Why doesn’t social proof work for Wikipedia fundraising?

So what’s going on with this ad?

To my mind, this is a case where a number of other principles of donor psychology outweigh any value social proof might have. Those principles are: Identity, perceived risk, and reciprocity.

Let’s think about why social proof works.

Social proof is, at is most basic, people doing something because they know other people are doing it. Why does this happen?

Make the wrong decision and the wheels might fall off. (Wikimedia Commons)

Failing to give is the risky option

First, let’s talk about risk.

Something bad might happen- Wikipedia might lose its independence!
Think about how useful it is: And what you’d lose if it wasn’t there

Giving to Wikipedia is a message to yourself, not to others

Donating to Wikipedia not a social activity. You’re not in the same room as anyone else, your neighbours’ curtains are not twitching and there isn’t even a real person asking you to give. So no-one will think any better or worse of you regardless of what you do.

Giving back for what you’ve got

I don’t know about you, but if someone offers me flowers at a train station, I run away very quickly. That’s because all kinds of people have worked out the principle of reciprocity. If you give me flowers, I owe you something — regardless of whether I asked for them, or whether I wanted them. And you’ll probably ask me for money, or to join your religious cult, or both!

Evidence trumps theory, and theory gets complicated

If there’s one thing I take away from all of this, it’s that donor psychology is complicated.

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