Confirmation Bias: Make your donors feel awesome

Let’s play a numbers game. I’m going to give you a three number sequence. These three numbers follow a rule. I want you to try to figure out the rule by proposing your own three number sequence. Understand? Okay? Let’s go.

2, 4, 8

That’s my sequence. Now try to figure out my rule by proposing your own sequence.

Did you do 16, 32, 64?


That follows my rule. What do you think the rule is?

Did you guess that numbers multiply by two? Good guess! But that’s not my rule. Go on, propose another sequence.

Likely what you proposed fits my rule, but not for the reason you think. Did you propose another sequence that multiplies by two? If so, it fits my rule, but the rule is not “multiply by two.” Watch a couple minutes of this entertaining video to see others try this number game.

If you make it about three minutes you’ll discover two things. First, the rule is numbers have to go in ascending order. Second, people have a hard time searching for information that is inconsistent with their current hypothesis. Their proposals will usually be something that fits their rule instead of violates it.

This is what’s called confirmation bias, and it happens to everyone.

Four tips for using confirmation bias in your fundraising:

  1. Don’t try to change your donors’ minds. It’s incredibly difficult to avoid confirmation bias (here are some tips from Warren Buffett), and nearly impossible for you to change your donor’s preconceptions. If your work is fighting domestic hunger you know that many malnourished Americans are overweight, but it’s a losing game to try to prove that to donors who believe overweight means too much food. Education is a worthwhile goal, but your fundraising is not the best place to do it.
  2. Reinforce donor loyalty. At the heart of confirmation bias is the idea that the rationale for your choices is correct; anything that confirms that belief will be warmly welcomed. You can reinforce this for your donors by reminding them of their commitment to your organization. Test sending an email on their First Gift Anniversary. Open a letter or email with a reminder of their past generosity.
  3. Make your donors feel awesome. Try this: open your organization’s website and make a gift. Each time you make a decision on your way to the checkout, look for opportunities to be recognized and rewarded. These are opportunities to make your donors feel awesome, further confirming that they made the right choice by giving to you.
  4. Ask donors to tell their friends. Now that your donors feel completely validated in their decision to give to your mission, ask them to tell their friends. This is an excellent way to acquire new donors and a way to further build loyalty. In fact, here’s a study that shows customers who post an endorsement on social media have a 37% better product perception over those who don’t.

If you want to chat more about the fascinating ways cognitive biases can better fundraising, contact me at