Research: Asking People to Volunteer Before Asking Them To Give Doubles Donation Dollars

You know those conspiracy theories about how technology exists today that would enable cars to run on dishwashing soap but Big Oil and Big Automakers are suppressing its spread?

I have a similar conspiracy theory:

Technology exists today that would double the amount of donations the average nonprofit receives, but Big Fundraising is suppressing its spread.

The suppressed technology?


We’ve previously detailed the 2001 Independent Sector study that demonstrated that volunteers give twice as much to nonprofits as non-volunteers.

Twice as much.

Yet you’d be hard pressed today to find a book on fundraising where lesson 1 is, “Get folks to volunteer first. Ask them to give after that.”

So in an effort to bash through Big Fundraising’s suppression of this news and of this practice, consider this 2008 study from the Stanford Graduate School of Business Center for Social Innovation.

(Conspiracy theorists should note that the study had to be published in the Journal of Consumer Research. Did Big Fundraising manage to keep this out of the nonprofit trade mags?)

The research, conducted by Jennifer Aaker and Wendy Liu, consisted of three lab experiments demonstrating that when test subjects were asked to volunteer for a nonprofit and then only subsequently being asked to give, they gave twice as much money as those asked for a donation right off the bat:

According to a new study published in the Journal of Consumer Research in October 2008, asking supporters for their time, not for their money, is a better way to increase donations. Jumping straight in and soliciting potential donors for funds can, in fact, alienate them––making them less likely to get involved and less likely to actually donate. Asking them to volunteer first, however, can positively shift their willingness to give both time and money.

Question: Why? Aaker and Liu:

The reason, according to Jennifer Aaker of Stanford Graduate School of Business and Wendy Liu of UCLA, coauthors of the study, is that questions regarding time versus money stimulate different mindsets. When people are solicited for their time, they automatically think in terms of emotional meaning and fulfillment: Will volunteering for this charity make me happy? When tapped for money, they start thinking about the far more practical, boring, and sometimes painful matter of “economic utility”: Will making a donation make a dent in my wallet?

“The ‘time first’ approach therefore makes the emotional significance of what you’re asking stand out, which stimulates positive feelings and an increased belief that volunteering would be linked to personal happiness. That emotional mindset ultimately leads to greater giving,” explains Aaker, General Atlantic Partners Professor of Marketing at the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

Make sure to click through and read in detail about the three experiments that were conducted that led to the conclusion that connecting people to the “deep mission” of the organization through voluntarism made them “more inspired to be involved in that endeavor in every way”–including financially.

And just in case Big Fundraising blocks your browser window from opening to the whole post, make sure to contemplate the following thought from Aaker with regard to your nonprofit’s own practice:

What’s particularly interesting is that participants who were asked first about their time not only gave the most money of all, but also they donated the most time to the organization. This affirms for the researchers that what motivates people to give dollars when they are asked first for their time is not simply guilt; that is, they are not donating more generously as a way of “buying out” of having to give up precious hours. “If guilt had been operating, then those who were asked for time first may have given more money, but they would have given less time than any of the other groups. In fact, the reverse was true,” says Aaker.

Editor’s note: Thanks to Blitz Bazaar’s Lloyd Nimetz for breaking through Big Fundraising’s barricade to call attention to Aaker and Liu’s research.

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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1 Response to Research: Asking People to Volunteer Before Asking Them To Give Doubles Donation Dollars

  1. As always, more good advice which has already proven itself over and over at CRI. Thanks Eric.

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