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Persuasion in Fundraising Letters: An Interdisciplinary Study


  • Elizabeth Goering
  • Ulla Connor
  • Ed Nagelhout
  • Richard Steinberg

    (Department of Economics, Indiana Unviersity-Purdue University Indianapolis)


In this paper, we report experimental evidence on the effectiveness of several techniques of persuasion commonly utilized in direct-mail solicitation. The study is built on theory-based, descriptive models of fundraising discourse and on comparisons of recommended and actual practices related to three dimensions of persuasion: rhetorical, visual, and linguistic. The specific rhetorical variable included is persuasive appeal (rational, credibility, or affective). The visual variable selected for the study is the presence or absence of bulleted lists, and the linguistic variable included is readability, or the complexity of exposition. Subjects were presented with pairs of fictive direct-mail appeals from imaginary universities that differ in these dimensions and asked to allocate a hypothetical $100 across each pair. Results suggest that letters utilizing credibility appeals and letters written at a high level of readability produce the highest donations.

Suggested Citation

  • Elizabeth Goering & Ulla Connor & Ed Nagelhout & Richard Steinberg, 2008. "Persuasion in Fundraising Letters: An Interdisciplinary Study," Working Papers wp200804, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:iup:wpaper:wp200804

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    Persuasion; Donations;

    JEL classification:

    • H41 - Public Economics - - Publicly Provided Goods - - - Public Goods


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