Cracking the Fundraising Code


Chicago Business, August 24, 2009


Fundraising has been called an art and a science, but, most of all, it’s a crapshoot.

John List is trying to change that.

Mr. List, 40, an economist at the University of Chicago and a bit of a rock star in fundraising circles, first did fundraising field studies 10 years ago while teaching at the University of Central Florida in Orlando. But his work is reaching new relevance in the recession, as non-profit organizations scramble to learn what makes people open their wallets.

Some of his findings seem obvious — the more seed money you have for a capital project, the more likely you’ll attract additional gifts — but most are surprises. Like the fact that phone-a-thons are more effective than mail solicitations (who knew people still answer the phone in the era of caller ID?) and that high matching donations don’t result in bigger gifts than simple dollar-for-dollar matches.

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