Fundraising Power Tip – Context Tips the Scales


In previous posts, we discuss how important it is to select the right fundraiser -- 21 Actionable Online Fundraising Ideas for Schools and Sports Teams.  We also discussed how rallying a crowd through marketing is so important -- 6 Marketing Tips for School & Team Fundraising.  In this post, we are discussing how Context can be the difference between failure and runaway success.

Asking for donations is hard enough. So when you do, whether it’s at a snack bar or through a crowdfunding campaign, make sure you apply the Power of Context to maximize your efforts. On the surface, this context rule may seem like a waste of time, but the reality is that small changes can make a BIG difference. 

Understanding Context and applying it to your fundraiser is work -- but it’s time well spent and pays dividends.  So consider well the following examples of how you can use Context to tip the scales in your favor.

“If Content if King, then Context is God” – Gary Vaynerchuk

“The Power of Context...says that behavior is a function of social context…what really matters is little things.” -- Malcolm Gladwell, The Tipping Point, How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference.

So what do I mean by Context?

Context isn't just putting things into perspective; it's also including subconscious queues that donors act on, drawing personal connections that donors care about, and timing your message to take advantage of heard mentality. Using context means that you understand that humans make decisions with more than surface facts, but instead rely substantially on emotional queues and visual drivers -- tapping into those emotions is paramount to success. 

Snack Bar Context

Quid Pro Quo is Latin for “This for That”.  A Snack Bar is the epitome of quid pro quo fundraising.  So, it’s easy to forget that you’re goal is to raise the most money in the least effort. A few simple changes and you’ll enhance your profits immediately. These suggestions apply to any type of "This for That" event -- restaurant night, pancake feed, auction event, 10K race -- so apply generously.

Include Signage

A sign, with a clear reminder that the snack bar is raising money for a team, club, or school is planting the silent seed that the customer is actually buying not ONLY to stave their hunger, but to help out a worthy cause. It lets the customer feel less guilt when he/she wants to buy that extra brownie or candy bar. Let their subconscious do the work, “Hmm…I don’t really need a brownie, but hey, it’s for the kids”.

Tip Jar

Along with signage, don’t forget to include a fundraising tip jar. Make sure it clearly denotes the funds are going to the booster club, team, or school…and more importantly include messaging on how the money will be spent. Capturing extra funds at the point of sale is common in industry. Magazines, candy, and gum are impulse buys…and that’s why you see them at every cash register. Make your snack bar include the option to impulse give!

"Do you want fries with that?"

McDonalds is a master of the upsell. Copy what works. Ask your visitors if they’d like a Coke with their hot dog…or chips, candy, whatever is appropriate. Sometimes a small nudge is all it takes.

Small changes can make order of magnitude differences.

Small changes can make order of magnitude differences.

Put a Face to the Give

Whenever you can, add a face to the ask. Donors are much more generous when they understand who is directly benefiting.  I see event posters all the time that are missing an opportunity to add context. Some event posters never even state the beneficiary by name, let alone add a photo of the team or a player. Consider this pancake breakfast poster.  The version on the left is a beautifully crafted pancake feed poster, but you must try hard to find whom it’s benefiting. A simple addition of a photo and color change of some text ads context for subconscious triggers.  

This may seem like a small change and can't possibly make a difference. But the truth is it can be a tipping point that creates a landslide of results. In 1965, a social psychologist named Howard Leventhal held an experiment on a student health pamphlet promoting a tetanus shot. The results were surprising and dramatic! Various content messaging changes were made to the pamphlets (fear vs information), but showed no change in response rates. However, the simple inclusion of a map and health center office hoursccreated a massive difference. The response rate went from 3% to 28%...that's a 900% increase. And if you are wondering if the map was necessary for location purposes, it wasn't. The results suggest that most of the subjects already knew the location of the health center. 

Goal contextualization

The thermometer progress bar is ubiquitous for a reason. It’s contextualizes the goal of the campaign. For large fundraisers the thermometer should not be shown too early. A finish line that is too far away can actual create donor hesitation. Consider waiting until you have raised 30-50% of your goal before posting the thermometer.  But once you have, post it everywhere.  Signs, posters, emails...this creates a heard mentality that can nudge those who are on the fence.

Better than a thermometer (or used in conjunction wuth one) is informing donors exactly how the funds will be used. If a team needs a new van, then raise exactly the amount need for the purchase of that van. Include photos on the van. Break donations down into fun parts -- $250 buys a wheel, $50 pays for a tank of gas, etc. This type of contextualization helps donors feel their funds making a tangible difference.

Crowdfunding Context

For a crowdfunding page or any sort of pure donation ask, context because MUCH MORE IMPORTANT.  All the above suggestions still apply, but additional measure need to be included. The following suggestions are ones that can be applied to crowdfunding, ask letters, jog-a-thons...

Put a Face to the Give v2

In the example above, the face was a general "campaign face". A generic face is the only thing possible with a static posters and flyers. But when you run a team or school crowdfunding campaign, some platform support individual context options. For example, with a FanAngel campaign each player or student can include a personal photo, their name, a custom ask letter, and an individual fundraising goal. These context points are shown in emails and on the fundraising page (via custom URLs), bringing a level of PERSONAL CONTEXT that vastly improves fundraising efforts. To read more about this feature, see Contextualized Crowdfunding.

Goal Contextualization v2

Individual goals and progress bars are powerful motivators. As mentioned earlier, a goal that seems insurmountable can create donor hesitation. However, if you can breakdown the goal into smaller chunks, then you can sidestep this hesitation from the start.  With FanAngel’s Contextualized Crowdfunding, each player or member has their OWN progress bar.  This can make a big difference.

Consider a donor who is asked to donate to a campaign with a $10,000 goal.  If the team has only raised $2,000 thus far, then the remaining $8,000 seems very far away. This particular donor's gift of $25 seems a drop in the bucket and thus won’t be missed.  However, if each athlete or student has a $150 goal, which is clearly displayed to the donor, suddenly the same $25 has real merit. The team/school goal no longer matter. The donor is contributing substantially and helping their athlete/student in doing his/her part.

Social Proof

The concept of social proof comes in many forms: testimonials, endorsements, Facebook shares, number of donors, progress bars, etc. Anything to let the donor know they will be part of the crowd IF they partake. Here are some ways to create social proof for your fundraiser:

  • Post any larger donation on Twitter and Facebook. Alternatively, post weekly naming all donations from that week.  Include this in any weekly email blasts, like a principal's or athletic director's newsletter.
  • Post progress bar updates. The progress bar/thermometer is a form of social proof, so make sure it’s getting seen. Post socially and via email when it hits 50%, 70%, 90%, etc. 
  • On your campaign page, make sure it clearly displays donor names, number of donors, progress bar, etc.  Even better if the site supports pop-up corner announcements of recent activity (these are know as toast messages).
  • Post photos of all events -- show lots of photos with volunteers, both students and parents. Time is money! Showing volunteers putting in work hours is proof that the effort is worth doing.
  • Tag constantly! Every volunteer, every athlete, every business that can be tagged in a photo should be. 

The concept of Social Proof can't be overstated. Companies use this tactic constantly to sell their products. You should too!


Priming (or salting) the tip jar is a common practice for any barista, bartender, or street performer. This same approach should be applied to your online fundraising efforts. As mentioned earlier about holding back on publishing a thermometer until 30% of funds are raised, this has application in the online world as well. Typical practice is to “pre-announce” the campaign to a special group of donors/parents that you are very certain will donate. Then spiral out to the next likely group and so forth.  This slow cycle of ask can increase the likelihood of each group of donors.

Context as Reciprocation

Gary Vaynerchuk, in his book Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook, espouses the virtues of giving to your customers/donors many, many more times than asking for their money. In Vaynerchuk vernacular, the Jabs are little selfless gifts you repeatedly do until finally you make an ask. Each gift is a little grease you are adding to the wheel.

Many of these Jabs where mention in the Social Proof section, but here are few more:

  • All the items in the Social Proof section
  • Publish news about the team, like scores, stats, previews.
  • Publish news about players who have done something special - won an award, received a scholarship, etc.
  • Post player interviews, coach interviews, etc.
  • Do free giveaways, like sideline passes or game balls. 
  • Post photos and news of any fundraising results, such as photos of the construction of the new dugout, the arrival of the new uniforms, etc. 

Social Proof and Reciprocation Jabs are in essence greasing the wheels of your fundraising efforts.  So when you do ask for that next donation, you are met with the least amount of friction.


Using Context to its fullest extent can do wonders for any fundraising effort. Use these ideas a guidepost and create your own. Please post any of your own ideas in the comments section or to our Facebook Group. Even if it doesn't create a landslide of funds for your fundraiser, it will amplify any effort. And ANY additional monies raised means less additional work in the future -- go spend more time with your family and friends!


David Burton

CEO, FanAngel