Crowdfunding tips – the perspective of a donor behaviour researcher

By Natalie Jonk

We were sent the below insights from a dutch researcher who has an interest in the drivers of donor behaviour for crowdfunding, below are her insights…

Keep it simple

I noticed that the titles of the projects are really specific and scientific, which is fine for publishing articles, but it might be less effective in terms of attracting donors. Maybe simplify them a bit? Even if your target crowd is the scientific community ( is it?), research shows that individuals are more likely to donate if the process is as easy as possible: so keep it simple. You can always give the specifics in the text, but I would keep everything really simple and argue from a practical viewpoint.

Also, it is always helpful and important to know your crowd: who is it I’m aiming for? For example, scientists are not particularly wealthy, so it would make sense to go beyond this group and reach out to ‘the crowd’ (i.e. general public). Are you aiming for a specific crowd?

Getting a project started

In general, the first 33% of the donors consist mainly out of friends and family of the project initiator. This group is especially important, since they provide you with the first couple of donations and show others that they support this project. Donors are more likely to make a donation if others have done so as well (i.e. follow the crowd). Thus, family and friends are essential to get a project going. If the project creator has a limited network, maybe they can donate the first 100euros? I know of several crowdfunding platforms who use this approach.

After the group of family and friends has been exhausted many projects struggle to assemble the remaining amount as it requires serious networking. Now is the time to really crowdfund: use social media (e.g. provide regular project updates, inform them about new donations etc.), ask previous donors to become ambassadors of the project (e.g. ask them to reach out to their family and friends), reach out as much as possible (solicitation: in order to make a donation, individuals have to be informed there is a project). In terms of the project updates, informing them about the behavior of other donors (i.e. tweeting: ‘wow today someone donated 50euros, will you join the crowd?’) is more effective than throwing around numbers (i.e. tweeting: ‘cheetahs are in trouble!, less than … exist in the wild’).

Another thing that might help is to give the crowd some control: crowdfunding is about democracy, donors no longer just want to make a donation they want to be included. So, they want (and need) to be informed through regular project updates (not asking for money, but informing them). Also, more than ever donors want to make a difference. Ask them for advice, ideas anything. Make them feel included and part of something special. You could also implement this into your rewards.

After you have assembled about 66% of the amount, family and friends are again likely to make a donation: they invested in the beginning of the campaign, others are donating, let’s bring in the money and make sure the project is successful. It would make sense to inform the group of family and friends that the project is getting their but not quite safe yet and that they could make it happen (thus giving them a sense of importance).


Donors these days are more critical and perceive their donation more as an investment than a moral responsibility. Thus, sensible rewards are important. We would advise a simple reward structure of: 10, 20, 35, 50, 75, 100 and a couple of numbers above 100. The rewards connected to these amounts have to make sense. For example, you are currently hosting a project researching the impact of yoga on the wellbeing of women with infertility treatment-led pregnancy (really interesting project btw!!), could give coupons for free yoga lessons or yoga mats. The project leader could contact a yoga company, inform them about their research and ask if the company wants to collaborate with them. I know this is a lot of work, but crowdfunding is time invasive.

Also, maybe mention that if you want to make a donation without receiving a reward you can. There are still donors who donate from an altruistic viewpoint and forcing them to pick a reward might result in them not donating. Crowd.Science facilitates donating any amount.  

WWF found that a personal message was a particularly popular reward. What they did: the park ranger protecting elephants would thank donors personally (i.e. by name) through a video message. This works not just because it is fun to hear the ranger pronounce your name (in the WWF case Dutch names), but also because it makes donors feel specia and appreciatedl. This kind of rewards could be used by the wildlife projects at you platform.


Here is a link to a literature review of Bekkers and Wiepking, 2011. This article is a really good overview of the eight basic motives behind donating:

Awareness of need: use understandable words to describe why this project is important

Solicitation: donors have to know there is a project

Cost and benefits: this mainly applies to the rewards, they have to be in line with the cost (i.e. donation amount)

Altruism: those who donate purely to help the project

Reputation: for example appearing generous or wealthy, so publishing the donation amounts could help.

Psychological benefits: a feeling of warm flow, which means that people feel good about themselves after donating.

Values: personal values. We know little about this, because personal values can only be measured and not manipulated.

Efficacy: this one is really important for crowdfunders: they want to feel as if they make a difference. Thus, donating to a project that is unlikely to assemble the money in time is not in line with this reasoning. Again showing the importance of using your family and friends to fund the first part of the project. Also, specify what their amount can do: e.g. ‘if you donate 50£ you can enable me to test one more subject on how yoga can help with anxiety during pregnancy!’.  ‘if you donate 5 euros we can pay for …’. So, telling donors specifically what is done with their money is a real strength of crowdfunding (but keep the description simple).

It’s great to find ways to focus on social motives: thus informing individuals about the donation behaviour of other donors. I argue some individuals donate because they want to belong to a certain group, attain a specific reputation or simply like to follow (i.e. conforming). This would mean that it is important to target the right group: the cheetah project is most likely to attract donors who care about animals and identify as animal lovers. Thus, reach out to a group of animal lovers, maybe contact a local zoo and ask if they can help out to reach the right crowd. From a reputation perspective, I am less likely to donate if others are reframing from giving to a specific project: ‘if they are not making a donation, me donating might be perceived as foolish’ or ‘if they are not donating, me not donating won’t damage my reputation because others are also reframing’. From a conforming viewpoint, we use information to help those who are uncertain ‘should I make donation?, is this a good project?’, by informing them that others think this is a good project: ‘if others are donating to this project, it is probably a good investment (i.e. my money won’t be wasted).

Key in all these motives is that in order to attract ‘the crowd’, the project has to have at least a couple of donations. We talked about this before: a project initiator should ask their friends and family to make the first donations and therefore signal that they think this is a good project.

In sum, know your crowd, keep it simple, connect connect connect, specify what the amount donated can do in your reward system, provide regular updates (not asking for money, this could exhaust your crowd).

Visit the Crowd.Science home page to browse projects to support.

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