The Motivating Power of a Thermometer

Written by: Kimberly Proffitt

How can we create an atmosphere of excitement around giving during a virtual event?

At an in-person event, the energy of the auctioneer, the applause of the guests, and the thrill of watching bid cards go up in the air make a person want to jump right in. This is more challenging virtually.

Enter the thermometer.

One of the psychological factors for giving is proximity to a goal. Supporters want you to reach your fundraising target. Studies show the closer you get to the goal, the more excited people are to give. You can feel the anticipation – even virtually – as the thermometer keeps going up. Who wouldn’t want to help take the fundraising “over the top?”

Yet, it’s not enough to put the thermometer (or another visual tracker) on the giving page and expect it to go up. The thermometer needs a strategy behind it. There’s an art to “helping” the amount rise. You must consider your overall goal, the amount of money you’ve already raised, the giving culture of your organization, and how many people have registered for the event. 

For example, a good strategy is to start your event with some dollars already in the “pot.” This is similar to what organizations do with a capital campaign. Often, a set percentage of the goal is raised before launching the campaign publicly. You may choose to include some or all sponsorship dollars and pre-raised gifts in the thermometer early on. If virtual viewers see there is already progress to the goal, they are more motivated to get to (or even surpass) that number. 

The visual effect of the thermometer is something we naturally gravitate toward. Make sure it is in a prominent place on your giving page. And keep it graphically simple! Your thermometer or tracker should be easily understood.

The thermometer is just one of several tools to engage virtual event viewers. We expect to continue using it as we move into hybrid events, and it may even make its way into in-person events in the future! Our team is here to help you in developing a goal and thermometer strategy. We’ll guide you about pre-raising funds and how to best show that revenue, verbally and visually, throughout your campaign and during your program.


Kimberly Proffitt, Research, Analysis, and Donor Engagement Consultant at Fladeboe Advancement, has worked in the nonprofit sector her entire career, focusing on fundraising and philanthropy for the past 22 years. She takes special interest in helping organizations understand the stories data tell, strategizing on developing long-term relationships with donors and reframing fundraising from “asking for money” to engaging with the passions and values of donors.

Special thanks to team member Kate Pearce for her contributions to this post!

Fundraising in 2021 – What Can We Expect?

Donors came through for nonprofits in 2020. According to the latest Fundraising Effectiveness Project Report, donations in 2020 were up 10.6%, the number of donors increased by 7.3%, and new donors grew by 13.3% (all compared to 2019). The Blackbaud Institute 2020 Charitable Giving Report showed average gift size in 2020 increasing by 19.4%, with online giving making big strides forward (up 21% compared to 2019).

Now the big question on the minds of many fundraisers is “What can we expect in 2021?” We don’t have a crystal ball, yet several recent reports and surveys provide some insight into what 2021 might bring.

The Lilly School of Philanthropy at Indiana University has predicted an increase in overall charitable giving of 4.1% in 2021 and 5.7% in 2022.  This includes giving by individuals (including bequests), foundations, and corporations. In making their forecast, the School uses a model that considers multiple economic influences, such as the growth of the Gross Domestic Product and the strength of the stock market. They do note, however, that “unknowns” such as federal and state legislation changes and the availability of and ability to administer Covid-19 vaccines will play a role in the growth.

Fundraisers are a little more cautious. The fourth edition of the CCS Philanthropic Climate Survey (conducted in January 2021) shows 43% of fundraisers surveyed expecting an overall fundraising decline for their organizations in 2021 and 27% expecting an increase. Interestingly, 62% expect a decrease in special event fundraising (we’re a little more bullish). More confidence is given to major gift fundraising, with 46% of those surveyed expecting an increase in 2021.

Donors themselves remain optimistic about giving in 2021 – even when surveyed in late 2020. A Campbell Rinker Poll (December of 2020) showed 67% of donors expected to give the same or more in 2021 as they did in 2020. A striking 87% of people surveyed by FrontStream (December 2020) said they expected to give to charity in 2021, with 19% saying they expected to give more than in 2020.

And what have we seen? So far in 2021, events have been strong, with almost all clients reaching 100% or more of their goal. We believe giving will remain strong, though fundraising events/campaigns will need to be flexible. Beautiful summer weather, comfort levels with gathering, and the ability to clearly message your organization’s need and impact in a post-Covid world will influence event success.

Our advice right now: do all you can to reach out to donors, especially those who were new in 2020. Remind them of the impact they have made through their donations, express thanks and gratitude, and encourage engagement beyond a financial contribution. Strengthening these bonds is critical for future fundraising success.