Behaviour Change

PROPAGANDA FOR CHANGE is a project created by the students of Behaviour Change (ps359) and Professor Thomas Hills @thomhills at the Psychology Department of the University of Warwick. This work was supported by funding from Warwick's Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Why door-to-door fundraising doesn't always work.

Have you ever had someone knock on your front door, ask if you've got a minute, proceed to recite a clearly memorised speech regarding a world issue, after which they expect you to sign a contract agreeing to pay their charity a certain amount of money every month, and are utterly disappointed when you don't? If only you hadn't said you had a minute...This is not meant to mock door-to-door fundraising, or the individuals partaking in it. Needless to say, these people work incredibly hard for truly worthwhile causes, which they are clearly passionate. The problem lies in their manner of delivery, rather than the actual task of fundraising itself. Their messages, whilst emotionally interesting in content, are overshadowed by their impersonal nature, a series of statistics, the sheer length of their messages, information over-load, guilt-inducing strategies which often turn aggressive and the fact that people are often put 'on the spot', not having enough time to absorb the information. Essentially, what these door-to-door fundraisers lack is vivid appeal. 

Gonzales, Aronson & Costanzo (1988) suggested that communicating vividly, personalising information to suit the receiver, inducing commitment and framing recommendations in a certain way could strengthen the effectiveness of such messages. Overloading on non-vivid and impersonal statistics have little value for the lay individuals who like to consider themselves an exception to the norm. Rather, successful case studies and their benefits could be discussed using vivid and exaggerated language, which capture attention. If statistics are to be used, these should be made personally relevant. For example, if fundraising for a charity supporting famine in India, fundraisers could ask people how many meals they eat a day and compare that to the number of meals a child in an Indian village may receive. Although street fundraisers attempt to induce commitment in order to secure future investment via the agreement of payment, it is too large a step given the short period of time available to build rapport. What would work better is getting individuals to sign up to a mailing list, which would be the first step of commitment, after which they would be more likely to agree to invest in the charity. Alternatively, getting people more involved in the process also secures commitment eg. inviting them to talks on projects, maybe even showing them visual displays of the progress made. Finally,  framing things in terms of what is lost rather than gained induces stronger reactions. Thus, suggesting what could be lost by charities via inaction rather than gained through action may be more effective. That said, fundraisers should be cautious of guilt-tripping, particularly in situations where they have not build sufficient rapport as this could induce anger rather than compliance. 

These tactics were implemented in the study by Gonzales, Aronson & Costanzo (1988), who conducted a quasi-experiment  to determine if the effectiveness of the R.C.S. Home Energy Audit Program could be improved by training 9 auditors in the above persuasive techniques. This training was delivered via two 5 hour workshops, 4 months apart. Their effectiveness was compared to a control group of 9 auditors who received no training. These auditors conducted telephone interviews with recipients, lasting from 5-10 minutes. The questions in the interview most pertinent to the hypotheses addressed customer reports of the probability of acting on the auditors' recommendations, and customer reports of CASHBACK rebate and ZIPLOAN finance program participation. 

 Table 1: Self-reported probability of making recommended changes

Table 2: Number of Audit Recipients claiming to have applied for Cashback/ Ziploan programs

As seen in the tables above, results revealed that customers served by the trained auditors reported a greater likelihood of acting on the auditors’ recommendations. A large number of these customers further reported applying for utility programs to finance retrofits.  What this means is that those who utilized vivid techniques were more able to persuade individuals into buying their ideas. This experiment aimed at inducing homeowners to take energy conserving actions, but the same techniques could work for fundraising too, as at the end of the day, they were able to secure compliance. 


Gonzales, M. H., Aronson, E., & Costanzo, M. A. (1988). Using social cognition and persuasion to promote energy conservation: A quasi-experiment. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 18, 1049–1066.

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