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Press Release From the Journal of Marketing: Nonprofits: Hold Creative Events to Engage Prospective Donors and Unlock More Giving

Marilyn Stone

Researchers from University of North Texas, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and University of British Columbia published a new paper in the Journal of Marketing that examines how engaging potential donors in creative activities at fundraising events can increase charitable giving.

The study, forthcoming in the the Journal of Marketing, is titled “Leveraging Creativity in Charity Marketing: The Impact of Engaging in Creative Activities on Subsequent Donation Behavior” and is authored by Lidan Xu, Ravi Mehta, and Darren Dahl.


How to organize the perfect fundraising event? Charitable organizations currently use a variety of strategies and tactics to engage potential donors, all with the goal of enhancing donation behaviors. It is not surprising to see that golf tournament, ice-cream social, or sip and paint events are organized by different charities representing different causes. One question that arises is what types of activities are more efficient and are more likely to help the organizations collect more donations. This new study finds that engaging potential donors by increasing their participation in creative activities helps! 
Using different types of creative activities, such as designing a creative t-shirt or decorating cookies, the researchers find that those who participate in such activities are more likely to donate than those who participate in similar, but non-creative, versions of the activities. For example, those who are asked to decorate a cookie as creatively as possible are more likely to donate to the charitable organization than those who are simply asked to copy a given cookie design.
As Xu explains, “Our findings show that incorporating creative activities in fundraising campaigns and charity events can be a viable marketing strategy for non-profit organizations to enhance donation behavior.” Charitable organizations can organize such events in person or use their social media platforms. For example, they can invite potential donors to attend a painting event, organize a cookie decoration event, or participate in other activities that engage them, physically or mentally, to produce something novel and creative.
While offering potential donors creative outlets does not always yield creative outcomes, that does not matter. “As long as donors participate in an activity to create something novel and creative, they demonstrate higher donation behavior. It is engaging in the creative process that matters! When the potential donors participate in creative activities, they feel a sense of freedom and autonomy, which makes them feel happier and more charitable,” says Mehta.
Dahl adds that “One tip for charitable organizations is to encourage participants to be as creative as possible, but not to emphasize outcomes or provide instructions for how they should complete the activity. For example, when organizing a painting event, some charities mention that step-by-step instructions will be provided and everyone will paint the same picture. We suggest that allowing the freedom to paint anything and to be creative in the process might be a better strategy.”
Using these findings, managers can think outside the box to come up with different types of creative activities to engage potential donors. While inviting potential donors to participate in any type of activity that requires creative engagement might make the potential donors feel more engaged, not all activities are created equal and some might be better than others. For example, organizing a fundraising gala or event can be costly, but using this type of activity may be more budget friendly. As an instance, one interesting idea we found online was a “tie-dye party” where organizations provide white T-shirts and tie-dye materials so that participants can create their own tie-dye T-shirts. These T-shirts can then be used for live auctions. In addition, participating in this activity makes an individual more likely to donate to the charity, creating multiple streams of donation contributions.

Full article and author contact information available at:

About the Journal of Marketing 

The Journal of Marketing develops and disseminates knowledge about real-world marketing questions useful to scholars, educators, managers, policy makers, consumers, and other societal stakeholders around the world. Published by the American Marketing Association since its founding in 1936, JM has played a significant role in shaping the content and boundaries of the marketing discipline. Christine Moorman (T. Austin Finch, Sr. Professor of Business Administration at the Fuqua School of Business, Duke University) serves as the current Editor in Chief.

About the American Marketing Association (AMA) 

As the largest chapter-based marketing association in the world, the AMA is trusted by marketing and sales professionals to help them discover what is coming next in the industry. The AMA has a community of local chapters in more than 70 cities and 350 college campuses throughout North America. The AMA is home to award-winning content, PCM® professional certification, premiere academic journals, and industry-leading training events and conferences.

Marilyn Stone is Director, Academic Communities and Journals, American Marketing Association.