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Sneak Peek: The Science Behind Engaging Your Supporters

Rohita Javangula

If you've been keeping up with EveryAction, you're familiar with our recent development series, "New Year, New Heights." We explored everything from must-have nonprofit reporting tools, tips for upping your email game, direct mail strategies, and most recently using data to improve your major gifts program. Which brings us to recent thoughts, more specifically, donors and supporters. We often receive questions on how nonprofits can better craft their message to engage supporters or how to keep audiences involved and engaged with their mission.

Lo and behold, we have an incredible resource that not only looks at how to engage with supporters but explores the motivation behind why people are engaged and donate. Altruism, Empathy and Efficacy: The Science Behind Engaging Your Supporters digs into all of these questions and more. In fact, we loved it so much that we're hosting an entire webinar on it! Make sure you sign up so you don't miss out on any of this incredible information.


We're so excited about this topic, we decided to give our loyal readers a little sneak peek of what's to come with none other than the author himself, Evan Parker. Read on for excerpts from our interview. 

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background. What got you interested in this topic?

I head up Account Management and Client Services for EveryAction, which means my job is to help thousands of clients become great users of our tools and help them get every bit of return they can out of the platform.

In my free time, I'm a fellow and lecturer at Georgetown, focusing on how to best activate audiences to support causes/nonprofits. A while back, they asked me to write that whitepaper you mentioned (Altruism, Empathy and Efficacy: The Science Behind Engaging Your Supporters) which we just released as a free download.

I initially got interested in this almost by accident. I have a bizarrely diverse background in talking to supporters—from doing constituent communications for Bernie Sanders, to working in online advocacy, to doing integrated membership and philanthropy for The Nature Conservancy, to doing nonprofit brand and messaging work for PR firm.

Throughout that time, I heard hundreds—if not thousands—of hunches on what people “know” works when talking to their supporters. I spent a large part of my career wandering through a forest of these hunches, and I developed a bit of a passion for finding what testing, behavioral economics and social science says about all these assumptions.

The title of your whitepaper includes altruism, empathy, and efficacy. Can you give us a little hint on how these relate to why donors give?

I think most marketers and fundraisers see the altruism behind their supporters wanting to do good in the world, but the science says they also have motivations much closer to home. They're also donating to a cause to benefit their family or their communities, or maybe to just feel good about themselves. So, we talk a lot about talk to people with both pure and impure altruistic motivations.

The same is true with empathy and efficacy. We know that telling great stories brings the supporter closer to the people who benefit, and that empathetic relationship is a strong driver of support. But the specifics of what to do—and how to do it without making people so overwhelmed change the channel or refuse to open your email—is actually incredibly hard.

Throughout the course of the project, we found tons of these little bits of science which tells us how to take advantage of what we already know.

We all know it’s important to have a great donation, advocacy, opt-in form, and a clear mission statement, but why is it important to take the extra time to learn about why your donors are giving?

Well, I’d probably argue that it’s impossible to have great calls-to-action on your forms or a clear mission statement without understanding your supporters’ motivations. The science shows that people don’t think of themselves as supporting your organization. They see your organization is helping them make the changes they’re seeking in the world.

So, in the minds of your supporters, your organization is just another tool in their “social good” toolbox. As long as they’re getting what they want from you, they’ll keep answering your organizations call-to-action. The minute they think you’ve stopped helping them, or are working on things they don’t care about, they’re going to move on to the next tool or the next organization pretty quickly.

What’s the practical application with this information, and why should we tune in to the webinar?

For me, that’s the “fun” part of this project – how the science behind supporter motivations can be put to actual use in our day jobs. In the webinar, we’ll walk through a dozen of conclusions from the paper, and give you concrete things you can work into your programs and communications right now.

As a bonus, you can download the entire Altruism, Empathy and Efficacy: The Science Behind Engaging Your Supporters whitepaper. 

Learn more about why your donors give and the practical applications during our webinar on Thursday March 15th at 1:30pm ET. Sign up here!

Topics: engagement, webinar