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The Impact of Images on Fundraising

Have you ever wondered what the impact of race and gender have on your fundraising efforts? Does it make any difference if a nonprofit like yours shows a picture of a boy or girl in their appeal? Do your donors favor helping children of their own racial or ethnic background?

This is, after all, a bit of a delicate issue. How insensitive would it be for you to ask people if they’d rather help a child of their own race or gender or if they preferred helping girls rather than boys, or one race over another?

In research I’ve been reading, a different approach was used. Grey Matter Research and Infinity Concepts tested the fundraising impact of different images without respondents even knowing what they were looking to learn. They explored whether Evangelical Protestants have biases by race, ethnicity, or gender when it comes to the images they see in annual appeals.

The common belief is that people want to see others who look like themselves. In advertising, for example, that would be akin to older adults wanting to see other older adults drinking coffee

If we were simply talking about consumer preferences the above “commonly held belief” may be true. But for the Evangelical Protestants surveyed it does not appear to hold true from a fundraising standpoint. These Evangelicals were shown a simple image about domestic hunger. Everyone saw the same image, but with one of four different children pictured: Asian, Latino, Black, or white.

Contrary to common assumptions, what was learned was that these Evangelicals did not find a child of their own racial or ethnic background any more or less compelling than a child of any other background.

For gender bias, however, something different was learned. To me, this is very interesting and perhaps a guidepost for your future fundraising efforts. It turns out that men proved to be a bit more likely to favor helping a boy over a girl in the images they see. Women, however, were significantly more likely to favor helping a boy. When I read that, my immediate reaction was hmmm (with a head scratch).

Reading a little further I learned that women are more likely to say that images featuring a boy rather than a girl get their attention and are touching, urgent, the kind of person they want to help, and even compelling in encouraging them to click on the image, if possible, for more information.

Actual Impact

Because there hasn’t been much research like this (and not just among Evangelicals), a lot of assumptions are used in selecting imagery. Assumptions like:

  • “People want to see kids who look like them in our marketing and fundraising.”

  • “We have a heavily female audience, so we need lots of pictures of little girls.”

  • “Donors expect to see pictures of kids from poor parts of the world, so that’s what we should show them.”

My takeaway is that at least when communicating with Evangelicals, some of the assumptions nonprofits have about imagery don’t appear to be true or realistic.

What does this mean for you and your organization? That’s really for you to decide. Does it mean that you should use more pictures of males than females in your fundraising appeals and other outreach efforts? I don’t think so. Does it mean that you need to understand the subtle biases your constituents may have? Quite possibly.

I hope this bit of research I’ve written about has been helpful. I’d love to hear of other research you may be aware of when it comes to the impact of imagery on fundraising.

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