How can we reach our fundraising goals faster?

You never know where you’ll find a good fundraising idea.

I recently read about some interesting research conducted at the Columbia University Graduate School of Business. They devised a series of studies to see if theories on goal attainment apply to consumer spending.

Clark Hull was an influential 20th century American psychologist who studied human learning and motivation. He hypothesized that when we perceive a goal to be nearing completion, we actually accelerate — apply even greater energy and focus. Think marathon runners who speed up with a half mile left because they can see the finish line.

So here’s what the team at Columbia did . . .

First, they observed rates of participation and purchase in the customer reward program at a local coffee shop. They gave customers a stamp card and told them every purchase counted toward a free 11th coffee. If they purchased 10 coffees, they’d get one free. Pretty basic stuff.

But here’s where it gets interesting: researchers found that the closer coffee drinkers got to the reward of a free 11th coffee, the more they accelerated their rate of brew purchasing!

Based on this outcome, the research team repeated the test with two groups of consumers. Group A received the same card — buy 10 coffees, get one free. Group B received a card with a slightly different offer: buy 12 coffees and get one free. But Group B’s card came with two coffees already stamped.

In both cases, consumers had to buy 10 coffees. But Group B was given a perceived head start. What happened? Fascinatingly enough, Group B burned through their 10 coffees at a significantly faster rate than Group A.

They proved Hull’s hypothesis. Consumer behavior is not about actual proximity to a goal, but the perception of proximity to that goal. Amazing.

So, how can we apply this to fundraising?

Can we come up with inventive ways to demonstrate to a donor that a fundraising goal is even closer for them than they might think? Maybe by how we position the use of funds from a matching gift, for example?

What about telling donors that $10 will be given in their name simply by sending in the response device? And that anything they give on top of that will dramatically accelerate the campaign to reach the goal?

There are many ways to leverage this fascinating research. What ideas do you have? Let us know. We’ll share them in this space. Or if you are a current client, you can talk to your account executive, if not, get in touch with Rory Starks, our Executive Vice President of Strategic Engagement, at or 360-394-4300.