• Customer Psychology

3rd Feb 2015

8 min

In this post we’ve brought exposure to some great charities and non-profit organisations who are using well considered persuasion techniques in their fund raising efforts. Through our experience of different sectors, we’ve highlighted our observations and suggested potential improvements along the way.

1. Positive personalisation

Wikipedia is dependent on donations to maintain its up-time and remain ad free. To do this they reach out to the site visitors using personalisation in its simplest form. Understanding entry page and secondary pages allows Wikipedia to serve two levels of prominence when asking visitors to support their not for profit platform

When a new visitor enters website:




Wikipedia’s approach to messaging on entry pages is to dominate the screen with around 1/3 of the average browser space displaying a message to its readers. However it does allow the user to minimise or close the message if it obstructs the journey. They understand that their visitors may have a tendency to scan content rather than read it so a message they wish to communicate has been highlighted in yellow and sits perfectly in the centre of the paragraph encouraging you to read the rest of the content either side of it.

The copy instils a level of responsibility by referencing the user directly, and by placing the comparison of £3 to a cup of coffee creates a memorable association. It creates the comparison for the user rather than leaving them to draw their own and rationalises the donation.

When a visitor views multiple pages:




If the reader progresses onto a second page the messaging is reduced in size to allow relevant content to be served higher up the page. This is simple but effective use of personalisation rules to serve varying levels of prominence to messaging and targets the reader well without causing interruption and frustration.

Persuasion methods used:

  • Memorable association
  • Direct communication
  • Personalised content

Actions for improvement:

  • Further personalisation- Recognise new and returning, frequency of visits, types of search terms- Changes in emotive content for regular and high page view visitors
  • Clearer actions to close/remove the messaging
  • Allow users to register interest or be reminded later

Another simple but very impactful use of personalisation can be seen in the payment funnel for Macmillan. Macmillan are a charity who provide care for patients and families of patients receiving cancer treatment.

In page one of the donation process, they ask the question Is this dontation in memory of someone? If the answer is yes you have the option to enter the name and relation of the person. This can be an emotional request and is handled well with the easy option to skip this question.

Question presented on page one of the donation funnel:




Having now entered a personal reference to the form, it increases the commitment to continue onto the payment page, on which Macmillan present a very powerful personalised thank you message.

Leads to this message on page two of the donation funnel:




Macmillan successfully build a narrative that relates to a real situation. They have implemented simple personalisation rules to replicate the conversation you might have in a person to person context and therefore the process feels much more human and familiar. The timing of the message is also well considered as it bridges the gap between stage 1 and stage 2 of the donation funnel, therefore retaining more donations and potentially resulting in a higher conversion rate.

Persuasion methods used:

  • Personalised content
  • Purpose and ownership
  • Emotive persuasion

Actions for improvement:

  • Use visual imagery familiar with the donators experience of Macmillan
  • Allow donators to say thank you in return at the end of the process which can provide social proofing for other visitors

2.    Visual imagery

A picture speaks a thousand words and of all the senses, images are the quickest way to digest a message effectively. The RSPCA use images to communicate and create emotional responses to the neglect of animals. They create a direct mental association to how the donator’s money will be used and what it will be benefiting.

To support this, a visual diagram is used in the form of a pie chart to communicate the allocation of a donation between animal welfare, fundraising and governance.




Persuasion methods used:

  • Visual imagery
  • Affect heuristics
  • Emotional triggers

Actions for improvement:

  • Review what is suggested by the imagery and language
  • Support images with copy to bring to the short term memory a desired interaction
  • Create stories

Another great example of the use of visual imagery can be seen on the Make a Wish website. Make a Wish enable children and young people who are fighting life threatening conditions to create memories by granting wishes.

These images portray the happiness that donations are contributing to and are supported with short and succinct stories that bring context to the imagery and make them more memorable.




Persuasion methods used:

  • Visual imagery
  • Story telling
  • Emotional triggers

3.    Price framing and rewards

Taking another look at Macmillan, they have a great example of how to frame the prices of donations with relevant stories.

The desired and higher value donation price is pre-selected and a slider allows the visitor to settle on a price that is comfortable for them. By providing context to the donation values and allowing the donator to engage and interact with the page, it builds confidence in the purchase.




Persuasion methods used:

  • Framing
  • Value attribution
  • Ownership bias

Actions for improvement:

  • Multiple stories and fresh content for each price displayed
  • Use social proofing to show how many people donate and how many people benefit
  • Offer rewards for donations

A different perspective on price framing can be seen across most crowd funding sites. Charities now have another revenue opportunity, in particular small charitable enterprises such as providing free books for children on Kick Starter.

Kickstarter is designed to support entrepreneurial projects and offers investors varying levels of ownership dependant on their contribution. As the investor scrolls down the page they learn about the project in detail, whilst seeing the value of the pledges increase with desirable rewards for their contributions.

Another persuasion technique used here is implied scarcity. By inferring value in something that has limited availability, it increases the perceived value of the reward and can be seen in this example explaining that there are only 7 of 30 £10 pledges left to purchase.

Kickstarter demonstrating scarcity and autonomy in the pledges column:




In this example we can also see that the investor has the reward of choosing a library or school to send the free book to. It’s natural that people are more likely to take part in activities where meaningful achievements are made. People actively seek out situations where they can have control over something, and by giving users autonomy over where a book is sent to, or simply whether a project is successfully backed gives the investor purpose to their purchase.

These methods are seen in other sectors such as travel and retail auctions, however this selling on the slider post is an interesting read and talks of the psychology behind pricing. It questions whether Kickstarter could be more usable with a sliding scale rather than fixed prices, satisfying the different perceptions of values more clearly.

Persuasion methods used:

  • Value attribution
  • Ownership bias
  • Autonomy

Actions for improvement:

  • Consider other methods of browsing the incentives eg. Sliding scale
  • Leverage opportunities for ownership and autonomy
  • Communicate limited time duration once below a threshold


4.    Clear ‘why’

In Simon Sinek’s talk about how great leaders inspire action, he references the golden circles from his book Start With Why. Communicating your Why (or your purpose) effectively to your visitors is a necessity for charities.

“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it” – Simon Sinek

By moving focus away from What your charity does and How it does it, focus on understanding Why it exists. Define your cause and you will communicate a clearer and more impactful motivation for donations.

Macmillan, in one sentence provide a concise purpose and belief that enables visitors to understand exactly why they should donate. By talking about what they believe, they attract those who believe in what they believe.

You’re the reason we can keep providing our vital services, so no one has to face cancer alone – Macmillan



This method appeals to both your rationale and your feelings – two areas of your brain that when used together make for an impactful and memorable message. From here, donations can easily be justified and the desire to donate is an emotional one.

Persuasion methods used:

  • Story telling
  • Purpose
  • Community

In conclusion, we have covered just a selection of persuasion techniques, and other great examples to be looked at are Just Giving’s use of social proofing and WWF’s use of gifting.


Note: Wikipedia has since reached its fundraising target and now displays a message of thanks. Donations can still be made here to support its non-profit approach to no advertising.




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