Better Fundraising using Social Proof on Lapsed Donors

Donors will come, and donors will go. Just like keeping the harbour bridge painted, replacing donors that have fallen away is an endless task. Recent research suggests that using social proof may assist with converting lapsed donors back into active donors.


Even better, the right social proof can increase their donations


In an article titled The Effect of Social Information on Giving from Lapsed Donors: Evidence from a Field Experiment’, researchers designed an experiment to test if providing social proof can entice donors to re-establish their ongoing donations.


So, what is Social Proof?

The principle of social proof has been around for a while. It’s a social influence phenomenon that was popularised in 1984 (by psychologist Robert Cialdini) maintaining that a person who does not know the proper behaviour for a certain situation, will look to other people to imitate what they are doing and to provide guidance for their actions.

The researchers devised an experiment to measure if a written form of social proof, termed ‘social information’ would have a positive impact on lapsed donors. They provided social information in an email that purposely referred to another donor’s donation.

The researchers partnered with a prominent nationwide health related not-for-profit organisation (NPO) operating in the United States. A total of 15,166 past donors were identified that met the following criteria:

  • had not donated in over 3 years
  • had previously donated less than $100
  • had a current e-mail address


They divided the lapsed donors into two equal groups:

  • The first group known as the HIGH group, received emails that referred to another donor’s $50 donation.
  • The second group known as the LOW group, received emails that referred to another donor’s $25 donation.


The emails contained the statement:

“I’ve already received a contribution of $50 (or $25) from a gracious donor like you, and I’m counting on you to join this person in helping us fight for…”


So what did the results teach us?

Well first, because the donors were so ‘cold’ having not donated in up to 3 years, the response rate was much lower than that of a typical email campaign. The response rate in this research was just 0.36% with only 55 people out of 15,166 responding. To put this in context, a typical email campaign targeting not just lapsed donors but active donors as well, has a typical response rate of between 2%-5%.

The lower response rate for the research was to be expected and certainly did not prevent the researchers from uncovering some really interesting insights. The researchers confidently conclude that social proof of higher donations will result in higher donations from lapsed donors however, it is a double-edged sword as per the following key findings:

  • 5% less people in the HIGH group made a donation than those in the LOW group…..BUT
  • When people in the HIGH group did donate, they gave on average 45% more than people in the LOW group.


The results from this research demonstrate that social proof is a powerful tool to improve your fundraising efforts. If you would like some more insights on social proof you may find our article on Clear Donation Boxes of interest.

If you have used social proof in your communication to donors or as part of your fundraising efforts, we would love to hear about your experience in the comments section below.

We also have some great articles to assist you in Getting Donations as well as how to effectively Cold Call potential donors. We hope you find these articles informative and wish you all the best in your fundraising efforts.


1. ‘The Effect of Social Information on Giving from Lapsed Donors: Evidence from a Field Experiment’, Jackson. K., (2016), International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organisations, Vol. 27, pp. 920–940

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