Contact Us

Agency Headquarters

26 Dartmouth Street
Westwood, MA 02090

1 (781) 251 2860



Covering the intersection of marketing, creativity, analytics and behavioral science.

3 Human Behavior Insights That Every Fundraiser & Marketer Should Know

Fri, Aug 19, 2016 @ 5:59 PM Add Comment

By Nancy Harhut (Chief Creative Officer)

You have a lazy brain.

Now before you take offense, let me just say – so do I. In fact, all humans do.

It doesn’t mean we aren’t smart. And it doesn’t mean our brains aren’t incredibly powerful.  It’s just that, given the choice, they often take the easy way out.

Nobel-prize-winning economist Daniel Kahneman explains it much better than I. In his book Thinking, Fast and Slow, Kahneman reveals the brain doesn’t like logical, rational, conscious thinking – and will take any shortcut it can. (I’m paraphrasing here, but it’s easier!)

So what does this mean to marketers?

All those carefully-crafted communications we create, designed to present facts, figures, and compelling arguments, aren’t necessarily absorbed by fully-focused minds.

Instead, what happens is that people often resort to decision-making shortcuts, and respond – or don’t – based on them.

Some scientists estimate that up to 95% of decision-making takes place in the subconscious mind, occurring automatically, reflexively, and instinctively. People encounter a particular prompt and default to a hardwired behavior, giving it little to no thought.

This does not bode well for marketers and fundraisers whose success is measured by response.

However, there are ways to use this to our advantage.  We just have to know the shortcuts people commonly take, and factor them into our communications. Here are three any fundraiser or integrated marketer can use.

1. LOSS – a major motivator

Hand with note that says "don't miss it"

Social scientists have found that people are twice as motivated to avoid pain and loss as they are to achieve pleasure or gain.

This may sound counterintuitive to us as marketers, because we emphasize benefits. We focus on the positive outcomes of people doing what we ask them to do.

However, letting people know what they’ll miss if they don’t respond can be a very effective approach. It’s not what you’ll gain, but what you stand to lose. For example, simply writing “don’t miss this opportunity” can be more compelling than “take advantage of this opportunity.”

Similarly, pointing out the pain or loss people can avoid if they do what we ask them to can also be quite effective. A recent Outbrain study shows headlines using negative superlatives — words like “worst” — outperformed those with positive superlatives by 69%.

Think of it this way. If you’re heading out to grab dinner in a new town and I offer to tell you what the best restaurant is, you’d like to know.

But if I offer to tell you what the worst restaurant is, you’d like to know that even more – to make sure you avoid it.

Remember, people are twice as motivated to avoid pain!

2. LABELS – a surprising way to influence behavior

label maker

When people are given a particular label, they have a tendency to live up to it.

Research shows you’ll behave in a way that is consistent with the group you’ve been told you’re part of – even if you hadn’t previously considered yourself part of it.

In a Stanford University study, researchers interviewed people about their voting habits. Then they randomly chose some people and told them that, based on their answers, they were more politically active and more likely to vote.

The truth was, the researchers just made this up.

But on election day, 15% more of that group actually voted. It was the power of the label.  People acted in a manner consistent with what they’d been told about themselves.

So for example, telling someone they’re a caring, generous person could prompt them to behave  precisely that way.

3. MONEY – an unintended consequence of showing it

money in visuals for fundraising

If you’re raising funds, you know it’s hard to get people to part with their money.

And it turns out, there’s a very good reason for that.

Social scientists have found that parting with our money activates the same area of our brain that physical pain does. It can literally hurt to spend money.

And it gets worse than that.

Several scientific studies confirm that pictures of money can prime someone to be more selfish, more self-reliant, and less likely to help others.

So before you show a $100 bill on an appeal, hoping it’ll give someone the idea to donate big, think again. It could have the opposite effect – making them feel selfish and less likely to help.


Those are just three automatic behaviors to be aware of. The truth is, there are a whole lot more. And infusing them into your campaigns is an easy way to increase your response rates.

To learn more, contact us today at, or follow our social media pages on Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter.

behavioral science fundraising integrated marketing loss aversion Nancy Harhut neuromarketing
Additional Posts
A Guide For Marketing To Generation Z: Be Blunt, Be Engaging + Be Trustworthy Behavioral Science In Everyday Life: Dice Games, Happy Hour & The Reciprocity Principle
Leave a Comment