Imagine sitting down at your desk one Monday morning and finding an untouched Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle waiting for you. A deadline looms. Although you have no time or intention to muddle through it, you do notice one clue for a 3-letter word: “NFL star Manning.”
But it’s a busy day and you feel no compulsion to attack the puzzle, so you simply smile, set the puzzle aside and move on with your day, without bothering to fill in the easy answer with “Eli.”
Now imagine the same scenario, but this time the entire puzzle has been completed—every answer to every clue —EXCEPT the 3-letter answer for “NFL Star Manning.”
If you feel compelled to pick up a pencil and complete the puzzle in this situation, despite the looming deadline, you have taken a very human action that human behavior scientists refer to as set completion.
“Finishing tasks that are incomplete gives us all a huge sense of satisfaction,” says Dr. Kiki Koutmeridou, Behavioral Science Strategist for DonorVoice. “Framing items as parts of a whole unit elicits a desire for completion and encourages effort and motivation, even in the absence of external rewards.”
Kiki has spent her career studying the linkages between essential human behaviors and charitable actions exhibited by donors, and now provides that insight to DonorVoice clients.
Set completion can be a useful motivator to engage when building an ask strategy, even if you’re only using arbitrary sets, which scientists like Kiki call pseudo-sets.
Creating a pseudo-set relates to batching all gift levels into a singular goal, and then stating the asks in terms of a portion of the whole.
For instance, one study asked control donors to give $5 for one textbook, $10 for two, up to $25 for 5 textbooks. Test donors were asked to help reach one set of five textbooks: $5 would provide 20% of one set, $10 would provide 40% up to one full set of textbooks for $25.
Results? 38% of the test group donated the maximum $25 amount, compared to only 22% of the control group.
Can you connect your highest ask to a single pseudo-set and then describe the lower asks as a portion of the whole? ($40 feeds 20% of the village residents, $80 feeds 40%, $120 feeds 60%, $160 feeds 80%, $200 feeds all residents of the village.)
There are a couple of similar conditions, scientifically defined as “biases,” that highlight the importance of having made a start towards completing a goal.
Kiki points out “Donors are more willing to contribute when there is a target in sight, especially when they are close to achieving that target.”
Think about the classic annual campaign thermometer technique, urging donors to join in the final push to reach a goal. This bias is known as goal proximity.
Can you frame up your offer/ask with a goal in reach and ask your donor to help you reach it?
Similar to goal proximity, endowed progress speaks to a bias in which a task was perceived as one that had been started but remained incomplete, rather than one that had not yet begun.
Kiki cites a 2006 study that required people to take eight steps in a task, but framed it as a task requiring 10 steps with two of the steps already completed.
The study discovered that endowing the donor with some sense of progress increased the likelihood of completion and actually decreased completion time.
Can you pre-populate Questions 1 and 2 of your 10-question online donor survey with donor name and email address, to show donors that some progress has been made toward their goal, but which nudges them to complete questions 3-10?
Regardless of the nuance that goal proximity, endowed progress and pseudo-sets can add, the urge for set completion can be a useful subconscious human behavior for direct response fundraising creative strategists to tap when constructing the ask.
Stay tuned for more Direct Creative Hacks.