If you’re unfamiliar with the Zeigarnik effect, here’s a quick explanation from Wikipedia.

Named after Lithuanian-Soviet psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik, the Zeigarnik effect occurs when an activity that has been interrupted may be more readily recalled.

Let’s jump right into three ways charities and non-profits can use it to get more donations, raise awareness and be more memorable. 

  • Send targeted email follow-ups

This tip is probably obvious, but I know many charities aren’t utilising it.

If your email marketing software tracks which subscribers have clicked through to a campaign landing page, but you know only 30% of people went on to donate, you should send a new follow-up email to those who didn’t.

They may have wanted to give but got distracted for any number of reasons, for example:

  • Having to take a phone call or answer the door
  • Being interrupted by their kids or a colleague
  • A social media notification

Your second email could land at a better time and provide a gentle nudge to remind them to finish what they started.

  • Using cliffhangers on social media 

Some people think we have shorter attention spans these days, but I don’t think that’s necessarily true.

Social media posts don’t always need a start, middle and end.

You could experiment with the Zeigarnik effect instead. One way to do this is by sharing a video or story of someone your charity or non-profit has helped over the course of a week with a cliffhanger at the end of each post. Then, on the final day, ask for a donation once they’re more invested in the transformation and likely to recall the entire story.

There’s a reason why TV shows such as soap operas use this technique – people like to see things through to a conclusion.

  • Fill in the blanks

By asking people to complete the story, you can make your non-profit’s messaging easier to remember. Leaving something to the imagination will make your audience want to satisfy their curiosity. For example, a homeless charity might use an image of a school classroom with one empty seat and a powerful message to make people wonder why that child is absent. You can use missing words and numbers to have the same impact. 

The Zeigarnik effect can also work with jumbled-up words where people feel the urge to rearrange them to decipher the message. Having to stop and think will make them engage and more likely to remember the billboard, social media post or piece of direct mail.

Could you use these tips in your charity or non-profit, or have you seen this effect applied in other ways?

I’ll be sharing examples of these on LinkedIn soon, so connect with me if you’d like to learn more.