What caused this 12% income increase? Research from the ‘Nudge Unit’.

You are probably not surprised to hear that when you like someone you are more likely to be influenced by them. What can be surprising is the power of certain factors to make us like something in the first place.

For instance, following Hurricane Katrina, you would have been 260% more likely to give to appeals to help those affected, if your name began with the letter K! Yes really. This ‘initial effect’ has been replicated for every post-hurricane appeal in the U.S. going back 30 years. And in an animal charity I did some training last week, someone told me that people are statistically more likely to want to adopt a dog whose name begins with the same initial as themselves.

In the Bright Spot Members Club, one of the themes we explore in the Personal Fundraising Power video training, is nudging – the power of seemingly unimportant details to add up to greatly increased fundraising results. We cannot afford to ignore these ideas.


It seems that the ‘initial effect’ is not the only example of how our names make us more likely to respond in surprising ways. The truth is, our names are very important to us and indeed, we like the letters in our names. Martin, Goldstein and Cialdini in the small BIG report that when people are asked to write down their five favourite letters of the alphabet, the letters they write bear an uncanny resemblance to the letters in their own names.

An example of how our subconscious mind is attuned to our names is the so-called cocktail party phenomenon. This describes what happens if you are at a party, engrossed in a conversation with a friend until suddenly you hear someone in a conversation on the other side of the room mention your name. Automatically your attention tunes in to whoever is talking about you.

Campaign to donate a day’s salaryusing names

The Behavioural Insights Team (the nudge unit originally set up to help the UK Cabinet Office understand the power of nudging to achieve positive change) was interested in options for encouraging employees to donate a day of their salary. They worked with the fundraising team in the London offices of Deutsche Bank as part of a fundraising campaign in support of Help a Capital Child and Meningitis Research UK. The existing scheme asked employees to give a day of their salary, once a year.

On the day of the campaign, all of Deutsche Bank’s employees received an email from their Chief Executive. It was either addressed to ‘Dear colleague’ or was personalised by using their name (e.g. Dear Sarah). And everyone received one more nudge. They were either greeted by posters advertising the campaign, by volunteers with flyers, or volunteers with sweets. The sweets included the campaign strapline ‘There is an easier way to donate to one day – take the easyway.com’.

In the control group roughly 5% of people decided to donate, whereas in the group that received the sweets, 11% donated. This is what Cialdini would describe as the principle of reciprocation at work. What about the different kinds of email? It turned out that receiving a personalised email from the chief executive (‘Dear Sarah’ rather than ‘Dear colleague’) made even more difference than the sweets, as 12% of this group gave a day of their salary.

The most powerful intervention of all was when the three nudges were combined. In the group that received sweets (reciprocation) and a personalised message (liking) from the Chief Executive (authority), 17% of employees donated, which is more than three times as many as those who received none of these nudges.

How could you make use these findings?

The next time you are trying to influence colleagues to care about fundraising; or influence supporters / donors to want to build their relationship with your charity, consider some of Professor Cialdini’s ideas. For example:

  • How could you make use of The Authority Principle (eg by referring to your ‘award-winning’ colleagues or using the quote of an expert, could you help us better value the impact of your charity’s service?)
  • How could you work harder to get donors names right? (eg at events and drinks receptions, as most name labels are usually too small to be useful, could you make sure they are big enough to actually read?)

Do you want to find out more?

To go much deeper in applying these kinds of ideas, check out the resources in Bright Spot Members Club. One of the many resources available to members is Personal Fundraising Power which includes 17 short training films available only to members.