The GiveWell Blog

Why don’t people give more?

Generally, I’m less interested in getting people to give more than I am in getting them to give well – I think of healing the world as a project that needs a better, smarter budget more than it needs a bigger one.

But here’s a very simple idea on the subject that I don’t believe most (any?) fundraisers understand. A lot of people don’t give as much as they could, because they have no idea what they’re paying for.

You call the page at this link transparency? Seriously? 5 disconnected and unsourced price quotes, and a fundraising/program expense breakdown? This is a joke. This is a smoke screen. So 5 pounds buys a mosquito net … who distributes it, who uses it, and how many of the children the net protects from dengue fever die the next day from diarrhea? 17 pounds buys a blackboard and 32/mo pays a teacher – what about the administrator? Who trains the teacher? What do they teach? What else do those children need to escape poverty? You think this gives me an idea of what you do, what I’m paying for, how I can expect the world to improve thanks to my donation? All this does is convince me that you think I’m a sucker.

Not everyone has my reaction, it could be pointed out. Some people feel like they’ve gotten the whole story from those meaningless numbers. Fine. But go back to my initial claim: some people aren’t falling for it. Some people are more analytical and less impulsive than others. Which group do you think has more disposable income?

I don’t believe I’m alone here. Not when so many of the people I talk to about charity in general say they don’t have any idea what their donations are paying for, and even explicitly cite misleading crap like what I’ve linked to above as a turn-off. Not when many of our donors tell me that their donation to The Clear Fund is in a completely different ballpark from any other gift they’ve ever made. There are people out there who would give more if they really understood what it was for; that’s money waiting to be raised.

Fundraisers, you have your choice: you can use manipulative marketing and go for the easy kill; you can tell the truth and go after the donors who won’t be suckered; or you can do both. Why does the first approach seem like the only one you’ve even tried?


  • Dave Chakrabarti on June 30, 2007 at 12:00 am said:

    That article does not describe “transparency” …it is pure marketing. Making an emotional case to identify evocative gains with amounts of money one hopes an audience will thus find inconsequential. Many audiences respond to such marketing, and it may be effective as a result.

    However, I’m not sure it directly opposes transparency, except when wayward websites label it as such. Marketing (even in that form) done ethically, backed by sufficient information, could achieve both goals.

    Marketing has an audience, and can only be evaluated in terms of its audience. Emotional marketing on TV isn’t intended to “sell” to venture capitalists, and a business proposal to a VC isn’t intended to communicate well to a television audience. Perhaps one approach can be compatible with the other?

  • Holden on June 30, 2007 at 3:20 pm said:

    I think the two approaches are compatible, because they are directed at different audiences. My complaint is that I have seen plenty of the “marketing” approach, but have never once seen the “true transparency” approach. When a prominent fundraising blog actually confuses the two, that just highlights to me how far we are from true transparency.

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