The Taming of the Shrewd


Episode 2: Neuroscience of Giving

Season 1, Ep. 2

I was joined for this fascinating episode by Dr Jo Cutler. We discussed the science behind what makes donors want to donate to a cause, and how you can use that science to write better fundraising appeals.

Jo is Postdoctoral Researcher in the Social Decision Neuroscience Lab at the University of Oxford. Her research uses techniques from neuroscience and physiology to understand people’s ‘prosocial’ behaviour and charitable giving. You can find out more about Jo’s work on her website, or contact her on Twitter @DrJoCutler.

Despite so much negative media coverage in recent years about charity fundraising, Jo explained how her research shows that donating has a positive impact on the donor as well as the organisation. It stimulates ‘reward regions’ of the brain and results in a measurable ‘warm glow’ that tends to last longer than the satisfaction we feel when we buy material items.

Jo shared four key actionable ideas with listeners:

  1. How to make your appeals more engaging and relatable to donors by focusing on one identifiable person
  2. How ‘happy’ and ‘sad’ stories or imagery have very different effects on donors, and why they each work in different circumstances
  3. How saying thank you quickly makes donors more inclined to associate their donation with that ‘warm glow’ and therefore more likely to give again
  4. Why science can’t give you a magic formula for writing the perfect appeal, but how you can begin testing some ideas in the context of your organisation

For further reading, check out Jo’s recent blog on how donors ‘learn to give’ and the power of an immediate thank you:

This also overlaps with my own recent blog on thanking donors, which we discussed in the episode:

These days we all need to measure the impact of our work, and it’s the same for Jo. We'd therefore be very grateful if you could fill in Jo’s super quick, four-question survey about the episode: