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The Universal Tactics of Persuasion & How Non-profits Can Use Them

In the non-profit world, one of your biggest assets is the ability to persuade people to support your cause or organization. After all, much of what you do depends on time and money investments from community members. Recently, we posted a video to our Facebook page that looks at the science behind persuasion and six universal tactics: reciprocity, scarcity, authority, consistency, liking and consensus. See how they can be utilized to increase your persuasive power.


Reciprocity tells us that people feel obligated to give when they receive. Here, the key is to be the first to give and give in a meaningful way. By doing so, people are generally more likely to give back to you in a way that exceeds what you originally gave them. Moreover, if you make someone feel they are special because of what they received, their return gift generally increases in value. There are many ways you can do this. One way is by simply providing some free resources on your website – maybe downloadable tools, information, images or templates for supporters to use at their leisure. Try to avoid giving things that require larger capital investment, because you always want to assure them that you are serious about using their donations very efficiently.


The tactic of scarcity notes that people want more of what they can’t have. In order to optimize this, you must highlight what is unique and what they may lose out on. This is a difficult tactic for nonprofits to adopt because you do not necessarily provide a direct product or service to donors. However, it’s not impossible. Try highlighting something special about your organization that is specific to only you, and in addition, how donors or volunteers shouldn’t want to miss out on being part of something so worthy.


Authority is an important strategy for nonprofits. People want to feel they are investing in something credible and legitimate. Luckily, this can be achieved in a variety of easy ways. Try to share achievements or concrete facts about the good your organization has done on your website and in your newsletter. Highlight any awards, accreditation or recognition you have received and impress upon the public that you have the knowledge and authority to remedy the issues your organization addresses. Finally, talk up the members of your organization, their accomplishments and their specialties to your peers and social circles. You work with amazing people, so flaunt it!


Consistency tells us that people like to operate in patterned ways. Folks are more likely to make bigger commitments or donations once they have already made small commitments or donations. Encourage small, initial donations. Even $20 dollars a month makes a big difference and allows you to build a relationship, which can lead to larger donations in the future. Most often, the wealthiest donors start out by making small donations in order to see how an organization will treat them. Welcome their donations, treat them kindly, and don’t be surprised if their donations increase.


The liking tactic shows that people say yes to those they like. It may seem obvious, but this is a persuasive shortcut that is often underutilized because we can become blinded by our end goals. Individuals are more likely to want to interact with people based on three factors. They want to interact with those who are similar to them, those who genuinely complement them and those who are working towards mutually established goals. When communicating with potential donors or volunteers it’s best to build a relationship with them before getting down to business. Ask them about themselves, listen and respond thoughtfully. They will begin to feel a connection to you, and you have the opportunity to integrate the three aforementioned factors into casual conversation.


Finally, we come to consensus. Consensus indicates that people will look to others to determine their own behavior, especially if there is a similarity between them. A viable trend that supports this tactic is social fundraising sites that allow individuals to encourage those in their social networks to donate or participate. Some of these sites, like, and, also integrate directly into Facebook and Twitter sites. There’s no better way to create consensus then to make support as visible as possible. Some organizations have gone as far as to encourage supporters to lend their banner space, such as Facebook’s cover photo space, on social media sites by having free downloadable images on your website like charity: water.

Many of these approaches can be accomplished in easy, practical and costless or low-cost ways. Challenge yourself to get creative with them and find something that works best with your organizational structure. The adoption of one, a combination, or all of these tactics can magnify your ability to influence, motivate and persuade your potential audience. Not a bad skill for a nonprofit, right? To see the full video, visit our Facebook page, and be sure to Like us!


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