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Is it time to personalise and drive a dedicated focus on behavioural economics – the nexus between economics and psychology? Karen Armstrong and Ian Lawton explain how it made a difference for Greenpeace Australia Pacific.

As fundraisers we intrinsically know the drivers of giving are both emotional and rational. Behavioural economics leverages our subconscious – those automatic thoughts that are influenced by our self and societal view of the world. The goal is to utilise ‘nudges’ to drive incremental improvement across the conversion pathway of all supporter journeys.

This case study is an example of how we can personalise a journey through understanding people’s motivations and, with a little nudge, support people to ‘self-identify’ as someone who wants to start a conversation about leaving a gift in their will.


Dr Russell James III demonstrated that thinking about a charitable bequest triggers a visualised autobiography. In practice he recommends connecting with people’s life stories by, for example, providing living donor stories. His more recent testing shows that this is most successful when the living donor story matches the supporter’s gender and age profile. This is consistent with a test conducted by More Strategic with a leading human rights organisation that demonstrated aligning gender improved identification of potential bequestors.

Advanced survey tools now allow for question logic to alter question flow delivering a highly personalised dialogue with your supporters. This means a standard supporter engagement survey can now be transformed into an informed conversation with your supporter. Dr James’ recommendations when developing a survey are: ask meaningful questions; emphasise lasting impact; bring to mind life and family connections; and use best phrasing to increase interest.


Greenpeace Australia Pacific embarked on testing the difference of a standard bequest identification question, which uses both norming and addresses barriers (eg “Many thoughtful people have chosen to include Greenpeace in their will after they have made provisions for their family and loved ones”), against a series of five questions that we call the “nudge block” (see box below).


The primary goal was to increase the number of bequest leads. Four categories of people were identified within the pipeline: 1) find out more; 2) considerer; 3) intender; 4) confirmed. The survey doubled the bequest pipeline, a large proportion of which came from the non-financial supporter or activist category. The results also showed that using the nudge block increased identification of the first three categories by 11%. More importantly, using the nudge block saw greater shifts towards considerers and intenders. Overall, the survey provided information about the organisation’s supporter base and moved supporters closer to leaving a gift in their wills.


The evidence shows that residual gifts are on average 16 times larger than specified amounts (Baker, 2014). As such, we need to increase conversations and education on the value of the gift types that can be left in one’s will. We sought to understand the type of gifts in the Greenpeace survey and discovered:

  • There is a low response rate to this identification question, possibly due to confusion, no decision yet made or a choice to keep it
  • There is a higher ratio, 4:1, in favour of a specified amount earlier in the ‘consideration’ stage and 2:1 ratio as an intender and finally a 1:1 ratio once While this ratio was not reflected in realised gifts in Baker’s research, it is a positive indication that education about different gift types may have an impact on increasing residual gifts.


More Strategic have also been testing several other nudges to increase the value of the bequest pipeline. The goal is to build benchmarks to continually improve the performance of supporter engagement surveys.

For a leading human rights organisation, we tested shifting people from their rational, task-oriented ‘form completion’ mindset to a more emotional context before asking them to consider a bequest. Survey respondents who answered the question “If you suddenly had to flee your home at a moment’s notice, what would you take with you?” were significantly more likely to take a bequest action – 24% of those who answered the question became bequest leads compared to 15% of those who did not.

In a large study we tested three differently framed bequest questions around numeric norming (“700 people have already…will you?”), female aligned testimonial and male aligned testimonial compared to a standard bequest question. In each case the ‘nudged’ version generated more bequest leads (consider, intend or request for information).

Our final experiment was to test how we could reinforce the self- image of a supporter by delivering aligned testimonial. These were delivered as text only and personalised with a name and description of the person’s support. Five categories were devised as informed by Dr James’ research: ascendant giving; descendant giving; reinforcing one’s life story through immortality; reinforcing one’s life story through aligned values; and reinforcing one’s life story through social impact. All case studies improved the number of bequest leads with the strongest being a description of the impact the organisation was having on society.


Behavioural economics and supporter dialogue has demonstrated incremental value for charities as the need to drive retention and value from expensive acquisition channels increases. Instead of treating a supporter survey as the dusty report sitting on your work shelf, think about it as a living tool to actively engage supporters in real-time dialogue with ‘nudges’ that resonate with their own attitudes and beliefs. By bringing together academic insights with methodologies from the commercial sector, charities can transform the way they work. Frequent surveys at opportune moments, which create engagement that resonates for every individual supporter, will drive value across all channels and have a lasting impact on your organisation.


Karen Armstrong & Ian Lawton

Karen is a Senior Consultant with More Strategic. She was previously Director, Marketing & Fundraising at Cancer Council Australia and is a key contributor to sector development. Karen presented in the US in March at The Experience Management Summit on the use of behavioural economics and dialogue journeys using survey tools.

Ian was the National Planned Giving Manager, Greenpeace Australia Pacific, and is now Director, Bequests at the Heart Foundation Australia.


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