There is currently a gap between the intentions and actions of the typical US adult when it comes to contributing time, talent, and resources towards charitable causes. In one study of Chicago-area donors, the majority of participants did not contribute to the issues they identified as most important to their community (see Research box below). Similarly, donors often do not give as generously as they believe they should. An online survey conducted by ideas42 found that participants gave on average about half the amount they thought others should donate (3% v. 6% of annual income). These disparities reflect the broader failure of most donors to act on their charitable giving intentions.
There are several factors contributing to the intention-action gap. Research suggests that high intent actually leads to undervaluing the importance of activities like plan-making. Unsurprisingly, there isn’t a culture of planning for most everyday donors. Without a plan-making habit, donors often fail to engage in preparatory behaviors, forget to act as intended, and miss opportunities to act when they arrive.
Therefore, one challenge in creating more intentional giving is figuring out how to capitalize on existing intentions and turn them into productive actions. How can we help people create giving plans to better act on their intentions?
There are existing donor products and services that offer goal-setting guidance, most of which are geared towards givers who are already strategic and intentional. An opportunity exists to target donors less accustomed to planned giving by offering a lighter-weight tool that helps capture a giving intention and provides some initial scaffolding to turn that intention into action. Could asking donors about the causes they plan to give to when future giving opportunities arrive be enough to help them act on those goals? Research into the “self-fulfilling prophecy” effect indicates that merely posing planning-related questions to individuals can increase the likelihood that they will follow through with their intention (see Research box).
Surprisingly, a study of planning by Harvard Business Review found that “when people most staunchly intend to perform a behavior, they are most prone to undervalue factors like plan-making, which could help them translate their intentions into actions.” For this reason, an intervention that successfully prompts plan-making in a way that doesn’t overwhelm them at moments of high charitable intention could potentially help donors close the intention-action gap and follow through on their charitable goals.
There has been a lot of interest in the “warm glow” that donors can experience at the time of giving. A planning tool that is surfaced at this moment will likely meet potential plan-makers at a time of high intent and positive affect. A prompt for goal-setting is also likely to be more effective when it reminds, or “primes,” donors with their identity as generous givers.
We believe it is important that initial plan-making for this audience is grounded in interest or passion areas rather than specific dollar amounts because this makes the commitment feel more personal and less pressured. Donors could select the collection of issues or organizations that they feel reflect their values--creating a template for the type of giver they want to be. Keeping this plan in mind would then help them make giving decisions when opportunities arise.
After establishing the cause areas or specific organizations to which they want to contribute, users would be prompted to select a time frame for their plan and an interval at which they will receive reminders. At the end of the flow, an optional section can appear to prompt the addition of specific dollar values to the plan. A tool like this would help donors think through and capture their intentions as well as provide mechanisms for follow-through, without playing into a sense of over-solicitation or “donor fatigue.”