Want to increase donations? Demand difficult deeds.

I loved Kristin Ivie’s whole piece on millenial activitism (Is it activism 2.0 or slacktivism?). It’s worth reading in its entirety, but she definitely buries the lead:

Research on what motivates people to give shows that people are more likely to give when there is a difficult event or action required along with the donation.

Let that sink in just a bit.

Research–you know, not anecdotes or common sense or “what we’ve always done”–proves that when you require that champions perform a difficult action in addition to sending in a gift, they are more likely to give than when you just ask them to cut a check.

What pops immediately to my mind are missionaries who present their polished PowerPoint presentations in churches and, when asked by teary-eyed congregation members, “What can we do?”, they reply:

The most important thing I need is your prayers.


Dear missionary friend, do you realize that the next time you present your polished PowerPoint presentation in churches, when you are asked by teary-eyed congregation members, “What can we do?”, statistically you have a better shot if you say:

The most important thing I need is for you to fly to Africa with me for a special Christmas outreach I’m planning there next month. We’ll be gone two weeks, and you’ll need to raise $1,000 towards the project above and beyond your airfare.

You know who understood that idea better than anyone?


A certain ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honor your father and mother.’ ” He replied, “I have kept all these since my youth.” When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “There is still one thing lacking. Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”

You, dear astute reader, may quickly protest, “Yes, but the rich young ruler said no to Jesus’ high-degree-of-difficulty invite!”

But notice Peter’s reply:

Then Peter said, “Look, we have left our homes and followed you.”

Translation: high-degree-of-difficulty offers were the only kind Jesus made.

This line of thinking is part and parcel of Transformational Giving (TG).

When I was serving as President of the Los Angeles Mission I can recall the flack we took when we did an about-face with our marketing campaign and started telling people:

Look, if you’re serious about changing the situation of homelessness in L.A., it’s going to take more than your check. Your check is necessary but not sufficient. You need to come down to Skid Row the day before Thanksgiving and prepare, serve, and eat a meal with homeless people. Yes–cook the turkey together. Eat it together. Clean up the mess together. Only by mixing and mingling and celebrating with them will you ever be convinced that they’re not a different species.

What was the result of asking for people to come with their hand attached to their check?

  • 20% more volunteers showed up.
  • Giving to the campaign increased by 12%.

As a direct result of increasing the difficulty of what we were asking for, people gave more.

What would it look like for you to require your champions to pair their next check with an exceedingly difficult deed?

About Pastor Foley

The Reverend Dr. Eric Foley is CEO and Co-Founder, with his wife Dr. Hyun Sook Foley, of Voice of the Martyrs Korea, supporting the work of persecuted Christians in North Korea and around the world and spreading their discipleship practices worldwide. He is the former International Ambassador for the International Christian Association, the global fellowship of Voice of the Martyrs sister ministries. Pastor Foley is a much sought after speaker, analyst, and project consultant on the North Korean underground church, North Korean defectors, and underground church discipleship. He and Dr. Foley oversee a far-flung staff across Asia that is working to help North Koreans and Christians everywhere grow to fullness in Christ. He earned the Doctor of Management at Case Western Reserve University's Weatherhead School of Management in Cleveland, Ohio.
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6 Responses to Want to increase donations? Demand difficult deeds.

  1. Glenn says:

    I hate it when you make me think, Eric! Actually, thanks, bro!

  2. Lisa Steven says:

    Awesome and thought provoking. I love it when you challenge us! Also wanted to let you know that we are going through the “cookie book” as a Development Team at Hope House. The first chapter led to a survey of our champions – including a few “lapsed” champions. The results so far have been awesome – f ive coffee dates set up, and several new volunteers. We’ll keep you updated.

  3. Pingback: Don’t asks for gifts that cost nothing « Transformational Giving

  4. Pingback: Want to Inspire Children to Live Generous Lives? Teach Them to Connect Directly, Not Just “Help” | Transformational Giving

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