Engaging CultureStrategy & Marketing

Does Guilt Help with Fundraising?

The Wall Street Journal reported a story from the Boston Globe about using “shame” in marketing. Apparently, it gets results. Check this out, and let me know if that’s a “tool” we should consider for non-profits and religious organizations:

Marketers for Causes Find Shame a Good Tool

Maybe peer pressure is a good thing after all. Who could argue if it gets homeowners to save electricity, prompts hotel guests to reuse towels and prods taxpayers to be honest?

The field of “social-norms marketing” is getting new attention, writes Christopher Shea in the Boston Globe. While there have been other studies going back 20 years, Robert Cialdini, a professor at Arizona State University, has written a report that appears in the May issue of Psychology Science that looks for effective ways to make use of the idea. For example, homeowners were issued a notice showing how their electricity use compared with their neighbors’. The idea was to embarrass those using more power into conserving energy to be like their thriftier neighbors. Unfortunately, the thriftier homeowners viewed the information as a license to raise their consumption. That problem was addressed by including a smiley face on future notices for the thriftier neighbors.

Such tactics have been used before. In a 2003 paper, Dr. Cialdini showed how embarrassment works better than browbeating. Signs in the Petrified National Park in Arizona warned visitors that taking petrified wood was robbing America’s “heritage.” So Dr. Cialdini and his colleagues showed how the park could reduce vandalism by making new signs that stressed how few people engaged in the practice. The intention was to isolate those who do steal by placing a drawing of a vandal on the sign with a red slash through it.

In another experiment, Dr. Cialdini showed that hotels needed only to reword their plea for guests to reuse their towels. The winning approach: “Join your fellow guests in helping to save the environment: A majority of our guests use their towels more than once.” A similar tactic was employed in Minnesota in a study by the Department of Revenue. Greater tax compliance resulted in simply telling taxpayers that most people don’t cheat on their returns. But the department had less success when it stressed the link between popular programs and taxes. “What’s appropriate to do, in most people’s minds, is what other people like them do,” “The norm is like a magnet,” says Dr. Cialdini. — Jim Winston

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  1. Guilt has always been alive and well in fundraising.


    Imagine how any of us would have felt if Oral didn't raise that $72 million and God had indeed called him home?


    (For those under 35, please ask Phil to explain.)

    Some use the less direct way.  They send you namelabels that you used to pay for.  You feel guilty, so …

  2. Getting people to give out of guilt seems a little short sighted to me. Not sure how long someone is going to give out of guilt. In my experience I’ve never seen God let me go short as long as I’ve been faithful with the people he’s entrusted me with – below, alongside and above.

  3. Our company does a lot of work for a world-wide child sponsor organisation and they steer well clear of guilt-driven marketing. They target Christians and Christian organisations with real stories but focus on the positive outcomes that result from sponsorship. I think you could fill several pages on whether it’s morally questionable or that ‘flies on child’ images are tired and people have highly developed marketing nous that require more than protruding bones – but I’ll spare us all.

  4. Does it make you feel guilty to be reminded that you have food anytime you want it while children somewhere else are starving?

    If it does, that goes to your own conviction that you have not done enough with what God was blessed you with.

    If it doesn't, then you have either done as God has asked you to do, or you have a cold heart.

    Don't blame the fund raiser…

  5. Oops, maybe I wasn't clear on my post. There are people that probably live less than a few miles from each of us that don't have their physical basic needs met. I work with these people all the time, almost everyday. There are people in our own backyards that need help desperately. The laborers are few for sure, but I don't think you can say…hey leave that guy alone and help these people over here. Both sets of people are hurting-millions are hurting, you just help who you can as best you can and as God leads..just because you chose to help this guy in that corner and not the guy in the other corner doesn't mean you should feel guilty or are cold hearted.

    What about the people in your own city that need help? I'm my humble opinion helping the destistute in our own cities instead of feeding those destitute overseas doesn't make it any less important, there is a need for both….to me if your tyring to guilt someone your trying to say this CAUSE and these PEOPLE are more important than those people over there…who are hurting just as well…people in Hollywood need help as much as people in africa. Maybe there are more in Africa for sure, but That's like saying feeding people at a shelter in the US is less than feeding the starving in Africa…of course they both need food..

    If you want to call someone cold hearted for choosing one ministry over another I guess that's your business…it just doesn't sound right to me. Maybe it's who you are exposed to..your only exposure to those in Africa is what you see on tv, and if you don't ever visit the needy in your own backyard-you'd never see the need.

  6. Like we will always have the poor (Jesus said) we will always have those who feel shame and guilt (Paul said). Shame and guilt come from sin. Anyone who feels this is either not born again through the blood of Christ or a believer who is unsure of or disobedient to God's Will/Word and direction in their life. Ultimately we can't help people's response to our fundraising because of sin in their life. But we can control (by the Holy Spirit) what we do and the modivations of our own hearts.

  7. I've seen it at  work, and have given into the guilt. It all depends on how it is presented. People are really moved by what they see and hear. Make it move people at they will move. Don't get me wrong, there are some good causes out there and there are those who take advantage of people. I have seen it both ways. All we can do is the best we can. We all answer for ourselves someday.

  8. There is a fine line between "motivation" and "manipulation". My brother shot several pieces for Worldvision around the world. His instruction before the shoot was to get more faces of little girls than little boys. Why? Because it is human nature to want to protect a little girl. Little boys are supposed to be strong and independent. Was that motivation or manipulation? If we have no integrity, then aren't we just "selling" like the world does? 

  9. As a writer who has held that dying baby in my arms in some forsaken part of the world, the strongest feeling you have is "I have to tell someone."

    I am always overwhelmed with the fact that my ability to explain the crisis will in some way determine how much is given to help.

    So I will use the story, the photos, what ever it takes to get in get in your face, unplug you from your Ipod long enough to see what I saw through my creative presentation.

    If you feel guilty, sorry.  Actually, I am not.

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