Danish Multiple Sclerosis Society - What Makes People Donate Money?

A not-for-profit raising money and awareness for a debilitating chronic illness came to ReD Associates because they needed a new take on fundraising. As their disease was not well known, the organization struggled with growing its donor base beyond those directly affected.

Through ethnographic deep dives and participant observation with families across Denmark, ReD Associates sought to understand donations—what motivates people to give? We found that Danes had the easiest time giving away things or money that they weren’t using and therefore didn’t qualify as a loss to them. In those situations, they didn’t feel like they were giving anything up because it wasn’t something they were fully aware of in the first place. This insight gave rise to numerous small ideas that, taken together, increased donations well beyond the client's expectations.

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One of the ideas was to collect the small change people get back when paying cash at the grocery store. If our client could intervene in the transaction and get the coins before they were placed in people's wallets, they wouldn’t count as something “owned” and thus be easier to give away. The organization set up small donation boxes across the country, successfully collecting small change that no one had planned to use for giving.

Recycling was an area where the process could be totally automated, cutting the donor out of the transaction entirely. Here, the idea was simple: Ask people if they wanted to donate the deposit from used cans and bottles to an organization of their choice instead of receiving the amount from the machine. That way, donors were taken out of the equation—the machine did everything for them.

The most profitable idea of all was to go beyond cash and look at resources instead. A lot of Danes own a summer house that they use only a fraction of the year. Ideally, they would rent it out while not in use, but it's considered tedious, risky, and time-consuming to vet tenants and deal with the practicalities of exchanging keys, cleaning, and maintenance. Recognizing this gap, we saw an opportunity for our client to create a service where homeowners could donate their vacant property and the organization would deal with the hassle of renting it out. This provided an indirect way for people to donate to the organization.

Our client partnered with the largest realtor of summer houses in the country, Dansommer, to execute the plan. Dansommer donated time and resources as a CSR initiative, giving the client a new fundraising channel without requiring it to put any of its own resources toward maintaining the initiative. This way its budget could continue going straight to the end goal: easing the lives of people living with multiple sclerosis.

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