Dana Segal Headshot

Dana Segal, NAFS tutor and =mc Partner Consultant blogs on her experience at the Change for Good using Behavioural Economics seminar, and discusses how and why arts organisations should be looking to use these techniques in their fundraising. The accompanying book is now available, find out more, join the book tour and buy your copy online here.

As artists, creative and heritage professionals, it’s in our nature to ask ourselves and others ‘why’. Not just in our creative work, but also in our fundraising efforts. Some questions I often hear organisations asking are:

  • Why should people support us?
  • Why can’t we explain what we do in a simple way?
  • Why do people always assume we get government support?

Don’t get me wrong – why is a really important question. But following yesterday’s Behavioural Economics (BE) Seminar, I’m left with the feeling that as a sector, we’ve not been considering the question of how in enough detail. So let’s reframe those questions above:

  • How can we incentivise our paying audiences to also support us with a regular gift?
  • How can we tell the story of our work in a way that is easy for people to remember?
  • How can we change supporters incorrect perceptions about our funding streams?

Behavioural economics (BE) is the art of considering how people do the things they do. It examines our inherent cognitive biases (we all have them – 175 of them in fact) which lead to common patterns of behaviour. So as much as we like to think we are different, on the whole, we are not. (Yes, I can hear you saying ‘BUT I AM DIFFERENT’… and I’m afraid to tell you that feeling you’re experiencing, is indeed, a cognitive bias).

Some of my personal favourites include:

  • The Fallacy Fallacy: if an argument has an error in it, then we also assume its conclusion is also wrong, even though it may be right
  • The IKEA Effect: we tend to feel more ownership over something we have built ourselves
  • Rhyme and Reason: we are more likely to believe a statement if it rhymes
  • The Pratfall Effect: if we see someone exhibit a flaw, they become more appealing
  • The Halo Effect: when our overall impression of a person (they are nice!) impacts our evaluation of that person’s specific traits (they are also smart!)


If these are the bizarre but interesting ways in which we function, how can we use this information to make our fundraising efforts more compelling? How can we use this information to engage audiences over the longer term? How can we use it to recruit more participants to our projects?

I know what you’re thinking… this all sounds a bit spooky. Is this a bit too manipulative?

But here’s the thing. In practice, it’s actually not as scary as it might seem. You have a website that always needs updating, right? You to write write fundraising letters, grants or appeals to get support and make the positive change you want to make? So people are already reading signals about you and your work, and forming decisions, opinions, assumptions and choices about you. So in the words of Meredith Niles, Executive Director of Fundraising and Engagement at Marie Curie UK:

It’s going to cost you the same amount to print the right language rather than the wrong language – so don’t you owe it to your supporters and the cause to find the best and most effective way to raise funds?

The National Arts Fundraising School is the only fundraising programme to look at BE in detail, sharing a wealth of case studies and effective practice tools to dispel the mystery of it and embed this way of thinking into your fundraising practice. That’s because we don’t want you to leave the course knowing why people should support your cause – we want you to leave knowing why and how you can get supporters to help you the best way for both you and them.

Call us on 020 7978 1516 or email bernard@nationalartsfundraisingschool.com to start a conversation about how we can help transform your fundraising.

Keep me up to date with the latest in arts and cultural fundraising

Sign up to receive news, insights and offers from =mc on the National Arts Fundraising School and other sector related content. Rest assured we’ll never, ever pass your details on to anyone else and your data is stored securely.