Better Phrasing for Online Fundraising?

A recent study investigates phrases that drive crowdsourced giving.

Could attracting more donations on your website be as simple as plugging in a few key phrases? A new study of over 45,000 Kickstarter projects has identified certain phrases that are common to successfully funded projects as well as phrases that are associated with unsuccessful efforts. While the findings are certainly food for thought, you may want to bring a few grains of salt to this meal.

Entitled, “The Language that Gets People to Give: Phrases that Predict Success on Kickstarter,” the study was conducted by Georgia Tech assistant professor Eric Gilbert and doctoral candidate Tanushree Mitra. Gilbert and Mitra wanted to find out why a project like the Pebble smartwatch raised more than $10,000,000 (making it the most successfully funded project in Kickstarter’s history), while Ninja Baseball, a PC game, raised only a third of its $10,000 goal.

The team used specially designed software to “scrape” the text from thousands of Kickstarter projects launched as of June 2, 2012. After controlling for variables such as project duration, overall funding goal, and the use of video as part of the pitch, they found that of the more than 9 million unique phrases they captured, 20,391 had predictive qualities. Their study identifies the top 100 phrases found to correlate significantly with funded or unfunded projects.

On their own, these phrases may not appear to be particularly strong or weak. For example, the number one phrase associated with funded projects is “project will be.” (Not exactly the magic words you were waiting for, right?) What makes this phrase powerful, the study says, is that it evokes the persuasion principle of “authority” (i.e., by reading that “the project will be produced by an award winning team,” you will be impressed by the expertise and professionalism behind the project and will be more likely to give.)

If you’re wondering, “Isn’t award-winning team the key phrase here?” rest assured that we’re scratching our heads a bit, too. And as you go deeper into the list of phrases, it gets more confusing. There are some phrases in the funded category that appear very similar to those in the unfunded category: e.g., “their creative” appears to help attract donations, and yet “be creative” doesn’t.

Perhaps most troubling of all is the fact that the study doesn’t take into account the inherent appeal of the various Kickstarter projects themselves. Smartwatches appear to be the next big thing in wearable computing — Samsung has already rolled out its version and Apple is rumored to be close behind. Isn’t it possible that the Pebble was successful because the project caught a huge wave of interest? And don’t some projects fail because no matter how clever or compelling their pitches, there simply isn’t a market for that product or service?

We sent this question via email to the study’s co-creator, Tanushree Mitra. She wrote back: “A good extension of this study would be to actually interview backers to know why they backed a product.” On that point, we offer a key phrase of our own: ya’ think?

Cross-posted with permission from The Goodman Center.


Related, on Storytelling for Good