional and statistical data impact them. Both primary and secondary research was conducted in a survey, interview, and literature analysis. The former was completed by over 100 participants of varying demographics. Participants were presented with two organizations, one utilizing an emotion-based approach and the other using a statistical approach to encourage donors. They were asked which organization they would hypothetically donate to, and the findings were compared to the extant literature in the field. The literature analysis supports the study by referring to similar studies to better inform the results. The researcher included the finding of past studies, such as how donors are more likely to donate higher amounts to victims they can identify and relate to instead of a statistical victim grouped with a more significant number of people. This phenomenon is known as the identifiable victim effect. Lastly, the researcher interviewed an employee at Voices for Florida: a nonprofit organization based in Tallahassee specializing in prevention and program services related to human trafficking. The interview provides information about their fundraising process, offering a local case study to compare to the researcher’s findings.

            After analyzing the results from the survey questions, the findings are inconclusive. The researcher hypothesized that participants would be more likely to donate when fundraisers utilized emotionally charged messages due to the identifiable victim effect. The results suggest no definitive correlation between presenting donors with a survivor story and an increased potential to donate. During the survey, participants saw two videos. One video emphasized an emotional reaction; the other emphasized statistical data. Of those surveyed, 65% chose to donate to the organization that used statistics in their messaging. Based on the survey, informative material is statistically more successful at motivating potential donors. Most significantly, research found a correlation between participant’s job fields and the method that is most successful in moving them to donate. Those who work in people-centric job fields respond better to an emotional appeal. Those who work in business fields respond more positively to a logical appeal.

            These findings are essential in helping charitable organizations decide which motivational strategy is best suited to their mission, as well as their key demographic of donors. Utilizing the appropriate motivational mechanism can help charities obtain higher returns in their fundraising efforts. Based on the findings, the researcher’s final recommendation to nonprofits, specifically those who focus on human trafficking efforts, is to use a combination of statistical data and personal stories. The research contributes to the existing collection of literature and provides concrete metrics for the Voices of Florida, an organization that has a local impact in the local Tallahassee community.

Samantha Motyl (pictured below) is a graduate of Florida State University with a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Interdisciplinary Social Science and a master’s degree in Public Administration. This post is a summary of Samantha’s thesis, written by COSSPP Blog Intern Dara Begley. Samantha’s thesis was approved by her committee and will soon be available for public. To learn more about Samantha, click here.

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