Effective fundraising depends on perceived distance between donor and cause

When donors know that their recipients are geographically closer, they are prone to think that their contribution is more important. In fact, this thought process can even make them donate a larger amount than they intended. This was the conclusion drawn by a team of researchers who set to find out the correlation between charitable donations, fundraising and distance.

Rima Touré-Tillery, an assistant professor of marketing at Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University led the study. Instead of asking the respondents direct questions like whether they would prefer donating to a cause in USA or Africa, they put up indirect questions.

The team first conducted the study online on 200 volunteers. The donation requests presented to them included words that depicted distance. For example, “a neighboring country”, “very close to us”, “all the way from” and “the other side of the globe”.

In a second study, they analyzed the data on donations received by an American university. They found that alumni living closer to their alma mater donated more to it. On behalf of another University, the researchers sent out donation requests to alumni. Half of the letters suggested that the school was near the recipient, while the other implied it was farther.

The researchers also conducted a couple of more tests. All led to the conclusion that when donors believe that there isn’t much distance separating them from the cause or beneficiaries, they are more inclined to help. This also affected the donation amount in some cases.

“Purely framing something as far or near makes a difference. Even the most objectively faraway places can be perceived as not being that far away. Any way you can frame the recipient as being close to the donor can only help,” Touré-Tillery says.

She believes that nonprofits can craft fundraising appeals to make recipients feel closer to the beneficiaries. In fact, she has a four ways they can make use of her team’s findings.


  • Frame the distance between the donors and recipients as small.
  • You can also provide the donors with a world map that collides or folds to bring farther corners closer.
  • Delegate the fundraising task to the local chapter of your organization.
  • Inform people that the funds will be used at the local chapter of your organization.
  • Prompt people to think that the world is small and accessible from anywhere.